We live in an era where roughly everything that’s not a AAA game is considered an indie game. Bastion, arguably the best indie game of 2011, was published by Warner Bros. Journey, which will most likely receive the same accolade for 2012, was published by Sony. Trine, by Nobilis and Fez, Microsoft. And the list goes on. With all of these “indie” games filling the online market, it’s easy to forget that while these games are made by small teams and not owned by a bigger company, there are also indie games that are published by the development team themselves. In the case of Tiny & Big in Grandpa’s Leftovers, we see that can be both great and not-so-great.
Tiny & Big puts you in the shoes of Tiny as you chase after Big, the person that stole your grandfather’s (under)pants. While the game features some novel ideas, it also suffers from a lack of focus, polish and that ineffable spark that makes games fun.
While it’s not an open-world game, Tiny & Big is very much a sandbox. At its core, Tiny & Big is an environmental puzzle game. At the beginning, you’re given all the tools you will need to make it through the rest of the game. Those tools are a grappling hook, a laser and a rocket launcher. The grappling hook and laser behave as expected. The grappling hook allows you to pull objects and the laser allows you to slice objects into pieces. The rocket launcher, instead of exploding, attaches to an object and allows you to propel that object. By far the most fun tool of the mix is the laser. With it, you can cut virtually every object in the game. But while this allows for a fun way to interact with the world, most of the more inventive ways are not required to actually progress through the story.
Tiny & Big is a puzzle game, but I never found myself having to think much about what I needed to do. Generally, the game just requires you to cross some chasm or go up a steep incline. To do that, find the large object that is sliceable, cut it into a palpable size, then propel/pull it across the chasm or up the incline. Rinse and repeat for a couple of hours. To the game’s credit, it does side step the Metroidvania format of showing you everything then taking it away and dolling it out over the course of the game. The downside is that you literally do the same few actions across the entire game.
Graphically, Tiny & Big is interesting to behold. On the one hand, it has a nice cell shaded style with unique character designs that are vaguely reminiscent of Psychonaunts. On the other, it’s very, very brown. The game even makes fun of its color palette. But mocking an issue that games have does not make it okay to have that issue present in the game that is making fun of said issue. That said, the visuals become more interesting in the last level but the brown is simply replaced with purple and turquoise. Not exactly the most appealing set of colors.
My main problem with Tiny & Big is more on a philosophical level than anything else. The game is obviously meant to be absurd. I mean, you’re chasing a guy who stole you grandfather’s underwear which just happens to be about as dangerous as the One Ring. But the game never does anything with that and any attempt at humor fails. Given the extreme nature of Tiny & Big’s absurdity coupled with its lack of humor, I kept looking for some other meaning to creep out. Maybe there’s a deeper message on game design as a whole or criticism of big budget titles. But there’s nothing there. It’s just a game that tries to be funny and does not succeed.
Tiny & Big is not an altogether bad game. It’s certainly not broken, it has a lot going for it, and on paper it would sound great. But it also serves as a good example as to why publishers can be a good thing. I think that with additional play testing and someone higher up to reign in the focus a little, Tiny & Big could have been another entry into the growing list of awesome “indie” games. As is, it’s a game with solid base but one that fails to do anything with it.