Tomba! is a rare case of a ‘cult favorite’ game that I sincerely feel like had no good reason to not be popular.
It was produced and directed by Tokuro Fujiwara, already known for producing and directing games like Mega Man, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and even creating the survival horror genre with his NES game Sweet Home which was later adapted into the goddamn Resident Evil franchise. Tomba! is built wholly from the same good game design concepts, with RPG elements that innovated the platformer genre without taking up too much space. It’s funny and cute, while still having a sizeable spooky side. As far as 2D platformers go, it’s the total package.
Despite all this, Tomba! never sold enough to qualify for a Greatest Hits reprint, and copies now regularly go for over $100 on eBay. I just really don’t know why, even trying my best to approach this from an objective perspective. Games with less production value have successfully been spun off into entire TV franchises, while Tomba! languished with a single sequel and some very obscure merchandise.
Even with my history in the video game industry, the whims of the market are completely opaque to me. I don’t really feel like it’s my place to speculate on if the game was marketed well enough or what-have-you. Still, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what the official promotional material was like.
Today we’re using the Wayback Machine to look at a whole 4 sites: Tomba! on the US PlayStation website, the independently hosted Tombi! site, the official Whoopee Camp site, and the very first official Tomba! site. I can’t give precise timestamps, but most of these are around the year 2000.
This is the American site hosted by the official Playstation website, and this was the Tomba! site that I grew up with. You’ll notice right away that the main form of navigation is a site map made in Flash. If you don’t have Flash, the pages have a navigation bar at the top, but in order to get to one of those pages you have to use the front page, so this site is potentially impossible to enter. Fortunately for you, I still have Flash, so I’ll be linking you to all the pages.
I can’t actually find an accurate date for when this site was active. The earliest archive is from 2004, but I feel like that’s way too old, especially since Whoopee Camp had already disbanded by then. It seems more likely that the URL would have shifted at some point, but I can’t find the old one.
I also want to take a moment to point out that this Flash interactive thing is uniquely horrifying for making Tomba, a very distinctively mute character, speak in thought bubbles. I don’t know what to say. I don’t like that.
This is just a list of almost all the weapons, excluding the Grapplejack and Iron Boomerang. We get no technical description of what buttons to press or how, just some nondescript fluff. I mean, that’s okay – you kept your manual, right?
This list asserts that the Wood Boomerang “can do some pretty healthy damage” compared to the Blackjack, which I find odd because I thought its only bonus was its range. Maybe I just really dislike the Wood Boomerang.
The character choices here perplex me a lot. We’ve got the standard choices of Yan and Charles, but we don’t actually get a profile for Tomba himself, nor the 100 Year Old Wise Man (memorable exposition character). The Dwarves are listed as a single character when the Dwarf Elder would have worked just fine to represent them. The oddest choice to me is Needlegator, a single enemy you won’t see until at least a quarter into the game.
It took me a while into writing this article to recall that these weird picks are actually straight out of the American release’s manual. The blurbs are slightly different, with the manual being mostly straight translations of the Japanese bios (we’ll get to those later), while the website trades practical advice away for flavor.
This is the one part of this site I actually remember, and for good reason: this was the only place online that I could find a map of the game. There’s an ingame map, but it’s comparatively low-resolution and has to be unlocked through game progression, plus it’s zoomed in so that you can’t view the whole thing at once.
This is my first time looking at this map since I was a little kid, so this is my first time noticing that it’s actually missing the Masakari Jungle. I find that an interesting cutoff point, because it took me years (not of constant playing, smartass) before I figured out how to progress to the Jungle, at which point I was so familiar with the first half of the game that everything past it felt like a “secret”.
Oddly, Haunted Mansion is labeled Baccus Lake on this map. That’s technically true, as the mansion is built over the lake, but Baccus Lake refers ingame to a specific two screens.
Yes, they have an entire section of the site for reviews. Not only that, but it’s a secret section that you can’t access through the top bar. Why did they do this? Who knows.
I got really excited when I saw the title for this page – normally “arcade” pages on websites of this era hosted Flash minigames. Sadly, this is just a list of specs for the game. I have to wonder why they didn’t host the reviews on this page?
1000 Year Old Man’s Hut [x]
Not only is this incorrectly labeled (the character in the images is actually the 100 Year Old Man), this is a page made up entirely of images, meaning that it has been nearly entirely lost. My best guess is that this would have been a text transcription of the nearly-inaudible exposition cutscene in the first level of the game.
So here is the international website! If you’re not familiar with the franchise you might wonder why his name has been changed to Tombi. Well, in Italian, “Tomba” means a tomb or grave, which is not a very nice name to give to a child.
The entirety of this site was designed to be viewed in a single miniscule popup window, meaning that navigating the archive is potentially very annoying. For accessibility reasons I’m just going to copy the text verbatim, especially since there isn’t a lot to see here.
There is a mysterious continent in the middle of the ocean, that doesn’t appear on any map. Formed by shipping towns in the north and islands in the south, the people of the continent lived in tranquillity for a very long time. . .
Apparently the world of Tomba! isn’t that far away from Bluffoonia. Maybe they’re both in the Bermuda triangle.
This tranquillity, however, didn’t last forever, as one day, seven Evil Pigs appeared and changed the peaceful world with their powerful magic. The flowers withered and birds disappeared from the sky and were replaced with strange plants and animals never seen before. . .
Hey, it’s the same environmentalism plot too!
Nobody knows exactly when, but they arrived on the continent and changed everything with their powerful magic. . .
