Wot I Think: Tiny And Big – Grandpa’s Leftovers

By John Walker on June 21st, 2012 at 12:00 pm.

Yes, you should be sorry about the checkpoints.

Tiny And Big is currently available on Good Old Games, GamersGate and Steam. A ten buck indie project that’s been in development for a couple of years, how does its sandbox mechanics stand up to being in a full game? I’ve sliced, roped and rocketed my way through the game, and if you don’t let me tell you Wot I Think I’ll chop you in half and push you off a cliff.

I absolutely adore this game, at the same time as so frequently screaming at it how bloody stupid it is. Even if you ignore its obsession with underpants (which is reason alone to buy it), and the absolutely wonderful art style, and the collection of obscure and interesting music found throughout, and even the way Batman-esque onomatopoeic cartoon words so perfectly spring up for all actions, just the game’s three core ideas make this something splendid.

You have a rope, a laser cutter, and rockets. With these, at least half of the world you encounter can be chopped up, dragged around, and blasted away. The sheer scale of what you can pull down and wreck is extraordinary, letting you slice buildings in half and watching the top half slide slowly off the bottom in what I believe is known as an “Underworld”.

Should something not fall nicely, just attach your grapply-rope to it and give it a tug. Or rearrange slices of rock you’ve carved to make bridges across gaps. And is that huge section of wall in your way? Fire a clamping rocket at it, and then blast it off into the sky. The massive freedom this offers is incredible, and the decision to not slowly offer you these skills but give them to you straight away is magnificent. And then the game gets in the way. Oh Tiny And Big, how could you?! How could you take one of the best game concepts in a hundredty-million years, and then arse it up so often?

A rather brilliant tutorial is played out on a spoof of a Gameboy, where you learn the mechanics in a light-green on green screen, which emphasises that all skills learned in computer games translate immediately to the real world. Then off into that world you go, in a wonderful, open level that lets you experiment with your new tools, and climb your way to a distant goal. Just perfect. For the first hour I was filled with glee, such a brilliant idea so well executed.

And then comes the first gauntlet sequence in which you’re being attacked by Big, your brother (you’re Tiny), who is wearing a pair of magic pants on his head. Inherited from your grandfather, these undies grant the wearer the ability to levitate vast numbers of boulders, even buildings, to destructive ends. And so it is you’re running along the floating levels of slab and concrete while Big chucks rocks at you. And oh, that’s not much fun. Gone is the freedom and the experimentation, replaced with dodging attacks from far off screen, while avoiding slipping off the edges in what starts to reveal itself as a pretty glitchy engine. Fall, or get hit, and it’s back to the last checkpoint, and good sodding grief, for how much longer are developers going to vandalise their games by getting this wrong?

As is troublingly predictable, the checkpointing is abysmal, spread far too far apart for the amount you can do in a small space, failing to remember collectables you’ve previously gone out of your way to pick up, and even on the wrong side of cutscenes. But that’s not the larger issue here. This just isn’t a game that suits checkpoints at all.

For the gauntlet sequences, sure, quicksaving could ‘cheat’ your way through (as if allowing the player the choice to do that is so abhorrent), but it’s in the general exploration and scenery chopping sequences – the game’s massive highlight and remarkable strength – that it reveals itself as just so bloody stupid.

So say you’re in a scene where there’s a temple to climb. Here the freedom is amazing, offering you ways to cannily chop a route straight to the top, or letting you experiment with scenery-rearranging to find hidden extras, and it’s all just so wonderful. The power you have with those tools, and the freedom the game gives you to dissect its setting, is amazing. Right up until the utterly shitty slippy-slidey failure to have your character recognise edges means you fall into an abyss. Or a rock falls on you from above with no warning. Or the game glitches and a rock you walk past apparently kills you because it wobbled a millimetre. Or you just mess up and have something fall on you. At which point, no matter how much you’ve done, how far you’ve explored around, what bonuses you’ve discovered, and what architectural violence you’ve committed, it’s all instantly reset and you’re back at the entrance.

Dying is so, so easy, whether thanks to the game’s failings or yours, that it beggars belief that there’s no way to preserve your fun. So many solutions are so obvious, from quicksaves to a health bar that means every tap isn’t instant death, to a character that grabs edges when he glides over them. Anything, to preserve what this game is so amazing at offering, and so damned fun to do.

