Tobal No. 1 (PlayStation) review
"I know people have made this sort of statement before, particularly regarding Zone of the Enders, but it felt more like a $40 FFVII demo that came with a free fighting game. Not a great one at that."
Tobal No. 1, despite its blocky character models, introduced us to gorgeous visuals. Environmental graphics are not usually gasp-worthy in fighting games, but circa 1996 Tobal No. 1 was able to conjure 'oohs and aahs'. Here we had bleak desert worlds followed by gorgeous frozen planets, a tenebrous temple complete with grand idols along side regal, glamorous palaces. Each alien world was beautiful and beckoned you to peek beyond its facade. You wanted to explore the depths of the factory stage or wander aimlessly in Nork's dungeon. The environments complimented relatively fluid animation and cartoony graphical style. It felt like an authentic arcade fighter in your home.
Unfortunately, the inevitable had to happen: Tobal aged. The fine graphics it once showcased hold no such spell over today's audiences. Like any aged game that was once a visual treat, we now see past the smokescreen and into its true colors. Where before we saw a quick and cartoony fighting game, we now see your average button masher brawl.
You might realize, and not long after you begin, that you're basically playing a clunkier version of Tekken. Tobal tries to break free by introducing different combo attacks, but both play about the same. It can take some time to get used to the advanced commands, because you have to press many buttons together. Remembering which ones to press is the biggest pain, and then hoping they will reciprocate with a proper response is also a bother. You'll often block when you want to jump, or jump when you want to side step, mostly due to the confusing control setup.
Try as you might to master combat, but button mashing mixed with a little blocking normally wins in the end. There are times on higher difficulties that the mash technique cannot save you, and those are the battles worth playing. Unfortunately, Tobal's AI is terrible. Once you learn a character's weakness, they're easy prey; enough that Tournament Mode becomes far too easy to remain interesting, and it doesn't take but a few days to master.
Tobal's combat needed to stand out from the rest. As such, the developers added a small pro-wrestling element, allowing you to execute throws, slams and suplexes. What makes this throw system differ from others is that you don't instantly execute a throw, but grapple your opponent a la old school WWE and then input your desired move. Like some WWE games, you can even grapple from the side or from behind. Depending on your approach, you could either deliver a punishing powerbomb or a neck-breaking German suplex. Each character has different moves experiment with.
It's through throws that you realize one burning flaw: ring size. Winning battles by ring out is not only simple, but cheap. You can easily lure stupid opponents to the edge of the ring and wait. Some will creep towards you, others will execute a running attack that's easily blocked. From there it's not difficult, given you have the proper room, to grapple your opponent and execute a DDT. When done right, they'll fall right off the ring. Never mind that you only have a sliver of life left and the computer had you outclassed from the git-go. You just bested it courtesy of Jake "The Snake" Roberts.
DreamFactory had to have known that Tobal was nothing more than passable. It was a game that might arrest you for a couple days, definitely worth a rental, but only worth picking up at a discounted price. They had to do something to make it worthwhile, so they added another feature: Quest Mode.
Replace the eye-popping environments with plain brick hallways. The only thing to break the monotonous color pallet is the occasional nauseating checkered floor or an elevator made of brightly color geometric shape. You'll be learning to walk all over again, trying to master the clunky and confusing controls as you navigate long, dull hallways brimming with evil puppets and anthropomorphic T-Rexes. Hither and yon are steaks and loaves of bread of questionable freshness. You figure it worked for Castlevania, so it couldn't hurt here. Potions also lie in wait for you to experiment with, a different effect for each color. Drinking a pink might restore life, and an aqua-colored vial might drop your HP to 1. I say 'might' because the game shuffles colors and effects each time you play, so certain colors will not always have the same effect.
It's an intriguing addition, one that's lightly fun despite the clunkiness and irritating/needless platforming element--and you will plummet to your death a lot, because it practically takes a college course to learn to aim a jump properly. Battling baddies made of money and giant mole-people only remains entertaining until you realize two things: 1) There are no checkpoints, some levels are incredibly long, and you only get one life, and 2) Quest Mode is basically Tournament Mode with hallways, new enemies, and items. Combat is precisely the same and can be won using the same strategies. Each dungeon is really just a road you run to the next battle instead of sitting through a loading screen. Like Tournament Mode, you'll tire of Quest and its high frustration factor caused by the controls.
No, Tobal No. 1 isn't a bad game. I rag on it a bit, but really it can be entertaining for a while. It's just that there's nothing to draw you back. Once you find a solid strategy, everything goes stale. You'll feel by the time you were done that DreamFactory and Square only teamed up to make an average game as a means to sell the playable demo for Final Fantasy VII that came with it. I know people have made this sort of statement before, particularly regarding Zone of the Enders, but it felt more like a $40 FFVII demo that came with a free fighting game. Not a great one at that.
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (January 21, 2012)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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