Retro Review: Tobal No. 1

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Nostalgia

This review won't have the same hook for most readers as Crash and Pokemon did. I thought I'd review a game that, while being a staple of my childhood, nobody I've talked to seems to have heard of. My sisters and I first got it when a coworker of our dad (forever) lent us 'Porsche Challenge'. Behind that disc (probably crammed in for convenience's sake and then forgotten) was Tobal. Due to it not having its own box, and my younger self's carelessness, my original copy was consigned to the scrap heap years ago. My current copy I gleefully nabbed off eBay for 5. This game seems obscure enough that I'll post gameplay footage (which includes the opening cinematic) below.

However, if there's anywhere that's likely to have Tobal fans in the woodwork, I guess it would be here. The publisher for this game was Squaresoft, and I've seen many a user on this website pine for their pre-Square Enix days. The game was one I played religiously, even as a Playstation 2 was added to my collection. I finally put it away when a friend said he had a way better game, and introduced me to Super Smash Bros Melee, and subsequently an entire catalogue of fantastic Gamecube Games.

One interesting note is that they called this game Tobal No. 1. They fully anticipated a sequel. Which they got, though I've never played it as it never got a Western release,[1] but it's interesting to see that assumption made on such a blunt scale.

Graphics and Soundtrack

The game utilizes primitive cell shades graphics, and so to some extent, this gives it some timelessness. However, it is a cruder attempt to bring anime style characters into 3D. Something that has been done much better some years down the line, which means it loses some points. Some issues graphically mean that unless you pay attention to the comparatively HD opening cinematic, you may not get what you're looking at. Take the blue clad character Chuji with the black and white quiff. He has a white thing on the side of his face. Is it teeth? Half a mustache? A scar? It's actually a plaster (band-aid for you Yanks).

Still, the graphics are pleasant enough to look at in their own way. The characters pull off the memorable manga/anime character thing very well. And they should, considering they were designed by Akira Toriyama. That's right, any anime fans reading this. Before he did Dragon Ball, he made the characters for this game. One of the game's heavyweight characters, Illgoga, bears some resemblance to the winged dinosaur guy from Dragon Ball's Martial Arts Tournament saga.

The soundtrack is surprisingly good, but not all that memorable. Some of it doesn't really suit the mood of the maps, but it's not too distracting. The soundtracks with an Eastern feel do their job perhaps best of all.

Gameplay and Plot

It's very clear the part of this game with the most work put in is the fighting engine. The buttons correspond to where your character will aim at the enemy. Triangle being a blow to the head, square being the midriff, and X being a leg shot. Combos and D-pad manipulation yield more varied moves, many of which are character specific. For instance, Illgoga the dinosaur guy can hit people with his tail, which quite often knocks them sprawling. Hom the robot can kick unnaturally high.

You can also grab the other character. Once this happens, depending on who reacts and pressed what buttons, either you'll be shrugged off with a smack, or you can lift and slam the enemy character in a number of ways. More complicated NPCs have exhibited the ability to turn a throw around on you halfway through, though it wasn't something I ever mastered.

The game runs on a simple health bar system similar to what you'll find in Street Fighter, or Tekken. I prefer this game to either of those though (at least when comparing their time appropriate incarnations. Tobal never made it past PSX) because of how fluid the fighting is. One flaw is that button mashing is an easy way to win here, but when you actually play against someone of similar skill (or against NPCs, I suppose) it's very easy to lose yourself in it.

As well as that is a very simple tournament mode, where you fight all the characters you can play as, as well as some you either can't play at all, or else can unlock. At the end of the tournament mode, your character receives a trophy from the Emperor, and you enter your initials on the scoreboard.

One of the more interesting parts is the game's Dungeon Mode. The player takes a view at the character's back, rather than side and must navigate dungeon mazes filled with booby traps, food and potions. You'll enter chambers where monsters must be fought in a way similar to how you fight other characters, and your healthbar is constant, though food refills it, as do certain potions. Others increase its size, etc.

The rest of the game is quite barebones. The menu is very simple, you can't choose the map you play on (you'll see what you get on the character selection screen) though maps are really just scenery. Since the VS mode is only for multiplayer, there isn't a way just to have a short fight with a single NPC, though the tournament mode orders them randomly. The way to change to the second character skin (used mainly for when two people have the same character) is so out of the way if feels like a cheat code. The way to change fight rounds is in the options section of the main menu, which feels strange to me. The only voice redubbed from Japanese to English was the announcer. The characters all make their post-win dialogue in Japanese. One odd gameplay quirk they put in, however, was Hom's suicide button. The button on his back may just seem to be aesthetic, but a certain button sequence causes him to push it, emptying his lifebar.

As for the plot; since it's a fighting game (and an anime fighting game, to boot) you'll be expecting something somewhat cliched, not too amazing, and ultimately inconsequential. Here, the game meets your expectations admirably. Set on another planet, rich in the titular mineral Tobal, an annual martial arts tournament (held by the planet's fight loving emperor) decides which of the various factions/species gains mining rights for that year.

The characters are given some simple outlining, too. Gren is the young heir to a rich corporation (much like DBZ's Trunks) Hom is a fight loving mining robot (incidentally powered by a special piece of Tobal awarded to the victor each year. Apparently it was given to him by his human master and sensei, Fei, who previously won).

None of this comes into the game in any way, and is only gleaned by thumbing through the instruction booklet.

Conclusion

My enjoyment of Tobal is certainly contributed to by nostalgia, and as this is more of a game that fell through the cracks, it may not attract everyone. However, after replaying it, what I take from it is a fairly fun competitive game, a dungeon mode unique among fighters, and a surprisingly fluid and well made combat system. If you can find a copy for a price you like, by all means give it a whirl.

[1] Though I understand it features a ridiculous amount of playable characters that get increasingly obscure.

 

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