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.
When’s the last time you’ve played a mascot platformer that wasn’t a Mario or a Sonic? It was probably a Crash or a Spyro if it was anything at all. The genre is dead, and I miss it very much.
Gex, at least to me personally, is the iconic failed mascot platformer. He’s everything bad about the genre: he talks way too much and thinks he’s clever, his world is made of cookie-cutter tropey levels that don’t fit together, he has way too many gameplay gimmicks, and in the grand scheme of things he’s been completely forgotten. These are all the reasons that I find Gex oddly enjoyable, as a game trilogy that just doesn’t really work and isn’t very fun.
Unlike most platformer mascots, Gex was not aiming to be the face of a single console: he was the catchphrase-spitting gecko mascot of Crystal Dynamics, a video game company founded by women in 1992. Crystal Dynamics had a broad ‘a little bit of anything’ approach to making games: they had many platformer games, an action-adventure franchise, a point-and-click, a fighting game, a racing game … you get the idea. I guess they also worked on some series named Tomb Raider.
But Gex was Crystal Dynamics’ thing. He was funny, he was memorable, and he was the face of the company, especially once the substantially more popular sequel Gex 2: Enter the Gecko was released in 1998. In that way, Gex was a fixture of the late 90s, a reminder of what things were like.
And what’s more ‘late 90s’ than a terrible website for a terrible video game?
Today I’m going to the Wayback Machine to see the Gex pages on the Crystal Dynamics website from 1998 to 1999. It’s tail time, as one might say.
I really loved Blue’s Clues. Did you ever watch that one? The kids show with the blue cartoon dog?
I loved Blue’s Clues well past the point where most children would have moved on to other shows. I loved Blue’s Clues to the point of accidentally isolating myself from my peers. I was still watching it when I was 8, and even once I lost interest when they kicked Steve off for Joe, I kept watching it with my sibling well into my preteen years.
I had a Blue stuffed toy. I had the Handy Dandy Notebook, with the giant crayons. I wanted the Thinking Chair very badly, and would randomly declare any particularly comfortable chair or even sofa to be the Thinking Chair. I had a Mailbox I would put random crap in. I had several figurines that would regularly get lost and stepped on. I had the Humongous Entertainment PC games, which were very good. My dog was named Blue.
Above anything else, I loved the Blue’s Clues food. I already loved neon-colored food, something that I know many 90s kids can sympathize with, and in my case I especially loved neon Blue Food. I can’t say for certain if my love of the Blue’s Clues Blue Food was because of the show itself, or if I started to love the show more because it was a consistent source of serotonin-inducing Blue Food. I think solving that mystery might be even harder than the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum.
Would you like to see my collection of favorite Blue’s Clues Blue Foods? Come on into my article! Blue skidoo, you can too.