Tomba! is a 1997 side-scrolling platformer released for the Sony Playstation by Whoopee Camp. Designed by Tokuro Fujiwara, creator of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, Tomba is an interesting platformer-RPG blend involving solving quests in an open 2D world.
In Tomba!, the world has been magically corrupted by seven magic Evil Pigs and turned into a surreal land. The events of the game are sparked into motion when one of the Evil Pig’s minions steals a bracelet that belonged to Tomba’s grandfather, prompting him to go on an adventure to recover it. Along the way he meets the inhabitants of his world and helps them solve the problems that the Evil Pigs have caused with their dark magic.
The game itself is eccentrically humorous, and doesn’t let go of its grip on that, to the point where it might be hard to see what’s scary about a game with sidequests like helping a monkey find his pants. But this is October, and you know what that means: being designed by the same person who made Ghosts ‘n Goblins, this game is filled with unexpected creepy frights.
Join us after the jump and we’ll see ourselves just what kind of madness these Evil Pigs have caused.
The plot is… simple, though it boggles the mind to explain to a stranger. The primary antagonists of Tomba!, the Evil Pigs, have used their magic to change the world for their own amusement. This is where most of the creepiness of the game sets in: nearly every area you visit in the game has been struck with a curse, and the results are very unnerving.
The Dwarf Forest is the second level in the game, and already sets the tone for the bizarre. Once a beautiful forest of flowers, the Forest Evil Pig has changed the trees to be covered with enormous multicolor spores, some of them even dangling low enough that you can grab on to them. It’s a grotesque sight if you’re mycophobic, and it can be very uncomfortable to have to travel through the Dwarf Forest until you defeat the Evil Pig responsible.
One of the quests that takes place here is to save a group of lost dwarfs that have not returned from the forest. You can find them trapped underneath fallen spores, completely covered by fungi! You have to rescue seven dwarfs in all, all of them trapped in horrible layers of fungal residue.
Without a doubt, the strangest and most horrifying place in the entire game is the Mushroom Forest. Located between Phoenix Mountain and the Dwarf Forest, the Mushroom Forest is filled with enormous mushrooms and dangerous creatures that make it a very hazardous place to traverse through.
Really, Tomba! is not a fun game for the mycophobic.
It’s not just these mushrooms or dangerous creatures that make the Mushroom Forest so scary, though. It’s the flowers, too. Enormous flowers, with enormous faces, that fill the background and follow your movements.
Now, the Mushroom Forest is filled with mushrooms, and some of these mushrooms are small enough to be eaten. If you do, you’ll learn quickly why you shouldn’t eat mushrooms you find off the ground. These mushrooms cause Tomba to either laugh or cry uncontrollably, and this cannot be stopped until you find another type of mushroom that can be eaten to stop these effects.
The important thing about these mushrooms relates back to those giant flowers. If you eat one of the crying or laughing mushrooms in front of the flowers, the flowers will also start laughing or crying! It’s a horrid event to have to behold and hear, as the flowers will grimace and wail all around you while you search for a healing mushroom to make it stop.
Even the NPCs have trouble with these drugged-out mushrooms. An NPC in Baccus Village, when talked to, will only communicate with sobbing. It’s up to you to figure out that he, too, has eaten one of these poisonous mushrooms and needs a healing mushroom himself.
You’ll also see that one of these flowers is yellow where the rest are red. This one is closed, and can’t be opened without a special Rise and Shine powder. If you do awaken this yellow flower, you’ll be greeted with a flower that isn’t just crying, but weeping nonstop tears out of its inky black eye holes!
You can collect these tears in a jar as part of a sidequest, which is very gross, but even long after you’ve finished the sidequest the flower will still be there – still crying. Yuck.
The Bonsugee is a monster that lives in the Mushroom Forest, though it can’t be found immediately – you have to climb into the back section of the area. You first learn about them when you’re leaving Baccus Village for the first time; a woman blocking the way warns you to be careful of the rare and dangerous Bonsugee monster.
Once you encounter the Bonsugee, you’ll find that they’re large, floating, one-eyed jellyfish monsters that are completely invincible! The only way to defeat them is to grab one and throw it into another Bonsugee three times in a row.
The Bonsugee aren’t very scary on their own, but they are very eerie. They’re unlike any other enemy you can find in Tomba!, and just exist in a space that’s not immediately accessible and isn’t required to go to by any major quests. If you’re not following quests, it’s possible to miss them altogether.
Phoenix Mountain is one of the more central areas in the game, being an enormous mountain that composes the centerpiece of the world. This mountain is home to the titular Phoenix, an enormous white bird that has been suffering from starvation ever since an Evil Pig put a curse on its home. Phoenix Mountain has been plagued with horrible, windy storms that blow any travelers around and make it impossible for the Phoenix to find food.
It’s not just the gusty winds that makes Phoenix Mountain so creepy, oh no. Large mouthed plants cover the mountainside, capable of eating Tomba in a single gulp if he accidentally touches one of them. They’re disgusting, with a large gaping mouth that is constantly pointing towards Tomba.
It can be especially hard to avoid these mouthy plants due to Phoenix Mountain’s horrible wind, which will push you directly into them. Some of these things will even swallow you, gulping you all the way through an unseen tract to be spit out from another plant somewhere else in the level. How repulsive!
On top of that is the difficult platforming: since the winds are desperate to whip you around, it gets especially hard when you get closer to the end of the map, where you have to land perfect jumps onto platforms no bigger than you are. Enemies called Needlegators (they’re alligators with spiky shells) are blown across the screen as you try to complete this task, making it even harder because touching one will launch you into the pits below.
After exploring Phoenix Mountain, you find entry to the Lava Caves. It’s a claustrophobic nightmare filled with flying pigs and, naturally, lava. Of course, you can’t enter it right away because the entire thing is filled with giant pillars of flame that block your way.
After you defeat the appropriate Evil Pig who was causing the flames, you can freely explore the caves. This is easier said than done, as the only way to navigate the caves is with a grappling hook – the floor is, quite literally, lava.
Inside the caves you’ll find one of the most annoying enemies: the Devil Pigs. They’re black-colored pigs with the ability to fly, and can transform themselves into disembodied pig noses with wings. In an area with almost no flat ground to stand on, they are incredibly frustrating to fight.
The Lava Caves are hard to navigate for a child, and they’re even hard just to escape from. You need a good sense of skill to even try to get through them, and considering Tomba!‘s non-linear nature, you might be here a lot.
It would have been nice if purifying the area did anything to make the area more pleasant, but it doesn’t. It stays dark, eerie and ominous for the entire game, which means that by the end of it, it stands in direct contrast to everything else: all the other areas in the game are cheerful, full of flowers and gentle winds and free of enemies. But the Lava Caves are always dark.
After the fact…
Tomba!, despite being well received by the Playstation community, never sold enough copies to become a Greatest Hits game and was never properly reprinted. It’s become one of the legendarily rare games of the Playstation, with prices for original copies reaching as high as one hundred dollars.
As scary as that price tag is, it’s what’s in the game that’s made it such a memorable one. Tomba!‘s uncanniness and creepiness is what makes it stand out from the rest of the pack, even among the general weirdness of the Playstation era.
Have you ever played Tomba!? If you have, what in it scared you the most? If you haven’t, has this article scared you off it? Tell us in the comments!