Originally released in the arcades back in 1989, Toki JuJu Densetsu was a platformer shooter featuring challenging level design, a wide array of enemies, and cast of punishing boss battles all crammed within a typical arcade playtime of just under an hour.
Back then games were short from start to end, but the punishing difficulty and demanding memorisation made sure players spent plenty of pennies before they got good enough to complete the game. Toki would find its way on to home consoles, with the most notable being the SEGA Mega Drive version which ended up being a completely different game from both a gameplay and level design standpoint. The Mega Drive version is likely the one most of us (including myself) grew up playing, and it proved to be a comparatively easier and more intuitively designed platformer shooter experience. As a game Toki did leave a mark on gaming memory despite there being so many great alternatives to choose from, and in the last decade or so, attempts were made to remake the original arcade game. It took a while for these plans to eventuate, but now Toki has finally been remade for modern gaming platforms.
This new Toki plays exactly like the arcade original, now whether the original was a good/bad game is another discussion, but for this remake to perfectly retain the mechanics, design, and feel of the original is a commendable effort. Perhaps some quality of life improvements for the modern gamer would have been worthwhile, but if the intention is to reproduce a classic game for modern platforms then Toki, for better or worse, provides modern players with the exact same gaming experience from three decades ago.
Toki as an action platformer distinguishes itself by offering a shmup style shooting mechanic, complete with powerups you would likely have seen in the genre during the ‘80s. The main character moves at a deliberately slow pace but is able to crouch and climb vines, both which come in handy during platforming and when dealing with the game’s many enemies. The main attack is in the form of spitting projectiles, which comes in all sorts of patterns and styles thanks to the game’s many powerups. What’s handy is that you are able to hold your position whilst shooting, which saves you from running into enemies or falling off ledges. Of course, like any typical platformer from yesteryear, you are also able to damage some enemies by jumping on them, but for the most part shooting is the best way to combat the many foes. Toki may be deliberately cumbersome in basic movement, but the mechanics are most certainly sound and responsive.
From a game design standpoint, the platforming and enemy patterns in Toki are typical of the era in that they are relentlessly pushy and demanding. Such game design made sense back in the day when games were shorter and a high difficulty was needed to give substance and length. Which means modern players will have to get accustomed to the lost art of one-hit deaths, repeated plays, extensive practice, and of course demanding memorisation. This can be quite satisfying if approached right, but for most modern players this may be an outdated approach to game design.
That being said, Toki still remains as satisfying and highly replayable as it has always been, with smart level layouts which encourage a consistent mix of shooting and platforming, and of course a memorable cast of boss encounters. Perhaps it would have been better if the Mega Drive version of Toki had been remade instead, as the design of it actually holds up much better by contemporary gaming standards. Still, it’s great to finally get the arcade remake after almost a decade-long development cycle, and perhaps soon enough the Mega Drive version will be remade as well.
The remade visuals would have looked fine if the game had met its original release date of 2011. A lot of the visuals of the HD remakes from 2009-2013 have aged poorly and very quickly too (just try to stomach the choppy visuals of Super Street Fighter II HD Remix now), and so Toki’s remade look doesn’t hold up great by today’s standards. It’s the typical clunky flash-based animation which early HD 2D games got away with for a brief time, and so Toki on Xbox One doesn’t quite impress and instead looks rather unfinished. Even now the meticulous pixel-art of the 1989 arcade original looks far better than these new visuals, and so it would have been great if the remake featured classic graphics as an option instead of lazy scanline filters. The music and soundtrack retain the arrangement and quality of the original composition though, which holds up quite well since Toki’s soundtrack always stood out.
Overall Toki on Xbox One is a welcome remake of a relatively lesser-known arcade classic. Whether it was worth bringing back at all depends on how rose-tinted your lenses are, but it’s certainly interesting to see a modest hit from 30 years ago find its way again on modern gaming platforms. From a gameplay standpoint Toki provides an authentic and untainted experience, but the new visuals leave a lot to be desired.