If there’s one thing that I’m totally hopeless at then it’s DIY. If it were left to me, the final design would resemble something of a child’s Blue Peter drawing – I’d receive a badge for effort, but let’s be honest, it’s total pants. Tools Up! is a party game for those of us that don’t possess that attention to detail when it comes to decorating. In the same vein that Overcooked helped those to decipher an eggplant from a marrow, Tools Up! hopes to teach you your plaster from your paint. Unfortunately, it misses the mark on crafting a fine job for the party game crowd.
It took me less than a hundred words to make the Overcooked comparison, which is less effort than can be said about Tools Up!. It’s extremely challenging not to when even the character models come across as spiritual successors from the beloved franchise. What we have though is a different premise entirely. With up to four players, you’re tasked as builders to renovate and decorate homes as the levels dictate. How are you to know what to decorate? Well, each level is presented with a blueprint that any player can pick up to highlight how the rooms should look. Starting off as fairly mundane with traditional households to reinvigorate, Tools Up! quickly ramps up with a variety of art styles, further producing new challenges for you and your comrades to overcome.
Having a solid team is the foundation to creating the perfect house. Communication, planning and perseverance are required to reach the three possible stars earned from each level. From a gameplay standpoint, it is clearly heavily influenced by Overcooked, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to find comparison upon comparison to the game. Each command is utilised with the press of a button such as stripping wallpaper and laying down flooring. It all starts off fairly straightforward before coming increasingly more complex. For example, walls may need to be plastered before paint is administered. This also causes the crux of the main issue Tools Up! has – there’s far too much busy work.
The key element of a party game is to have a basic premise and continually invent new ways to evolve it over the course of your playtime. Tools Up! does this, but often steps beyond its boundaries. A convoluted series of events play out to get various rooms where they need to be, and Tools Up! fires these mechanics at you thick and fast. Within the first 20 minutes you’re already stripping, plastering and administering brand spanking new wallpaper. This would be fine, but the process to complete these actions is so long-winded that it sucks out the joy and often makes you think that being an actual home renovator is much easier.
The main trick with a party game is to have a quick, simple premise that many players can dive straight into at the drop of a hat. What you have here is a lengthy process, and most groups will have already moved on to the next best thing before everything clicks. It consistently attempts to up the ante, but ultimately ends up digging its own grave by creating an intimidating entry barrier for players.
It’s a shame really that Tools Up! hides the best tricks up its sleeve past the first biome. Everything starts off fairly mundane with traditional home settings being your playground. Once you’re past the opening levels you’re greeted with a true creative sense of art direction, as you renovate medieval castles and spooky manors. These are more than mere window dressing though as each various locale provides new obstacles and challenges to overcome. From treacherous lava in your path to troublesome ghouls, there’s always a new hazard halting your progress through the levels. It works to keep a strong sense of progression and evolution of challenge, but Tools Up! suffers in its framework to truly enjoy the changes.
Tools Up! isn’t as smooth as a new lick of paint due to the controls that range from average to downright terrible. This is mostly apparent when laying down new flooring or wallpaper, which can be unresponsive unless in a specific angle. With a game that prides itself on being primarily about completing these two principles, it’s a detriment that it’s not as intuitive as it needs to be. For a game that’s main challenge is to beat the clock, this is a big issue and frustrating when precious seconds are sacrificed fiddling with the game’s control scheme. On various occasions bugs hindered our progress as all the rooms were 100% completed, but failed to register as so. This then resulted in a complete restart of the level and left us feeling like an artist proud of his work but unable to showcase it.
Everything about Tools Up! on Xbox One is a textbook for a missed opportunity. The barrier of entry is steep, with a harsh learning curve and unresponsive control systems. The worlds presented are full of personality and vibrancy, but are overshadowed by the game’s repetitive busywork that lacks the engagement of other titles in the genre. Tools Up! made me feel like I do about building in real life – rubbish, clueless and disappointed.