Indie games, far more so than high-profile mainstream games, tend to use a hook in the gameplay in an attempt to do something different. Whether we’re talking about successful hooks like the teleportation in FuturLab’s Velocity or the dimensional shift present in Fez, you’re more likely to come across a device designed to impress on both paper and in practice in a popular indie game than elsewhere. Unfortunately, I’ve come out of an indie title more often than not wishing the developer had spent more time on the basics and less time trying to impress people into buying without trying. Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers, though, offers a huge innovation that really should excite you: the ability to cut and move almost any object in the game.
Let me give you an example: there’s a puzzle early in the game in which you must make it to the top of a (admittedly rectangle) mountain. There’s nothing around which is big enough for you to climb on to reach the top, so you have to think of things in a slightly different way. The answer is easy: you can cut into the mountain itself, forming a ramp around the edges and then pulling away the excess rock. It’s amazing to see it all come crashing down in a giant slab of left-over rock, especially knowing that you’re free to cut that chunk of rock up again and again, should you choose to. It’s this sort of puzzle that you’ll be presented with time and time again.
It might sound like there’s a risk of it soon feeling same-y, but in actual fact, the puzzles constantly feel varied, and the only risk of becoming bored comes from a few odd glitches and strangely placed autosave locations, which will have you banging your head in frustration time and time again. More than once I’ve died and been loaded mere seconds from being crushed beneath the same mountain of stone again. This wouldn’t be all too frustrating if not for the fact that the rock is simulated in real time and doesn’t always end up in the same place. Dodging in a certain direction the first time may not always work the second time, and having to do a bit time and time again isn’t fun when you’re lucky to last more than a few seconds.
That’s one of Tiny & Big’s few faults and it’s something which I hope is patched sooner rather than later. There are occasional glitches and bugs as an unfortunate result of having such power as the player. Sometimes you’ll have a rock falling towards you and completely miss it, but upon turning around and touching that same rock, you’ll die because it’s still slightly moving. Sometimes, your game will save before a cutscene and you’ll have to watch it again each time you die. On the whole, the system works very well, but there will be times you swear the developers have it out for you, and at that point you may well turn off the game and never start it up again.
Another problem, and a far more minor one, is the control scheme. I think it’s fair to say that a mouse and keyboard is not the best way of playing a platformer of any sort; it lacks control in movement, and making those tiny jumps can be next to impossible if you’re not really concentrating. Of course, using the mouse for pinpoint rock cutting, dragging, and rocketing is incredibly natural, and works well. On the other hand, the Xbox 360 controller works excellently for the movement, but lacks some of the accuracy that makes playing with a mouse such a joy. It’s an interesting catch-22 situation and not something I’ve come across before, so choosing your input method with always result in giving something up. Personally, I prefer the controller, but it could go either way.
Playing Tiny & Big is still massively good fun, and that’s partly down to fantastic graphics and brilliant music. I’ve seen some people on the web act surprised by the fairly hefty system requirements, but when you consider how much is going on, while at the same time considering that the game displays a range of colours and objects, it makes perfect sense. I’ve seen objects float around the map in a sandstorm and I’ve seen bodies of rock fall hundreds of metres below me and still be there when I reach them. The non-realistic style is very endearing, and the level design is more than enough to hold your attention.
The music tends to sound very Spanish/Mexican, and it works very well. Throughout the game I was reminded multiple times of Grim Fandango and other games with Tim Schafer as lead; there’s a definite influence there, and the music helps with that link. There are upbeat songs, songs you might almost recognise, and then there are things that catch you completely off-guard. Different music is available as collectibles and you can swap out songs at any time. It’s nice to have different styles to choose from, and Tiny & Big offers variety by the bucket load.
Tiny & Big only just falls short of the double whammy of being both innovative and strongly polished. A bit of after-release care could easily make up the difference and the game could become the physics-based platformer to beat. There’s plenty to collect, puzzles can be solved in multiple ways, and there are Steam achievements as well, so even if you’ve beaten it once, there’s plenty to come back for. If you’ve felt there haven’t been enough 3D platforming games this generation, you should buy Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers right now.