Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers
[dcs_small_block color="#FFFFFF" border="true" align="center" bcolor="#DDDDDD" bgcolor="#737373" fheight="14" fsize="11"]Platforms: PC | Released: June 19, 2012
Developer: Black Pants Studio | Publisher: Black Pants Studio[/dcs_small_block]
When I got gifts from my grandparents they tended to be appreciated, yet mundane, items. Sweets, pocket money, a fishing rod, that sort of thing. When Tiny, the slightly short but not quite tiny protagonist of Tiny and Big, gets a gift from his grandpa, it’s a little bit different. In fact, it’s a pair of pants. And I mean pants in the British sense. Luckily for Tiny they weren’t used by his grandpa, rather they were “acquired” from an excavation he worked on. Ancient pants, they were. Pants with power. Too much power, in fact, thus why they were given to Tiny and not his ne’er do well brother, Big.
Big is an unshaven, tiny man with a big chip on his shoulder. He’s also a thieving git. As thieving gits are wont to do, he steals the magic pants from Tiny and absconds to the desert, wearing the unmentionables on his head. Hat pants — fashion accessory or tell tale sign of mental illness? Our hero is a dogged one, though, and he grabs his radio, gizmos and jumps in his car to chase down his shifty relative through the desert. A hunt for pants, the most noble of all quests.
Tiny and Big‘s distinct visual style looks like the bizarre result of a coupling between Adventure Time and Borderlands, and bloody hell does it look marvelous. The uninspired brown messes that count for so many modern video games can make limited colour palettes seem like a bad choice, but not so in this case. While browns and golds make up most of the game — it is set in the desert — there’s still a huge amount of visual variety. In the final chapters the games shifts to a dark, indoor environment which looks like a stone age Tron with floating rocks, hovering in the darkness above Tiny. Even inside the game remains large and open, though it unfortunately becomes a fairly linear experience after the first level.
The pants have given Big a whole bunch of physics defying magical powers, but Tiny is not without his own bag of tricks. Being an inventor, his approach is less esoteric than his rival’s: Lasers, rockets and a grappling hook are his tools. The laser carver is his inventory’s most precious item; it makes mountains appear to be made of butter and can be used to slice almost anything, from cacti to cliff faces, and is employed in a variety of creative ways. Most often, it is used to destroy obstacles or make bridges across the chasm filled landscape. Once a cut has been made, the grapple can be used to pull it down, or the rocket can be used to thrust it off into the sunset, or another wall.
Without a doubt the most satisfying aspect of the title is tearing down the environment. I reveled in the destruction, seeing monuments of nature come crashing down at my feet with an onomatopoeic exclamation in appropriately comic book style. The joy of experimentation in the first level, a bit of a sandbox, is something that must be experienced. Toppling statues, carving steps up onto impossibly high cliffs, launching blocks of stone into highlighted targets just for the hell of it, what a trip. Unfortunately, such free experimentation is not really continued throughout the game.
From the second level, the game becomes a mediocre platformer where you are frequently forced to stop platforming so you can actually do something fun, like destroying a temple. The loose controls, many pitfalls and lack of flow can make the running and jumping shenanigans rather labourious, making one miss the openness of the game’s start. There are moments, like one of several confrontations with Big — essentially a boss battle — where the game shifts to a gauntlet style dash for safety, as Big summons huge boulders and launches them at you. Even when you avoid them, they can obliterate the environment, leaving a once safe path more daunting. You can even slice the rocks as they come hurtling towards you, allowing you to relax as the two pieces come crashing down either side of you. Those moments could have been wonderful if the game was built for such fast paced gameplay, sadly, it is not. You will die often, and needlessly. So, it’s a good thing the game uses checkpoints liberally.
The title’s pretty short, clocking in around about four hours. It’s certainly not too short, though. If there was more open space or interesting routes it could have comfortably been longer, but the platforming almost out stays its welcome as it is. Every time I came across an obstacle I couldn’t just jump over, I breathed a sigh of relief. Stop jumping, start slicing, have fun. Each level has a par for how many times you use the laser, using it less than required appears to be a good thing, which sort of emphasises my issue with the game: The manipulation of the environment is its strongest point; it should be used more, not less.
Other than trying to beat your previous time and score by having less fun, there’s also quite a few things that you can collect, secreted away in various nooks and crannies. There’s a thousand “boring stones” to collect, pointless glowing pebbles which can be easy to find more often than not, but each level has some that are difficult to reach. The impetus for doing so is trying to create a route to get them, not the acquisition of them on its own. Unfortunately, the tricks to getting them are usually the same ones you’ll be employing to move through the game anyway, so it never really feels like you are having to think outside the box too much. Any excuse to use the laser is good, though.
Cassettes are also scattered throughout the environment, unlike the stones there’s a more tangible reward for getting them: Music. The game only starts out with two tracks, the first being a delightful chip tune from the Tetris inspired tutorial level which Tiny plays on his almost-but-not-quite Gameboy, and the other being something else that I care nothing about. I diligently collected many cassettes, and every single one of them contained an utterly forgettable track from bands I’m not surprised I haven’t heard off.
Ultimately, the game’s character, aesthetic and inventiveness make it worthy of an investment that costs the same as my lunch. It’s by no means a bad way to spend an afternoon; an afternoon with lasers, pants and ancient ruins, no less. But the whole time I was playing, I was remembering the first level and what could have been: A playground with the coolest toys. Instead it’s a platformer with some awesome ideas that have nothing to do with platforming. Pardon my selfishness, but I would be ecstatic if people bought it if only so that Black Pants could make the sequel they so clearly left the game open for. A sequel where, perhaps, the puzzles are less linear and the platforming is less… shit?