When you think of a retro remake, typically the more popular choices come to mind. There’s Resident Evil 2, Spyro the Dragon, and Crash Bandicoot just to name a few. However, no one would blame you if Toki was a game you not only didn’t know was being remade, but didn’t know existed in the first place. And yet despite its obscurity and old-school roots, there’s a lot of love put into this release.
In Toki, you play as the eponymous caveman turned ape to save your cavewoman. To do this, you must spit energy balls from your mouth and make tricky jumps through six levels. There are also bosses to take down at the end of each one in classic arcade fashion.
Despite this being a run n’ gun style shooter, Toki is no Contra. It is slow-paced, especially considering the speed of your monkey and obstacles you will face. Make no mistake that this still plays like the 1989 arcade original for better and worse. Your enjoyment will largely depend on whether you grew up with these types of games or not.
For example, you are able to shoot ahead, above, or diagonally up when standing. However, you can only shoot in front of you when jumping. Shooting diagonally down requires you to face a downward slope. Enemies can also be taken out by jumping on them which is also the only way to reach certain items. These include different types of shots (spread, flamethrower, etc.), shoes that make you jump higher, and a football helmet which protects you from everything in front and above you. Why a caveman has access to a football helmet is one of those suspensions of disbelief.
Once you wrap your head around what you can and can’t do in Toki, you then will need to master the trial-and-error aspect of each level. There are the typical themes for each one (fire, snow, jungle) that also play into the challenges faced. Learning and anticipating what deadly traps are coming up is key to surviving, especially with one-hit kills. There are some cheap deaths which can cause frustration if you’re not careful. I ran into the same ghost enemy that would suddenly appear next to an item more often than I’d like to admit.
Where this remake truly shines, though, is the overall presentation. Everything visually has been redone in beautiful hand-drawn animation, not unlike Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. The wacky and weird enemy designs truly take on new life in this style. Having an enemy attack you with the letters for BURP was one particular highlight that both delighted and disgusted me. Taking out the penguins in the snow level was also great to see as they would fall over in a block of ice.
Even the music has been redone with loving care. The original tracks from the arcade are modernized in an equivalent way to the graphics. It’s plain as day to see how much the developers loved the original Toki when seen and heard in comparison. The fact this was done for such an obscure title makes me wish that this same type of treatment could be offered to more widely beloved classics.
As mentioned before, the gameplay is largely the same as the arcade original. This is a tough game, even on the default easy setting. Enemies take fewer hits, and you are offered more lives and credits, but learning what to expect in each level is still key.
If you enjoy the old-school nature of Toki and are willing to explore every nook and cranny, then this is a remake very much worth your time. It’s not a long playthrough in one go at less than an hour, but it will take you more than that to master. Give this monkey a spitting chance.
A review code was provided by the publisher.
David has been involved in games media since 2012 running his own blog, YouTube channel, being a founding member of RETRO Magazine, and now as host/producer of ARGcast – Another Retro Gaming Podcast. He also dabbles in voiceover and is occasionally a stunt double for Jude Law.