I was a competitive swimmer as a kid and teenager, I spent almost all of my weekends travelling the country, participating in swimming competetions. One weekend back in probably 1990 I was in another part of the country doing a two-day training and competition thingy. In our free time we went to the local “arcade”, and there, tucked away in the corner sat an arcade machine I had never seen before. I could immediately see the game was very popular, a lot of people were gathering around it, watching an older, cool kid playing.
The graphics were awesome, the monsters crazy and unique, the gameplay was fairly slow-paced, the game was Toki and I was hooked. Unfortunately, did I not just lose all my lunch money, but after that weekend I also never played the arcade version of the game again (not until as an adult). Lucky though the game was embedded deep in my brain, where it would lay untouched for some time, that was until the Amiga version was released.
Toki the arcade game
Toki was developed and released as an arcade game in 1989 by the Japanese TAD Corporation, a relatively unknown manufacturer of video arcade games. TAD Corporation was founded in 1988 by former Data East employees. Toki would be their second game, and in the 5 years of existence, they only developed and published a handful of arcade titles.
Toki was known in Japan as JuJu Densetsu, but as Toki in the western hemisphere, where it was distributed by US company Fabtek, out of Washington State.
The arcade was an upright cabinet featuring one 8-way joystick and two buttons, one for attacking and one for jumping.
Toki was a wacky and quirky run-and-gun arcade platform game. It featured instant death when hit by enemies, bullets and traps. The levels were designed in a “trial and error” fashion, there was no way you completed the game in your first try, you had to learn the levels, know where to jump and where to evade, you couldn’t make it just by being good or lucky – But remember this was an arcade game and the most important aspect of an arcade game, besides the gameplay, was the business side – it had to make money – it has to hook you and then just swallow every cent you’ve ever earned.
Toki starts out with an intro showcasing, what essentially could be Tarzan and Jane, “Jane”, is in typical fashion, kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, who in the process turns you into a funny looking ape. The setting is set, go kill the evil sorcerer and get your woman and your former self back.
Battle through levels of traps and monsters, killing them by spitting or jumping on them, Power-ups makes your spit more powerful, makes you jump higher, add time to the clock, add bonus points to your score, etc… You would also be able to pick up protective gear to protect your fragile ape body.
The game itself looked beautiful with bright colors and great sound effects.
The monsters were unique and very well designed, the game was full of small humorous gags and wacky designs.
Every level featured a huge, crazy end-level boss and all levels except the last one had unlimited continues, the only limit being what you had in your pocket – The last level had 10 continues.
Toki the conversion
With the popularity of Toki in arcade halls around, it was inevitable that it would end up being ported to the home computers of the era. British software behemoth Ocean Software acquired the licensee to develop and publish a conversion for the 16-bit Amiga and Atari ST and for the older 8-bit Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC, only the first three materialized.
-Arcade to home computer conversion was very often a disappointing experience and in a time when most movie to game conversions also ended up being pretty lackluster, Ocean did some spectacular conversions with Rambo, RoboCop and Batman, to name a few, a feat they would carry over to their arcade to home computer conversions. The Amiga and Atari version were both released in 1991 and they played very much like the original arcade version, looked and sounded great.
Ocean, to do arcade conversions, usually had to buy an “original” arcade machine, extract the sprites from ROM, clean them up and start writing code – Most of the time in a reverse engineering fashion – playing the game and then transferring the experience to code, building it up to act and play as the original.
Sealed Atari ST and Amiga versions, developed and published by Ocean Software in 1991
With Toki out in the wild, I finally had a chance to reunite with it, unfortunately we didn’t have neither an Amiga nor an Atari ST at my house at the time, but a friend of mine did and one day, behold, he also had a pirated version of Toki – No need to tell we played the heck out of it.
To this day, I still take a quick spin at it with my kids – I have it on my standup arcade machine as well as on my RetroPie connected to our TV.
I was never really, really good at it and today I seldom gets past the first level, what is most frustrating is the instant death – back in the days you had all the time in the world to replay it again and again, this is just not the case today.
A NES release the same year actually had a reworked health and life system, adding a health-bar and thereby eliminating the instant death.
The Nintendo Switch saw a release of Toki with reworked art and sound in late 2018.
Last month, in June of 2019, a remake was released for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC/Mac, this remake, by French developer Microïds, has been in the works for years, it features completely new stylized and beautiful hand-drawn artwork and re-orchestrated music – the new “modern” style is very true to the original quirky style.
The new artwork is drawn by illustrator Philippe Dessoly, who also worked on the Amiga version of Toki back in 1991