The sense of accomplishment that comes with toppling a vast tower of rock, and then slicing it to create a smooth slope to climb on top, and dragging it over a gap to reach a distant goal, is immense. It’s why Tiny And Big remains such a fantastic thing to play with, despite its spleen-aching stupidity. And while, for some godforsaken reason it never stops thinking it’s a good idea to have your fun be interrupted by Big endlessly chucking boulders at you throughout so much of the game, it offers enough of this explore/experiment to keep interest up. That’s interest that needs to be maintained during the few gauntlet sections, that remove most of the charm. Oh – I’m chopping thrown rocks in half again, am I? Oh good, because that’s clearly what we should go back to rather than more carving up vast buildings. It’s hard to imagine who fed back to whom that this was the way to go.

It’s a pretty short game, maybe four hours, but only £7/$10ish, and just restarting and chopping down vast towers of rock in the opening level is making me happy. If this could only have truly been a sandbox game it would certainly be something utterly extraordinary. As it is, in quite confined levels, it too often forgets its own strengths and inhibits you as you play. And worse, so punishingly kills you and takes away your fun progress. Doing it the second time is never nearly so entertaining. Yet it’s utterly beautiful, often very funny, and so bursting with charm. So damned close.

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36 Comments »

  1. Discopanda says:

    It sounds like this game has big problems.

  2. frightlever says:

    If the RMAH has taught me anything it’s that something which isn’t perfect is worthless.

  3. wccrawford says:

    My thoughts:

    Initially, I thought the game was a buggy mess, and I went through it rather quickly because I was never sure when it was going to bluescreen my computer. Turns out, my mouse was freaking out and causing that. So I ended up beating the game in 3 hours (Steam says so) but had a lot of fun.

    After unplugging the mouse and using an older one I had lying around, it stopped crashing and I started playing again.

    For what it is, it does a great job. Sure, quicksaves would be nice. Sure, it would be nice if it had more open levels and fewer rock-chucking levels. (It’s about 50/50. Okay, exactly 50/50.)

    But the actual gameplay is fluid and fun. It’s a ton of fun to play your route up and then start slicing into things. The occasional crazy rocket launch is fun, too.

    I wish the levels offered more options, though. For each given section, there’s generally an obvious way up, and very little else. Once, I thought I had found an awesome alternate way up, only to find that there was a break in the path and I couldn’t overcome it. I ended up backtracking and doing exactly what they wanted in the first place. Ugh.

    In the end, I don’t regret the $23 I paid for it at all (pre-order through humble store, second copy via Steam for a friend) and that’s what really matters. I look forward to playing through it a few more times, and hopefully they’ll release an addon with more sandbox-y levels.

  4. The Sombrero Kid says:

    nice lunch time read, i’ve been waiting for this review.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      :( It’s everything i hoped it wasn’t, I wanted a short freeform game, not dragegd out checkpointing, I’ll have to give it a miss i’m afraid

      • qrter says:

        Same here, I’m afraid. The climbing/open world stuff sounds lovely, but the rock-avoiding stuff sounds utterly dismal, the exact kind of thing I know I’ll hate with the heat of a thousand suns.

      • Shuck says:

        Same here. I was tempted to buy this based on what I’d previously read about it, but the flaws described here are really the sorts of things that utterly destroy the pleasures of a game for me. What a shame.

        • Prince says:

          Don’t be dissuaded by the somewhat harsh words in the review! Yes, the climbing/exploration parts of the game are the best, but the more actiony parts are still great, and were probably only singled out by John because the rest of the game is oh-so-brilliant.
          As a veteran gamer whose favourite third-person action games are (original) Tomb Raider, MDK and Psychonauts, I consider this one of the first games in several years to provide the same sense of wonder as those other titles. It may not be game of the year, but the slicing/grappling/shooting is certainly game mechanic of the year, as far as I’m concerned.
          One of the most pleasant surprises since Portal!

  5. westyfield says:

    > “slice buildings in half and watching the top half slide slowly off the bottom in what I believe is known as an “Underworld”.”

    Actually, it’s called a Ghost Ship. (Warning: really very NSFW indeed).

    • HoosTrax says:

      Gee thanks. It’s 8 in the morning here in the US and I was in the middle of eating my breakfast when I opened that link. I managed to get to the part where the lady’s torso starts sliding off and you can see all of her innards before I had to quickly close the video.

      In retrospect, you’d think that you’d end up with more of a Kill Bill-esque spurting blood fountains instead of blood trickling down.

      • westyfield says:

        I don’t think it’d be particularly spurty – the pressure is related to the size of the hole the liquid’s going through, and if someone’s been cut in half that’s an awfully big hole (or rather, lots of small holes, effectively making a big one). It wouldn’t be like someone getting their hand cut off Stalker Fang-style and jetting blood everywhere. Probably considering this a little too much though.

