Tomak with the patch
Itís as though Seed9 read through my review and meticulously responded to every one of my complaints. Each gameplay element I complained about in the original review has been addressed to my satisfaction. Who am I to say thatís not what they did.
Tomak: Save the Earth Again for GP32 is now an almost carbon copy of the excellent PC version. The graphics are sharper, and better animated than before. The backgrounds have improved by quite a lot - several layers of scrolling in level one, wave animation, rain and clouds in level three, these sorts of things.
The gameplay improvements are so numerous that Iíll simply list them for reading ease:
The return of the options. Life level, number of ships and strength of enemies are all once again variable. Each characterís power and speed levels are displayed.
Items fall from downed planes, allowing you to pick up additional firepower with greater ease (as in the PC version). Power levels donít fall nearly as quickly.
The Second level boss now uses logical patterns, spends less time invincible, and no longer floats out of reach.
The fourth level has changed completely. No more screens-full of kamikaze.
ĎJetí form now attacks for multiple hits, Ďspaceí form shields from enemy fire.
Charactersí weapons update as in the PC version.
The obnoxious sound of the main charactersí shots has been removed.
New intro and ending cut scenes composed of a series of stills.
Each level is balanced with every other. With skill the game can be beaten in a single life.
Basically the game has been made fun again. But some shortcomings still remain. Seed9, if youíre still listening to me, perk up your ears. Four levels do not provide nearly enough playtime, roughly 12-18 minutes, depending on your skill level. The music, which I had no problem with earlier, now seems to grate on me. Perhaps I gave it a higher point value because the rest of the game was so terrible by comparison. And there were reports of a version of the original Tomak love sim being hidden somewhere within the game. Iíve seen no evidence of this, and have been unable to confirm its existence. If youíve found it, you know what to do.
Hereís the new bottom line: Tomak has transformed itself into a worthy purchase. Short though it may be, itís enjoyable enough to warrant frequent replays. More to the point: This is the best commercial game for GP32 to pick up and play for a quick dose of arcade action. But risks of random resets, brevity and lack of extras may off-put the thrifty.
Tomak without the patch
This is a classic case of a game which could have been excellent, but instead fell terribly short. More frustrating than that, there's no good reason for it, other than sloppy programming. It looked promising enough in the early stages...the graphics were vibrant and detailed, music was good, it had wacky character design and came from a solid title by a team of young gamers turned developers; Seed9. The PC version was very solid. It can't be denied, Tomak: Again for the PC is a very good shooter. But somehow in the miniaturization process the fun, gameplay and balance were all lost. I would have sooner given up the graphics, or sound of any kind.
In the PC version's option menu, you can choose the number of lives, size of life bar and strength of enemies. In the GP32 version, you can choose from easy, normal or difficult. This is just the first of many examples of the downsizing of gameplay found in Tomak: Save the Earth Again. Here; have some more!
In both incarnations, you increase the power of your 'ship' by means of killing enemies. And in both, this power bar constantly depletes if you don't keep stocking it with kills. However the bar falls MUCH faster in the GP32 version, and is not replenished as quickly. If you get hit, the bar plunges rapidly. In three hits you can lose one third of a full bar (if you can get it that high). The real shame here is that with a 25% full power bar you can transform into a ship with a shield, or one with high attack power, or one which can dodge attacks. The trouble is that for the most part it's very difficult to reach this level.
To give some idea of the balance, the first level boss can be beaten by leaving your character in one place on the screen and holding the A button. You will get hit three times.
In the PC version you collect items from downed enemies which raise this bar even more. Not so with the GP32. In fact, the game is not just difficult on the easy setting, it is literally impossible. The second level boss spends 75% of his time invincible (and shooting at you), and 15% of the time shooting missiles which necessitate your moving out of range to shoot him. Your 10% window of time to blast this boss would not be so bad were he not constantly moving up, little by little. Eventually he moves entirely off-screen, where neither of you can hit each other, and you've no choice but to reset the console. That is SLOPPY. They couldn't have had not one beta tester miss this.
If by some miracle you can pass this fellow, the third level is a decently challenging but possible affair. Not enough to wash the bad taste out of your mouth though. The 4th level on the other hand, cannot be passed without cheating. Why? Because your bullets are not powerful enough to blast the constantly full screen of enemies going kamikaze hither and thither, all the while shooting quite accurately at your ship. The screen is so full of enemies going at a 20 degree angle that you cannot avoid the shots. Not avoiding the shots not only means that you get hit, but also that you lose your power bar. I reiterate that it's not possible to beat without cheating. I'm not whining that it's hard. There's NO way to complete the game as they give it to you. To tell you the truth it made me *angry*.
The one thing that did make the transition was the graphical excellence. In that regard, Tomak is an almost perfect port of it's big brother. It's got that 'dirty detail' style war-torn feeling of the Metal Slug series. And the silly 'head in the pot' characters that Seed9 is infamous for are always fun. The Bosses are massive, often taking up more than the entire screen. The only thing I would call attention to is that sometimes the transparencies surrounding the explosions don't overlay perfectly, and you'll get little blue specks where they meet. This is rare and not distracting, however. One thing which has become a common sight in GP32 software is a huge amount of sprites onscreen animating furiously with no slowdown. I'm sure I'll get used to it someday, but it still really impresses me at this point. Naturally, it goes without saying that the graphics in no way make up for the fact that you can't really play the game to completion.
The music is very nice, and seems to have less evidence of the Game Park dev kit's terrible ideas about sound levels (i.e. it's not too squished). The tunes are silly; the second level song is probably the most common melody in music boxes around the globe. In terms of sound, the explosions are passable, but the constant 'piu piu' of the shots will get extremely annoying after about five seconds.
If I had to choose the most frustrating thing about this game, it would be the ease with which they could have made it better. It's inexplicable why they left out the things they left out. Keep the power bar higher, bring back the options screen, put fewer enemies onscreen at once. Give it some balance. These things aren't very hard (well maybe the last one is, but ANY balance is better than this), and I cannot imagine why these things were implemented the way they were. Icing on the cake; it's not just impossible, it's short. Only four levels, which last about two-three minutes each. Even though at this stage, Tomak is your one choice for a dedicated shooter on the GP32, this is not a title to pick up unless you have to see the horror for yourself. All it gives you is pain, as nice as it looks. But hey, if you can prove me wrong, knock yourself out, and let me know how you did it.