Review by: Scott Steinberg
Published: January 18, 2000
UbiSoft has come a long way over the years, rising from its humble beginnings in France to international stardom. Still, the publisher has failed to make a big splash in the American market. It’s not because of a lack of effort, though, as many of their original creations, most notably Rayman, enjoy great popularity overseas. While Monsieur R was making a stunning second appearance last year with the release of Rayman 2, UbiSoft was also hard at work on another project named Tonic Trouble, designed to follow the path charted by their favored son. Three years in the making, with an initial launch mere months ago, one is inevitably left to wonder: Is Tonic Trouble the heir to Rayman‘s throne, or just the wayward child?
It’s best to start at the beginning of this rather odd cosmic caper. Gamers take on the role of Ed, an intergalactic janitor who’s managed to spill a nasty little concoction all over the unsuspecting Earth below. This particular brew had some pretty wild effects on our planet’s inhabitants, changing them in bizarre and freakish ways. As luck would have it, vicious vegetables now stalk the lands, household appliances are on the fritz in a major way, and a Viking named Grogh has gained superpowers and developed a taste for taking over the world. With no help in sight, Ed realizes he’d better set things right before anyone notices, and thus the adventure begins.
Touting an outlandish premise like that, what else could this be but a platform game, albeit in the 3D vein? Remaining true to character, Tonic Trouble gives you the chance to hop, crawl, jump, swim, and climb your way through about a dozen worlds filled with powerups and mutants. The ability to move in just about any direction is a given, as is the preponderance of fixed camera angles that track Ed as he goes about his business. There’s also the token cast of supporting characters to be found, ranging from Doc, an eccentric old geezer attempting to build a machine that will give Ed access to Grogh’s fortress, to Suzy, Doc’s hot tamale of a daughter, who lends helpful hints along the journey.
While Tonic Trouble is essentially non-linear and allows you to freely explore broad, open areas, there are objectives that must be completed in a certain order to progress. For instance, while you’re free to enter any portal at will, you won’t be able to get anywhere in certain levels until after Doc grants you the power of flight or gives you a pea-shooter in exchange for having brought him springs or other mechanical parts he’s asked you to retrieve. Beginners are liable to appreciate this subtle handholding, but fortunately for veterans, there’s some incentive to go back and revisit the levels you’ve previously played in order to find secret items and areas formerly out of reach.
A genuine spark of creative genius must have inspired the character designs. For starters, there are killer tomatoes, bloodthirsty carrots, furious fungi, and terrifying turnips. Add to that memorable mutations such as inflated bags of skin, ducks with bear traps for heads, and the gentle dinocow–a cross between a dog, a cow, and a tyrannosaurus. The only running theme you’ll find in the make-up of the people and creatures is their complete lack of limbs, which is rapidly becoming a hallmark of French titles.