Showcase Reel - Toki (1989)
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
The arcade version of the classic run and gun game, Toki, was originally developed by TAD Corporation and released as an arcade game back in 1989; in North America, it was distributed by Fabtek. Predictably, conversions to home systems followed. The Commodore 64 version was developed by TAD Corporation and published in 1991 by Ocean Software (they of countless movie tie-in games such as Robocop, The Untouchables and Navy Seals). A Commodore Amiga version was released the same year, developed by Taito Corporation and published by Ocean Software. The NES version of the same year was developed by TAD Corporation and published by Taito A remake, released in 2018, was developed initially by Golgoth Studio; the mantle was picked up by Microïds, who also published the game. This new version, released decades later in 2018, featured similar gameplay to the original but featured all new hand-drawn HD graphics.
You play as the eponymous human turned ape called Toki. Your beloved was kidnapped by an evil wizard and you're on an epic quest to save her and regain your humanity. The gameplay is classic run and gun. Toki must traverse six diverse and challenging levels, doing a bit of platforming, swimming and shooting at enemies with orbs from his mouth. These can be boosted with temporary power-ups. Still, Toki is a tough game, make no mistake (the coin-op DNA of the original is unmistakable). For the purposes of this article, I'm only looking at the first level, Labyrinth of Caves, including the final boss of the area.
When comparing the different versions of Toki, I thought about including the Megadrive version as well, but decided it was too similar to the Amiga version, so I only looked at the latter. I also thought about including the arcade version, but decided to focus only on the home conversions instead.
Without further ado, then, below are a series of screenshots, showcasing the different versions of Toki, along with some comments and observations from my time with the game. First up, the Commodore 64 conversion.
Ocean Software Limited
Of the four versions, the C64 versions is easily the clunkiest to play. The colour palette is dull, the sprites are on the small side and the graphics are missing details present in other versions, particularly in the backgrounds; this in no doubt in part to the C64's limited hardware (it can be hardly be expected to compete with its bigger 16 bit cousin after all). The intro cutscene has accompanying music that sounds somewhat distorted, which is strange for a C64 title. However, the game itself is missing a soundtrack, which takes away from the atmosphere. Again, hardware limitations must be the culprit here, although one wonders if they could have done something more with the SID sound chip.
On the plus side, the controls are quite responsive, so the game is playable, even if the gameplay doesn't match the gun and gun quality of the original. Also, (and apart from the understandably pared down graphics for its 8-bit home computer release) I did not notice any discernible omissions or cutbacks from stage 1, so no missing areas for example; stage 1 seems to survive its journey to the 8 bit system intact. I have to mention as well that like all versions, the C64 version of Toki is tough.
The NES version impressed me with its playability and graphics. The sprites are big and the colours are bright and colourful. The backgrounds are generally more detailed than the C64 version, with some exceptions. For example, the NES version goes some way into matching the original look of the distant mountains in the early part of the level. The C64 iteration sports the mountains, but they look more like rocky outcroppings rather than actual mountains, so you see a lot more of the sky. Once you get inside the caverns though, both versions sport black backgrounds, although in another small difference between the two 8 bit conversions, the NES version keeps the waterfalls, while the C64 version doesn't.
The NES version also rocks a pretty good soundtrack for the time, further differentiating it from its 8-bit home computer version. The controls are smooth and responsive, and go some way into capturing the magic of the original. For some reason, however, the end of level boss fight takes place completely in the dark, and as far as I can see, this is something that's carried over into the remaining levels. I am not quite sure what the thinking behind this decision was, to be honest. If I find out, I will update the article. Another thing to note is that like it's other 8-bit brethren, the NES version of Toki is not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination.
Ocean Software Ltd.
The Amiga version is of course a classic, the one I spent countless hours trying to beat (and never managed to) as a kid. The graphics are bright, colourful and richly detailed. The sprites are large, the music is great as you would expect from the Amiga. The game moves at a fair clip, and the gameplay is a dead ringer for the arcade original, thanks largely to the superior 16-bit hardware. Everything from the original arcade is here, so no corners are cut.
When I went back to this version after many years for this article, I was initially put off by having to push up on the joystick in order to make Toki jump - by this time I was used to having the jump action mapped to a different button (blame modern controllers). The same happened when I went back to the C64 version: pressing up to jump was a bit disorientating at first. Of course, being a conversion of a coin-op game, Toki is as tough as ever on the Amiga. However, of all the old school home versions, this one is definitely the one to get.
Golgoth Studio, Microïds
The 2018 remake features gorgeous hand-drawn HD graphics and all the bells and whistles that come with a remaster. The man responsible is a graphic designer by the name of Philippe Dessoly, and he also worked on the Amiga version back in day. There's an interview with him about his work on Toki here. The classic Toki tunes are also remastered here, and they're a treat to listen to.
The graphics and music might have gotten an overhaul; however, the game retains the classic run and gun gameplay, and that's how it should be. As an addition, you now get difficulty levels, and you might have to crank it up to get close to old school difficulty. Some purists might not like the transition to HD, but I don't mind it to be honest. Being able to play Toki on the go is what the Switch was made for.
One more note on the difficulty. I played the Switch version of Toki on the default setting and didn't have as much trouble getting to the end of level boss as I did when playing through any of the other home conversations. I'm not exactly sure what that means, (apart from my perhaps being better at the Switch version of Toki for some reason) so you will definitely want to play on a higher difficulty setting out of the gate. I also have a slight gripe against the 2018 remaster, and that is the fact that Microïds didn't include the arcade original as a bonus for some reason; perhaps one day we'll see the original coin-op classic make its way onto modern platforms in its own right.
And that is my brief comparison of the C64, NES, Amiga and Switch versions of Toki. After all that, which version should you play? It's hard to give a definitive answer given that I have focused on Stage 1 exclusively. At the same time, I think playing through the first level gives a pretty good indictor of what's to come in future, busier levels. With that in mind, this is the order in which I would play them:
If you're going to play only one home conversion, make it the Commodore Amiga one; this version is the one that most approximates the arcade in terms of graphics and gameplay. The Nintendo Switch version also closely captures the fast paced nature of the original, but some purists might be put off by the HD graphics. The next version to look for is the NES one, as it also goes a long way to approximating the feel of the arcade original, Finally we have the Commodore 64 version. All of the versions I've looked at, this is the most comprised, particularly the gameplay. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, just a bit slower than the other versions.
Please don't take this as a be all end all list. As videogamers we all have different tastes. In end, I recommend playing the version you like the most and are most comfortable with.
We're almost done with this comparison, I promise. Before we go, though, I've compiled a list of images of the loading/title screens (see below). Just click on an image to zoom in on all the images in that particular row. Where no image exists, this has been replaced with an N/A.
And that is it, end of the article. I hope you have enjoyed reading and that you'll try Toki on at least one of the platforms it's available on. Do let me know which version is your personal favourite and why.
Oh, one more thing. If you'd like to know more, I also made a video that directly compares and contrasts all four versions. You can watch it here:
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFN8zhV2Rss