Toki Tori 2 intro level

As someone used to twisting his hand over a controller in games with complicated systems — “hold this trigger button to aim, the other to shoot, square to reload, and another trigger to prime a grenade” — playing something like Toki Tori 2, which requires only a few buttons, is kind of scary. What am I supposed to do with all these extra fingers!?

Released in 2001, the first Toki Tori is a puzzle-platformer originally designed for Nintendo’s Game Boy Color handheld, with remakes appearing on iOS devices, WiiWare, and on the PC in recent years. In that adventure, the titular chick had to use a series of specific tools to rescue his captured siblings. But in Toki Tori 2 for Wii U and PC (due for release in 2013), developer Two Tribes gets rid of that entirely, replacing it with only two mechanics: chirping and stomping.

It’s a deceptively simple system at first glance, and half the fun is figuring out how to use it in tandem with different animals populating Toki Tori’s island.

No more hand-holding

When I sat down to play the Wii U version of Toki Tori 2, Two Tribes co-founder Collin van Ginkel expressed his team’s dismay with in-game tutorials bursting with text and overtly long explanations. “We make sure all the learning is integrated into the game, so that it’s a part of the experience instead of [just digging through] a menu,” he said.

Nothing makes this more clear than the tentative (Two Tribes hasn’t decided yet) opening level, where Toki Tori finds himself in the middle of a lush forest. Without any text to intrude or tell you what to do, you’re left to your own devices to figure out how the world works. That’s when I started experimenting with the chirping and the stomping, but it didn’t seem to affect the other forms of wildlife — blue frogs and one-eyed berries — at all.

Toki Tori 2 back layer

After chirping obnoxiously for a few minutes, I discovered that my calls could grab the frog’s attention, and that if I stomped near the berries enough, they’d move away from me. If they got too close to the frog, however, the amphibian snatched them up with its tongue immediately, enlarging its vocal sac. And once you stomp near that inflated frog, it releases a floating bubble that temporarily traps you inside of it, taking you to places you normally wouldn’t reach.

Solving the game’s puzzles hinges on this cause-and-effect relationship between your actions and the animals that surround you: Sometimes you need them to work together, while other times you’ll need to play them against one another. The only thing separating you from that impossible-looking ledge is your creativity.

Building on your knowledge

Of course, you won’t figure out everything right away. Certain techniques or solutions won’t seem clear until you’ve gone deeper into Toki Tori 2 and learn more about the behavior of the other animals. This is especially true in the case of songs: If you rapidly press the chirp button in a specific way, you’ll activate one of the game’s many songs, giving you different abilities (such as flying above the map or summoning a camera to take pictures with) to use in your adventure. These songs are available right from the beginning; you just wouldn’t know them yet.

Once Toki Tori 2 is out, you also can just look up these song combinations on the Internet rather than waiting to learn them (most of which are in the first half of the game). While that sounded like cheating in my mind, Collin had the opposite reaction. “More power to you if you want to know it earlier,” he said. “We’re fine with it.”

Toki Tori 2 cave

Two Tribes just wants to make sure that it’s appropriately rewarding players for their curiosity and willingness to experiment in the game. One of the ways it’s doing that is through sprinkling more difficult paths in a level, which you may have previously ignored because you couldn’t figure out how to get there. After you get a good grasp of how the game works, you can revisit these areas and try to solve them again.

A hidden place I found required a complex chain of events that involved frogs, berries, birds, and even portals — the entire sequence felt as if I was setting up a strange Rube Goldberg machine. I wouldn’t have gotten to that point without Collin’s help, but I was still kind of proud of myself for putting at least some of those pieces together.