As we get older, we not only forget what it was like to be small, but we also forget what it was like to live in a world that was so big it was hard to understand. Many of us find it hard to hold on to our natural sense of wonder and ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Because of this, I'll always have a special place in my heart for things that remind us of what it's like to feel small and yet limitless. Tiny by Splashteam is one of these.
At first glance, tiny looks like a copy of Pikmin, but it would be unfair to dismiss it as such. The puzzle-platformer has some things in common with the Nintendo series, mainly the helpful little creatures that give each game its name. However, Tiny is a collection that will charm anyone who spent hours playing Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro, and other '90s platformers. And this isn't the only thing that makes you feel like you're back in primary school. The story takes place in a house from the 1990s that seems vast to Milodane, the lead character, which is only five years old. Tiny is an authentic and joyful experience, with environments that are bigger than life and full of detail, energy, and wonder, simple but fun mechanics, and satisfyingly rhythmic gameplay.
Milo crashes on Earth, which is where Tinykin's story starts. This messes up Milo's current mission, so he has to create a new one to build a new ship to get back to orbit. Luckily, this suburban home from the 1990s is full of bugs and "tinykin" who are friendly and happy to help. As their name suggests, Tiny is a cute little creature who is always willing to help. This is especially helpful since science-minded Milo's only skills are to glide short distances and slide around on his "soap-board."
During your adventure, you'll meet five different kinds of tiny. Each has its own unique ability that can be used to solve various puzzles. If you throw a red tinykin at something, it will explode. Even though it's a little sad if you think about it too much (or at all), it's handy when you need to break other tinykin out of cages, blast holes in walls, or break the posts that keep ropes from touching the ground. And if it makes you feel any better, the only ones that can only be used once are the red ones. As you move through each level, you'll find many tiny obstacles that require you to have a certain number and type of tinykin to move on. This makes for a satisfying back-and-forth as you find creatures, unlock a new part of the map, find the next "locked door," and then search the current area for tinier. Even though the maps are significant, it's not too hard to find tinykin and sites you haven't explored yet because there are other collectibles and missions all over the level that point you in the right direction. Most common in the game are clusters of pollen, which you can give to a merchant in exchange for making your glider go farther. In the end, this lets you go to places you couldn't before and, you guessed it, collect more pollen, tiny kinds, and other items. It has a rhythmic style of gameplay that reminds me of the '90s platformers I mentioned earlier, and it's easy to play and fun for people of all ages and skill levels because the controls are simple and the game isn't too hard. For example, when you die, you're just sent back to the surface you fell off of.
As you leave each level, the tiny you've collected stay put because, as your friend and mentor Ridmi says, they're "not the bravest" and don't like to leave their homes. That is to say, the same. But this isn't the only thing that gives each level its own feel. Each of Tinykin's six areas is home to a different kind of bug, has its own set of colors and music, and is in another part of the house. The Waters of Balnea, for example, takes place in the house's bathroom. It has some great jazzy tunes, a cool color scheme with bright violet and neon blue pops, and two kinds of bugs: the no-nonsense beetles, led by Partypupa, and the party-hardy silverfish. As you might imagine, it's not easy for these invertebrates to live together, which is why our hero Milodane has to step in more than once.
But there are never too many characters or side quests in a level to make it feel too long. They do exist, but you don't have to talk to every creature you meet. If you do, you might get a few treats, though. For example, a couple named Jack and Rose who ask for a racy sketch and a giant board to float on and a chef named Remy are two of my favorite Easter eggs in the game. Rather than going too deep into the story, Tinykin lets you explore beautifully, picking up random items, solving puzzles, and climbing toilet paper and vinyl record mountains as you go. I think you could finish the game in less than four hours if you only did what was asked of you, but each level was interesting enough that I spent well over an hour trying to find every secret hidden in it. One of the things that kept me going was how beautifully and intricately the levels are made. The game's art style is excellent, with 2D characters on top of bright 3D backgrounds. Each class also has a lot of verticality and little hiding places, making for a fun world to explore. Even though it wasn't as big as a modern open-world RPG, there were many times when I thought, "Oh, I can go there!" when I wasn't sure I would. There's also a point where you start to feel a lot of satisfaction when you use tinykin or your platforming skills to get to a place the game didn't intend you to go.
If Tinykin falls short in any way, it's in how often you might actually fall. The game is primarily a platformer, so it can be annoying when the controls aren't always the best, and you fall off a platform because you didn't hit it exactly where you meant to. Thanks to the many checkpoints and how forgiving the game is when you fall, some of that pressure is taken away. I also sometimes got annoyed by how precise you must be when talking to NPCs. Even though a lot of the game was smooth and easy, I had to stop and move around to be able to interact. Tiny's story isn't the most crucial part of the game or overall experience, so this wasn't a big deal. However, I can't help but think that I might like the bare-bones story more (or find it less bare-bones) if it was easier to interact with the characters.
Tiny, on the other hand, is not a bad experience. The collection is a fun throwback to platform games from the 1990s, with just the right amount of new ideas and tweaks to old ones. Its charm, light-hearted humor, impressive level design, and overall tone make it feel both old and new, and it perfectly captures the excitement of playing video games as a young child. Satisfaction from getting to a place, even if it wasn't how the game planned, using tiny kinds, or your platforming skills.