Tobe's Vertical Adventure

A game by Rayteoactive for PC and Xbox 360, originally released in 2010.
Rayteoactive is a Singaproe-based studio founded by Raymond Teo (technically he is the game designer known as Rayteoactive). The Singapore government is very supportive of its up-and-coming developers and actually provides development grants via the Media Development Authority of Singapore, which is how some of the development of Tobe’s Vertical Adventure was funded. Previous Singapore-based indie games are CarneyVale: Showtime (winner of the 2008 Dream Build Play competition) and Armor Valley. Tobe’s Vertical Adventure was developed with a 4-man team over a period of 8 months, with some minor work farmed out to freelancers.

Before we get any further, we’d like to let folks know that that Rayteoactive has pulled the game from the Xbox Live Indie Games channel. The game was originally released without analogue support, with the intention that it be played with the D-pad. Ideally, we’d live in a world where a functional D-pad was the rule rather than the exception, but that is not the case. The company later released an update that added analogue support, but made the control looser in the process. In 2011, the game was released on PC, which included a number of improvements, and the developer removed the original XBLIG release entirely.

Tobe is a kid who loves playing video games, but has found himself embarking on a real-world grand adventure in search of treasure. Tobe’s Vertical Adventure looks like a game that could have been released on a 16-bit console back in the early 90’s (in fact, there’s a mockup Sega Genesis boxart on the game’s official website). The tile-based levels and sprite art are reminiscent of the classic platformers of old, with one key exception… this game plays vertically. Outside of Nintendo’s vertically-oriented Ice Climber – which was one of the inspirations for this game – there are few other platformers that share its qualities.

Tobe has the full gamut of platforming powers at his disposal. He can run Mario-style with by holding down the X button and pressing the stick left or right. He can climb ropes, roll under obstacles, hang from ledges, run up walls, slide down walls, and wall jump. And, even though this is mostly a vertically-oriented adventure, you’ll be spending a great deal of time running from side to side and bopping enemies as you would in a traditional platformer. The sides of the screen even wrap around, similar to the vertical sections of Kid Icarus, so running off of one side of the screen lets you appear on the other, and a few items are tucked away in corners that can only be accessed by doing this.

And then, there’s the level design. Each level is designed to be played twice, once on the way down, and once on the way back up. See, Tobe’s Vertical Adventure is no ordinary platformer. Sure, you’re running, jumping, and grabbing collectibles, but you’re also descending through the area in order to find a specific treasure which is held in a large chest at the bottom of the level. Once you open it, the place begins to collapse, and you have to make your way back out before the timer runs down. You can actually earn bonus time for your escape by pressing the button at just the right time during a small chest-unlocking minigame.

Even before you get to the bottom and find the large treasure chest, you’ll be taking mental notes as to what you’ll need to do on the way back out, so there’s quite a bit of planning even on your first runthrough. In that respect, the game takes on more of a puzzler tone. As the initial chaos ensues, you’ll get a preview of the level layout as the camera scrolls slowly up its length revealing crumbling platforms and other changes to the environment. New paths will open up and others will be closed off, and you may be able to access chests or rescue animals that you couldn’t reach on your way down. So, you can be daring and try to grab everything, or just run as hard as you can, straight for the exit.

The game features 16 levels across 4 individually-themed islands, offering players about 4 hours of gameplay. The game also features a local 2P co-op mode in which Tobe and his friend Nana play through the game at the same time. Tobe is the faster of the pair, and he can run up walls, while Nana is slower but can perform a double jump. There are even a couple of new abilities that come into play when 2 players are going through the game together, including the ability to bounce on the other player’s head, and a co-op grab that allows one player to pull their partner up and help them reach higher areas.

Spread throughout the levels are gems to be collected and animals to be rescued. Most gems are lying about the levels, but some are tucked away in treasure chests as well. Collecting treasures will allow you to carry more items, while rescuing animals will increase your health bar. You can also pick up ropes and balloons that allow you to access new areas of the level by climbing or slowly descending, respectively. If you manage to collect enough treasures and rescue enough animals, you’ll be given passwords to unlock the game’s soundtrack and art gallery from the official website. And while you’re there, you’ll definitely want to check out the beautifully designed digital instruction manual for the game.

8 Bit Horse interviews Ray Teo of Rayteoactive. We discuss the developer's gaming influences, the decisions regarding the art style and gameplay, and the overall development process. Check out the video interview below, which features footage of the game in action. Be sure to enable on the captions on the video.

After the release of Tobe’s Vertical Adventure, Ray Teo founded a development studio called Secret Base. Their first release was a partnership with the folks at Bytejacker to create a Flash-based twin-stick zombie shooter called Bitejacker: Secret Base Horror Series 01.

The game is based on the personalities behind the Bytejacker review show, namely Anthony Carboni and Jon Rivera, both of whom lend their voices and (sprite-based) appearances to the game. And, crossing the 4th wall and going back again, the game also features cameo appearances from indie favorites Captain Video of the Bit.Trip series and Meat Boy from Super Meat Boy.

The game features more than 30 levels and lots of zombie-crushing weaponry. There are objects in the environment that can be searched by standing next to them – and fending off zombie attacks while the search meter fills – leading to additional weapons or increasing the player’s stats, such as health and ammo capacity. There are also a number of innocents to be rescued and escorted to the end of the level. Throughout the experience, the game spoofs the horror genre, zombie shooters, and video games in general.

After Bitejacker, Secret Base began working on some Flash-based spinoffs to Tobe's Vertical Adventure. In Tobe's Hookshot Escape, Tobe is trapped in a crumbling cave, but this time he has a new tool at his disposal (the hookshot), which allows him to grapple platforms above him and pull himself up. In Tobe's Great Escape, Tobe must escape the crumbling caverns without the use of any additional tools, and must therefore rely on his running, jumping, and wall-based moves.

Prior to Tobe's Vertical Adventure, Raymond Teo worked as a designer on a number of 2D action games, the most notable being Galactic Commandos and Straw Hat Samurai 2 both of which were programmed by Lut! (which also co-produced Tobe’s Vertical Adventure).

Galactic Commandos is an action strategy game in which you control 3 commandos – each with vastly different abilities – as they infiltrate an enemy base. The blue commando is very nimble and can perform ninja-like moves such as running across narrow ledges and instant-killing enemies from behind with his sword. He can also turn completely invisible when standing still and is the only character who can double-jump. The green commando has a laser pistol and a shield, allowing him to pick off enemies from afar and activate switches, as well as offer protection to his comrades. The red commando is the brute of them all. He attacks with huge rockets and has the ability to slam through obstacles and destroy them.

Similar to Lost Vikings, the player controls all 3 characters and has to strategically switch between each of them in order to successfully navigate the environments using their unique skills. The character designs and animations are highly stylized and the mechanics behind each of the commandos is solid, but it does play a bit slowly, and you need to get all 3 characters to the exit before you can continue to the next level. A sequel is currently under development.

Straw Hat Samurai 2 features a Samurai who runs through different areas and slashes the hell out of all of the bad guys he finds there. The player does not directly control the samurai, but rather makes slashing movements with the mouse. Performing different types of slashes has different effects on the enemies. For instance, making an upward slashing motion will cause enemies to fly into the air, where you can juggle them. However, heavy enemies are immune to this attack.

In addition to taking on the game’s similar-looking swordsmen and archers, you will encounter boss fights which require some additional strategy. You also have the ability to slow down time temporarily in order to make a series of attacks. A combo meter records your hit rate in the corner. This game is a bit more shallow and casual in nature, given the fact that you do not have direct control over the samurai, but its pick-up-and-play style is again supported by its character design and animation.