You’ve come a long way, Timberman. The Big Adventure is very much the bells-and-whistles platformer, but Timberman started out as a puzzle game on mobile. Timberman Fun Game gave you an axe, a tree, and two buttons to press: left and right. You whacked the sides of the tree that weren’t covered in branches, switching as you went. The challenge was doing it at speed. Anyone can dodge branches from left and right, but can you do it at 100mph?
The next step for Timberman still wasn’t a platformer. That was Timberman’s foray onto console with Timberman VS. If you’ve been near an Xbox sale, you’ve probably been tempted by it. It’s perpetually less than a quid. Timberman VS let you pivot from left to right on a tree, but with friends. Up to four people could chop till they dropped.
Which brings us, finally, to Timberman: The Big Adventure. This is Timberman’s big graduation. Just as Mario stepped up from bit-parts in Donkey Kong and Mario Bros to Super Mario Bros, Timberman has found himself in a full-blown, lavish platformer of his own. And he’s brought a bear.
The bear has lost his family, and Timberman has abided by the lumberjack code by helping him. In the process, he has chosen to take on the entirety of Evil Corp, who are embarking on a program of mass-deforestation using their big-rigs. Save the bears, save the manual chopping of trees.
The bear is along for the ride mostly so that Timberman: The Big Adventure can be a co-op experience. Two players can play on the same screen, in a similar vein to the New Super Mario Bros games. If someone falls behind or gets killed, they follow behind as a bubble until the other player pops them. It allows two different skill levels to play together, and works well.
In fact, a lot of Timberman: The Big Adventure works well. We had to keep reminding ourselves that this was effectively the sequel to a one-trick mobile game. You should be able to see that in the screenshots. This is in the top tiers of 2D pixel art, not quite reaching the realms of Dead Cells, say, but still stacked with personality. If you grew up on the best 16-bit platformers, then you will feel right at home here.
Each level is a long one, taxing you for the best part of ten, fifteen minutes. There’s not much to your objective – you’re aiming to get to the end where an Evil Corp sign ushers you to the next level – but it’s the journey that makes Timberman: The Big Adventure enjoyable. For one, the levels are Swiss cheese: if you bump and grind any given wall, there’s a good chance that you will find a secret passage. In them are the letters that spell TIMBER (a classic platforming collectible), coins, or even a coin-op machine where you can play a spot of original Timberman. You get one shot at playing this game and your score will generate you coins.
We loved how dense this made Timberman: The Big Adventure, as you tend to be rewarded for everything you do and everywhere you explore. We just wish there was more of a payoff. There’s no shop for spending your coins, nor are there achievements for gathering them. They’re mostly there to amass 1ups, giving you more lives for the levels that follow, but Timberman: The Big Adventure isn’t a particularly difficult game, nor are there enough levels to lose them in. So, the collecting had a slightly muffled adrenaline rush attached.
The gameplay in the levels is split nicely between platforming (not of the precision variety: there’s barely a difficult jump in the entire game) and combat. For the latter, you’re given a weedy punch, a bottom-bounce-like slam, a mid-air rush-punch, and – the MVP – an axe throw. The thing is, we may as well have only written ‘axe throw’, because there’s really no reason to use the others. The punch puts you in close quarters, which will likely lead to damage, while the rush-punch is too erratic. We kept landing ourselves in bother.
But the axe throw? Not only does it travel a distance, but it blasts through enemies. And then it boomerangs back, taking them out on the return journey. It can do two hits to one enemy, should you time it well, and you can jump away from your original position so that it slingshots across the entire screen. It’s busted. And it makes the other attacks painfully useless. It’s a net negative that it’s so dominant, but at least you’ve got something satisfying to use.
And satisfying Timberman: The Big Adventure is. It may not have any huge level set-pieces, outside of a few boss encounters that act more like chase sequences, but it does have some sprawling mazes, some half-puzzles that ignite the brain matter, and some fight sequences that lock the screen down and give your axe-throw a workout. It’s all above-par stuff, and a decent step beyond what we expected from a sequel to Timberman VS.
We just wish it lasted a little longer. Timberman: The Big Adventure is set across three worlds, and those three worlds only amount to four levels plus a boss in each. Sure, those levels are ten minutes long, perhaps longer if you’re hunting for every collectible, but it still only totals a couple of hours. It just feels like it should be longer: we felt a dose of unfinished business, as we didn’t feel like we’d reached a point of fatigue, nor did we feel like we’d gone anywhere. There’s a forest world and two industrial-themed regions, and they bleed into each other. We’d only popped down the road.
Brevity isn’t always a negative. Timberman: The Big Adventure may be short enough to confuse you on first playthrough, but what little is here is sweet. It feels like a no-expense-spared remaster of a 16-bit platformer that never existed: by which we mean that it’s full of charm and some timeless level design. Some busted combat threatens to drag it down, but ignore the imbalance and you might find yourselves waking up in a checked shirt and a big bushy beard.