Tobipen Review—Can’t Get off the Ground
It’s no secret that I am a huge ColecoVision fan, and one of my favorite games that I still play to this day is Antarctic Adventure, where you must guide a penguin running an obstacle course all over Antarctica. You have to dodge holes in the ice, grab flying fish, and avoid sea lions. It’s quite a bit of fun. So I was excited to give Tobipen, from Japanese developer BoobyTrap, a try, as it features a penguin who also must run an obstacle course.
Tobipen is more of an endless runner like Canabalt than Antarctic Adventure. Essentially, it’s a 2D side-scrolling game where you navigate a little guy over ups and downs and gaps in the landscape, which is procedurally generated. And the goal is to just see how far you can get before dying.
Typically, in an endless runner, you really only have control over one thing—jumping. In Tobipen, though, you can control Tobey’s (that’s the penguin) horizontal speed by dashing. You also have more control over the jump, as you can keep him in the air as long as the power bar is full, which gets filled up by dashing. You need to keep the power meter as full as possible, since sometimes you have to make really high jumps that use most of it. So, you want to dash as much as possible.
Unfortunately, there is a catch to this. And that catch is the controls they picked. To make Tobey dash, you have to put your thumb on the screen. On the right side of the screen. Covering up where he is going. Even so, that would be decent enough, except for how you make him jump: you must “swipe” the right side of the screen upward.
Not only does this obscure even more of the screen, it’s also very awkward to do. While I’m hardly an expert at these games, I have played quite a few of them now, and I consider myself to be decent at them. But the controls just make it very hard. Swiping upward probably isn’t even much fun on a phone. A simple virtual jump button would have been much better, something like in Jetpack Joyride for the Vita, though I should note that after an outcry, they patched in button support for that game.
The other thing, I realize that most people are probably right-handed, so it makes sense to have the control area on the right, I guess. But why not have the game scroll to the left, instead of right? Is there anything that says endless runners have to scroll to the right? The ideal control method, though, would be the shoulder buttons. One Epic Game for Minis did that. But anything would have been better than what they chose.
There aren’t any sort of unlockables or the like, but they did actually go through the trouble of adding online leaderboards. Scrolling through the list, I find it looks like most people are struggling with the game as well. You have a few people who can do around a 1000 meters, then a lot of people who struggle to do a 100 meters. Also international, too, which makes me wonder if people are writing obscene names in Japanese letters and having a good laugh.
Though you can’t really tell by my screencaps (I kept dying when I tried taking pictures of the obstacles), Tobipen looks pretty good for a game like this. One neat thing is that the color of the sky changes, growing darker and lighter and vice versa. It’s also got some catchy music.
Tobipen could have been a decent game if the controls were better. While it doesn’t exactly add a lot to the endless runner genre, it at least is cute and apparently a PS Mobile original. They also added the online leaderboards, albeit nothing else in the way of frills. But at the end of the day, it’s just not a lot of fun to play, more frustrating thanks to having to swipe to jump. It also really makes your thumb ache after a while.