Saturday, 19 December 2015

Chapter XXX: Toki

It’s easy to look back with nostalgia when it comes to arcade salons. A room filled with big colourful machines capable of delivering a video game experience unlike anything you could have at home and easily accessible by just a few quarters. Well, “easily accessible” is arguable, since in my country you needed to be at least sixteen to get into one.


Do you know the saying, “The forbidden fruit is the most desirable”? Well, that’s not really how it goes in English, but it’s a saying that’s usually implied and used by people who are against heavy narcotics or alcohol control. It suits arcade salons better than anything, at least because I never desired shooting heroin into my veins as much as I wanted to play on that Wrestlemania arcade machine that had the Ultimate Warrior pictures on the side.

Despite not being allowed to get into these salons, there were other places, like restaurants or coffee shops, which occasionally had arcade or pinball machines, where no control of any kind existed on the age of who was playing. One particular night, a very boring one, I was having dinner on a restaurant with my family, celebrating some occasion. I know I was at that annoying early teen age where everything is boring and I didn’t had any problems showing it. I got up from the table, and noticed there was a smaller room on the restaurant next to the big hall where we were sitting that functioned as a café. I got in, and in my mind the best I could expect was to buy some candies or chocolates to help me pass the time. While it looked like in regular café, next to the counter was an arcade machine, which filled me with glee the moment I looked at it. What could it be? Wrestlemania? Streetfighter 2? Mortal Kombat?


When I got closer, I could only be more disappointed if the machine was broken. It was Toki, a game I played to death on the Amiga, and finished it on several occasions. After the initial shock, I got to the conclusion that there were much worse ways to pass the time, so I went to ask my father for some coins so I could play. I was expecting one or two, but he gave me a full pocket of them, which just shows how much of an annoyance I was being until that point.

And so it was that I approached the machine filled with the kind of hubris that only the best players can have. My cousin Paulie, which was older than me, and old enough to enter arcade salons, was next to me. I was about to show him how much of a man I already was. The first step was to insert the coin, or in this occasion the coins. I probably wasn’t too fussed at spending money so I started putting a few of the coins right away, as if I was at the Rainbow Island title screen on the Amiga and using “up” on the Joystick. As if the money had no value whatsoever to a bored early teen.


My cousin Paulie went to stop me and exclaimed “What are you doing?”. “It’s going to be a long night”, I replied. “Yes, but you don’t need to insert all of them in one sitting. Your father works really hard to earn that money you know”. I was kind of pissed from this morality lecture, so my only appropriate reply was to show how good I was with the game. And it was a shock. Probably one of the biggest lessons of humility in my entire life. I got to know in the worst possible way that the game wasn’t an exact copy of the one at home, and it was in fact much harder. So much that I couldn’t pass the boss in the first level.


That was the moment cousin Paulie said “step aside”, and showed me what separated the men from the boys. While I had this conviction that I was an excellent gamer, after all I was called “Computer” by my peers, I was nothing next to guys like Paulie. He was the kind of seasoned veteran that all arcade salons had. That kind of guy that while not even having a computer or console at home, could finish a game with just one credit. For guys like him, used to the pressure of playing with money, gaming was like war, winning was a matter of pride, and losing wasn’t just a question of starting again right way like if nothing had happened.

I don’t think I played Toki ever again. That game became like a scar, and a vivid memory that I was just a spoiled kid with fragile hands and few skills. By the time I got to be sixteen, arcade salons were dying, and the few of them that remained had mostly Virtua racing or Daytona multi-cabinets, which didn’t interested one bit. There were still some classics that I liked, such as Metal Slug, but having no one to bar my entry made these salons much less desirable.


So I’m revisiting this game after so many years later. It’s still probably a good game, but we all know how the nostalgia glasses work.

Whooooo!!! What’s this? An eargasm? The music in this game is just insanely good. I could stare at this map right at the beginning of the game for hours. The music is that good, and among the best tunes on the Amiga. I don’t know why I didn’t remember this particular bit. It just shows that you have to visit hell to know what heaven is. And “Hell” in this case is the years of bland music that every AAA game has.

And as for the rest, if I was a boy back then, I’m probably at the geriatric phase by now, judging by my appalling performance. Unfortunately my faithful Quickjoy Megastar joystick is acting all weird, so I have to play with the XBOX 360 controller. I hope that serves as a good excuse, because that’s all I got to convince myself that I’m not old.


The story of the game kind of bothers me. “The evil hand of Bashar has seized Toki’s girlfriend Miho”. I should argue that the word “seize” might not be the most appropriate when it’s referring to a living human being, but since it’s a floating hand we’re talking about it gets a pass. But then it is said by the game’s intro that Toki was “reduced to a lowly ape”. Not only this is awfully speciesist and offensive to primates, but Toki is actually the smartest ape around, at least judging by the repetitive actions of every other monkey in the game. It ends saying that Toki is on a journey “to regain his manhood” which is not only appropriate and prophetic, but makes this text very post-modern in the most insulting way for the author.

This is indeed a quality conversion, but the game is too much trial and error for my tastes. Not so much as Rick Dangerous of course, but I there are some instances where we need to eliminate some traps on some very specific places. I like action games to reward reckless and fast play, and this game is all about a cautious approach to most problems. I’m starting to have doubts that I ever finished this game as I can’t even get past the first level boss nowadays. The Amiga boss, not its most evil arcade twin.


There’s also a problem with depth, which is demonstrated by the trial and error approach. Every game feels the same, the enemies appear in the same places, and always move in the same way. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of secrets or hidden stuff, like in classics such as Ruff n’ Tumble or Rainbow Islands. Or you know, shitloads of other games. While Ocean France should be commended by the great work they did here, no amount of work can make this game as good as Rodland, which is today’s reference for arcade perfection. Or maybe I’m purposely finding flaws because I’m such a sore loser.


In the end maybe I should face the fact that this isn’t about manhood, and that I was a shitty player all along. It certainly is the least worst scenario.

2 comments:

  1. As you had (and still have) to be 18 years old in Germany to enter an arcade, I enjoyed the arcades in Belgium during my family vacations in the mid 90s.

    I never played TOKI but still have it on my shopping list for my ATARI Lynx. Judging by its graphics and the fact, that some Lynx games were Amiga conversions, I guess this could be true for TOKI, too.

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    1. I also used to play Arcades in Spain. It seemed they not only cared about the age of who was playing, but most coffees and bars had arcades and slot machines.

      I spent holidays always playing only Cadillacs & Dinosaurs

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