Puzzle platforming is well-trodden indie ground at this point, but Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers allows you to carve up that ground with a laser, strap a rocket to it and then grapple it with your metal claw. Black Pants Game Studio have produced a world in which pants are a predominating psychic power and destruction is seemingly limitless, and within it Tiny & Big lives up to its name by being somewhat tiny in length but big in brilliance both realised and potential.
Though its appearance is somewhat ramshackle, purposefully and charmingly so, the amount of care that has gone into crafting this game is incredible from the off. For example, a tutorial is usually the preamble before the game begins, a necessary but boring lesson in its mechanics – not so in Tiny & Big. Taking place within the protagonist’s (the titular Tiny) handheld ‘Reality Boy’games console filled with Tetris blocks and overlaid in a retro green hue, it not only introduces you to the mechanics but to the craftsmanship at play – sure it is a gimmick, but it a gimmick that is well conceived, well executed and memorable.
Having crashed and lost all of my equipment at the beginning of the first level, I was concerned that this would be one of those ‘taste power, lose it all and have to slowly build it back up’ affairs that arguably represent the most obvious and lazy carrot-on-a-stick motivator within gaming. This fear lasted for about 30 seconds as it was made clear that I would be re-acquiring my tools almost immediately, provided I could get to them and understand their individual traits and the interplay between them of course.
Slicing through a rock so that you can jump on it, clawing an obstacle so that you can overcome it and rocketing a piece of cactus at one of the bizarre but adorable creatures that litter the landscape is how your adventure (or more accurately my adventure) to retrieve the pants that Big has stolen from Tiny begins. Being able to propel with the rocket for various durations (through pressing the middle mouse button) and grapple and drag objects as far as you want are small freedoms that go an incredibly long way to making the adventure feel like your own.
It is these sort of almost incidental nuances that impressed the most throughout the game. In order to cut something with your unbelievably powerful laser you must be able to ‘cover’ the whole object with the cutting line. As one of the only restrictions the game places on you, and understandably so or else there would never be a puzzle, the sense of freedom is still maintained through allowing you to stop the cut prematurely. At one point, through want rather than necessity, I crafted a rather intricate staircase into a giant rock in order to progress – There were countless other, far less involved, ways to approach this obstacle but that is what I chose to do, and the fact that the game allowed it is rather remarkable.
The world upon which you will carve your desired path lives up to the immediately intriguing aesthetic through its unusual creatures, scale and sheer refinement. Exploration can yield anything from a boring rock to meeting one of the many Gods of the game. The collectable music serves as a fantastic reward for venturing off of the beaten (sliced, clawed and rocketed) path, but the collectible rocks are too plentiful and uninteresting to serve as diversions for long. As Newton taught us [not personally mind you... unless... "Jeff did you by any chance meet"...] “every reaction is accompanied by a Batman-esq onomatopoeic action bubble”, and this adds yet more character to a game that had copious amount of it to begin with.
All of this is supported by an incredibly consistent and realistic physics engine, with which I experienced surprisingly few questionable moments of destruction, and a soundtrack that drives the experience and holds up incredibly well on its own. The only problem with the music is that it is so good and becomes so ingrained as part of your enjoyment of the game, that its absent at the loading screens is painfully prominent.
What did somewhat disappoint is the narrative element. Initially promising, with its absurd premise and genuinely enjoyable banter between you and your radio, it never really develops beyond that. Whilst there is a slightly interesting theme of the corruption of power surrounding Big, he is definitely missing a dimension or two in comparison to the world around him. This is remedied to some degree towards the end, and is perhaps down to this being an introduction to a series as well as a stand alone game.
Generally, Tiny’s traversal of the world is unimpeded by the controls. They are simple, with everything taking no more than a few clicks to achieve, and responsive enough to fade into the rather beautiful background. However, I experienced the occasional moment of lamenting the thankfully precise somewhat frustratingly demanding jumping. If I slam face first half way up the rock I was trying to land on top of then I deserve to plummet to my death, but hitting it with my ankle shouldn’t result in the same fate.
In a game where destruction reigns, it is disappointing that it also begins to wane. With only three tools on your belt and maybe five different environmental obstacles to face, your solutions begin to feel like cruxes. You could knock down the pillar in front of you in numerous ways, but a rocket is the easiest, most intuitive answer and there is no real reason to deviate from this. The game never gets to the point of stagnation, and in a way it is almost a flaw in me as player as opposed to in the game itself, but a few more elements to play with would have sustained the experience far better.
On that note, the game is rather short. With a ~4 hour initial run-through some may be unable to justify the £6.99 price tag. The game does provide incentive for redoing levels, with laser cutting ‘pars’ and completion stats such as time and collectibles found included, but most won’t undergo the search for underwear more than once.
Whilst my experience with Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers has been overwhelmingly positive, I think it is perhaps most exciting as the carver of the path the series will follow. As the first in a series, this game granted me the rare opportunity to experience something fairly unique and crafted with notable passion and consideration. I have no immediate desire to play the game again, yet I would recommend that everyone takes the leap on this one – I can still fondly remember much of what the game achieves, yet it is the future of Tiny & Big and Black Pants Game Studio in general that I can’t carve from my brain.