. . .They are the Evil Pigs.
It is said that there are seven Evil Pigs in this world and that the only way to defeat them is by capturing them in magical ‘Sealing bags’. These bags are essential to sealing away the Evil Pigs – but the Evil Pigs know they exist too!
If the phrasing “sealing bags” seems odd, that’s because this text appears to be based on the original Japanese. The ingame text translates the “Seal Bag” item into the “Pig Bag”, I’m guessing just for simplicity’s sake. I’ve found a lot of the text on these websites appears to be translated directly from Japanese promotional material rather than written based on the English translation, so there’s some divergent choices being made.
Not much else to see here. There’s a whole page advertising the Dual Shock controls and vibration, another page full of screenshots lost in archival, and finally some leftover evidence of a “competition” that had already finished.
Whoopee Camp [x]
This is the official website by Whoopee Camp, so if I was a competent Japanese translator I would have put it as the main focus of this article, but unfortunately I am not. You will have to make do with me paraphrasing things I find interesting.
This archive was primarily captured in 2000, and boy, it shows. We’ve got already-dated iframes, a neon “NEW” marquee gif, even a tiling background (mercifully pale enough for you to read the black text).
It’s also dated by references to their upcoming PS2 game Extermination, which was ultimately released under the developer name ‘Deep Space’ after Whoopee Camp disbanded in 2000.
This is a fairly decent cast page with some short biographies. Most of the character choices are pretty solid, with choices like Tomba, Charles, Yan, and the 100 Year Old Man. The choices get odder, though, starting with the Kokka birds (a recurring enemy, but not a character) and derailing into things like the Pigworms (a non-recurring enemy that only appears on one screen). Most questionable to me is the Biting Plant Flower, which is not a character, barely qualifies as an enemy, and doesn’t even have a face. Why?
Here we have a ton of wallpapers! A lot of them are drawn in radically different art styles, and they mainly depict the cast of Tomba! 2, including some very minor characters. It’s interesting for me to think about – in some ways I consider the first game’s background NPCs to be more instantly recognizable, even though I liked the second game more as a kid.
The largest size these wallpapers come in is 800×600, which was just about to be phased out in a few years by 1024×768. Sorry if you wanted one for your 4K Ultra HD monitor.
This primarily covers hints for quite a few of the most troublesome quests in Tomba!, most notably the first game’s Hidden Village and the second game’s trolley minigame.
There’s some weirder questions thrown in: one asks if Tomba and Tabby are a couple (they are, apparently); another asks how to not get sick after playing video games (don’t play so long and don’t sit so close to the TV).
One question asks if there will be a third game. “It’s possible!” Ouch.
Development Journal [x]
This page hosts personal journal entries from many different employees. It appears this was originally going to be a game dev journal and eventually went off-topic, which is just fine by me. Most of these aren’t relevant to Tomba!, and the few that are are difficult for me to translate, so I’m sorry I don’t have more details to give.
One was about the author being surprised to see an old lady gardening at 3 AM, and another was about some sort of kinder egg thing, I guess? Mundane stuff like that.
There’s an extended journal entry from H.O. (probably character artist Hiroshi Onishi, unless they picked random initials) discussing their trip to Osaka Castle, where they were disappointed to find its 16th century exterior was housing modern amenities like an elevator. I couldn’t tell you if it was deliberate or not, but this actually has parallels with the Iron Castle found in the actual game, which is a mishmash of anachronistic technology.
That’s right, Tomba! had its own official forum. The misery I endure knowing that I never saw this first-hand is impossible for me to convey to you.
There isn’t really a lot to see here as far as I can tell, mostly just people struggling with the trolley minigame. So I guess realistically it isn’t that different from, say, the Tomba! forum on GameFAQs. But it was the official forum, damn it!
Tomba Club [x]
Not to be confused with the modern Tomba Club run by fans, this was a club run by Whoopee Camp themselves. You could sign up as a member and get a mail subscription to Tomba Press, a … magazine of some sort? It’s not clear, the only picture of it wasn’t archived and there are few references to it online.
Additional details elaborate that you could write to Tomba Press in some way in order to gain points, and after a certain amount of points you could get exclusive merchandise. Such merch included a clear file (a plastic folder for A4 paper), a T-shirt, and a “secret item” – nobody knows what the secret item was, and now we probably never will. Boo!
Ore! Tomba [x]
This is the most important site I have to show you, and sadly I have the least to say about it, because very little of it has survived. Regardless, this is the very first official Tomba! website, archived in 1998.
The text hints that there was a Flash navigation map at some point, but it hasn’t been archived. Most of what does remain is promotional text, some clippings from magazine reviews … there’s hints at other stuff, like another contest, and what looks like it may have been a Flash minigame for “raising your own pig”. Very strange, and very sad that it is lost. But what we do have is very neat, and Wayback pages from before 1999 are a rarity, so I’m grateful for that much.
All things considered, there isn’t really a lot of obscure Tomba! material you can find in the web archive – most of it is regurgitations of the official manuals, screenshots of the finished game, etc. The few things here that are actually unique are, of course, lost to time. All we have left are some wallpapers and some hints at obscure merchandise.
But what is there is neat, and very reflective of how weird it is that Tomba! failed as a franchise. The games had four websites! Seriously!
As always, if you enjoyed this dive into internet history, consider donating to the Internet Archive and I’ll gladly credit you in my next article! And if you find anything I missed, or another website you’d like me to cover, feel free to comment and let me know.