        Oh, and sorry about your breakfast.

    • magnus says:

      More lousy CGI effects! Still, it was better a youtube clipI have seen that used colour Seperation Overlay with predictable rsults.

  6. bit_crusherrr says:

    Tiny & Big is a great game, it’s just a shame I finished it in 2 hours.

  7. golem09 says:

    God Dammit, first Krater now this. I thought both would be this years magnificent surprise and then both failed…

  8. Fyce says:

    Finished last night in about 4 hours.
    2 hours for the first level, 2 others for the rest of the game.

    Ok, so, the tutorial was fun. Movements are a bit tight, especially jumping, but I’ve seen worse.

    The first level was amazing. I had TONS of fun running around, slicing every piece of rock my laser was able to reach, until I discovered a hidden secret. Restarted the level because, obviously, I went a bit too far with my space scissors… aaaand here we go again, “I’ll get every collectibles in that first level”. And that’s what I did.

    Second level. “Oh, a bit of puzzle-ish ‘platforming’. I’m ok with this, the game offers some other kind of gameplay, that’s good.” Slice, slice, slice, rocket, rocket, rocket, rope, rope, rope. Ok, done, I’m at the top of the thing. Now gimme back my pants!

    NOPE.

    The rest of the game was “Follow me, the villain, and avoid my rocks.”
    The sandbox side of the game never appeared again, which it’s really sad considering the amazing potential of the engine and the really good aesthetic of the game (this Borderlands “cartoonish”style of desert … wonderful, I love that.)

    I don’t care of a linear path with two or three way to get around. If I want that kind of things, I’ll go play Portal. Give me a nice large area with a lot of things to slice and launch in the air! A LOT! You did it really well on the first level, why changing this so drastically?
    You have some nice achievements to do as well as a bunch of hidden secrets… But the first thing I want is to use your awesome tools to do stupid things such as cutting the last piece of a hand-made bridge without standing of the right side… You know, ruining thing I’ve done for the past two hours in order to get a nice and boring collectible rock.

    You know, I spent hours on that sandbox level of “the house” on Red Faction. And I would do it again.
    That and Garry’s Mod as well.

    Oh… Well.

  9. bill says:

    Please tell me it has a god mode cheat?

  10. Ian says:

    It’s a real shame that they’ve let the scripted stuff get in the way of, and by the sounds of it ruin, some brilliant-sounding abilities. Might still give it a bash though I might wait for a sale price.

  11. djinnihaniver says:

    It’s true that the rock throwing sequences do take the fun out of much of the game play. I got to the third level, where you realize it wasn’t a one time thing, and got so frustrated I just went back and replayed the first and second levels.

    This review is pretty spot on to what I’ve gotten to after three hours of play.
    I love it, the mechanics are great. The art style is above notch and the humor is nice. The tools are awesome. The soundtrack is full of gems.
    Just leave me in a level where I can’t fall off and I’m in heaven.

    A level editor would be beyond great, but I don’t even really need that.
    I just want to make a level that does kill me through odd design. Either throw rocks, or make me look down to jump. The two things together just hurt my feelings.
    For a 2-d platform game it is acceptable to die every few moments, but in this environment, with so much of it a form of creation through destruction, it sad to see your handiwork disappear into nothing.

    But, I want to stress that its still worth playing, it’s really great. & If you support/buy their first game, maybe they can move forward past these little points to make greater games.
    I pre-ordered this and have not been disappointed to have spent the money.
    Actually upset I didn’t get the soundtrack edition, found myself humming them around the house.

  12. ScottHarrigan says:

    Lack of polish was never a deal breaker for me. This was a small, cheap indie title so there were bound to be glitches here and there. The poor checkpoint system is not at all uncommon even in bigger budget games. The fact that this game seems so smooth and fun is definitely a selling point for me. I might just have to go for this game. As for glitches, even the almighty Bethesda is has tone of glitches.

    http://www.videodetective.com/games/the-elder-scrolls-v-skyrim/733639#.T-N1B7WCp-c

    Skyrim can be a downright mess alot of the time. This game is at least not sixty dollars.

  13. Toupee says:

    Okay, I bite.

    Now the question is: Steam or GOG? This is the first time I’ve had this predicament… think I’m going to give GOG a whirl.

    • MeestaNob says:

      I guess the Steam version has achievements, but it sounds like the only real achievement is mustering enough interest to finish it.

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