I’ve mentioned in some recent episodes of the Pixels & Ink Podcast that I’ve become pretty disillusioned with the “AAA” sphere. Setting aside the current drought of AAA games we find ourselves in, so dominated has it become with same-y, safe projects based on big franchises that the whole industry has genuinely lost the excitement of discovering games that it used to have when I was a lad.
And while I’ve been pretty critical about it—and remain so—I’ve found myself turning more and more to the indie sphere for unique and interesting content. Games made by talented teams who are genuinely inspired by the classics of our youth. This has led me to games like Potions Permit, Demon Turf, and now Tinykin, a game about small things, with a big heart.
Tinykin has very clearly been inspired by games like Pikmin and Banjo & Kazooie, and yet it feels so distinctly different from both of those games—it’s definitely a lot more chill than either of them. Players take on the role of Milodane, a little scientific explorer, seemingly searching for planets with similar life forms. When he finally discovers one, he travels through a bubble transporter which damages his equipment and renders him unconscious.
When he awakens in what appears to be the home of a GIANT humanoid life form, he is met by a little elder bug named Ridmi, who immediately helps Milodane get his bearings, and upon doing so, discovers that Milodane has a certain affinity towards creatures known as “Tinykin,” who are immediately drawn to Milodane, and listen to his commands.
“Tinykin has very clearly been inspired by games like Pikmin and Banjo & Kazooie, and yet it feels so distinctly different from both of those games…”
Rimidi tells Milodane the house belonged to someone named Ardwin who disappeared long ago—and who the bugs revere as a god—but not before leaving behind blueprints for a strange device that could potentially get him home, but requires six missing components to complete. Milodane sets out on a journey across the house with the help of the Tinykin, to solve the problems of its insect residents and retrieve the missing parts.
Like I said, Tinykin has a story that feels very much inspired by Pikmin, but also feels like the kind of thing dreamt up by a kid playing pretend around their house. It’s silly and fun, and a little bit campy with some retro sci-fi vibes, but it feels wholly genuine in its delivery—with every room having a different style and interesting plot that ties into the main one.
But gameplay is where Tinykin really stands out. Like I mentioned at the top, Tinykin is a bit like Pikmin, in that you run around collecting a multitude of the creatures and using them to solve the various obstacles. There are five different kinds of Tinykin, each with unique abilities—Purple Tinykin are strong and can lift large objects, whereas Red Tinykin explode on impact with certain destructible objects.
“Tinykin has a story that feels very much inspired by Pikmin, but also feels like the kind of thing dreamt up by a kid playing pretend around their house.”
But, like I said, Tinykin is also a little bit like Banjo & Kazooie, where players run around huge areas, not only collecting Tinykin to complete the main mission, but completing little quests for people to collect artifacts, and collecting pollen to upgrade Milodane’s glide ability. Each area of the house is so lovingly crafted and the game does a lot with the concept that both Milodane, and the insect residents of the house are really small, making ordinary objects into larger than life structures.
Each area is full of interesting ideas—the way books, VHS tapes, or ordinary cans are stacked like platforms, or how cupboards and shelves become little villages or cantinas. Stacks of sponges (the one with the green Brillo side) become farmland, and each area’s unique theme makes it feel so distinct and alive, considering they’re just average rooms in a house. Furthermore, being so tiny opens so many nooks and crannies to explore, adding a lot of fun and a great sense of adventure to the game.
In fact, fun really is the optimal word to describe Tinykin. I realized as I was playing that there was no real edge to the game—unlike Pikmin or Banjo & Kazooie, there are no enemies to encounter or bosses to face off against, and yet I couldn’t stop playing it. I wanted to see every new area, to explore and traverse every inch of the house and see what each area had in store. Of course, there are ways to mess up—falling from a great height, or landing in puddles of water will cause Milodane to pop and respawn at the last point he touched ground, but it does more to encourage exploration than discourage it.
Backing the solid gameplay is an incredible sense of style. Visually, the game is a bit reminiscent of Demon Turf—being set in a vast 3D world, where Milodane, the Tinykin, and all the insects are fixed to a 2D plane, giving it some serious Paper Mario vibes. On top of the aforementioned creativity, the game is bright and colourful, and bursting with personality. In the audio department, Tinykin is AMAZING, using a variety of musical styles for each room with incredible arrangements.
When first entering the house, the game has some serious retro sci-fi style, with liberal use of theremin; whereas the living room has a bombastic and sweeping score, really capturing that sense of setting off on an adventure. The bathroom combines smooth jazz—which reminded me a lot of that one track from Final Fantasy VII—in one part, and electric dance music in the other, creating a great audible contrast to the two areas, which also fit thematically.
But it’s not just a great soundtrack for each level. Each song evolves or changes depending on different parts of the room you enter, and there was such a great attention to detail put into the sound design—from the weird and wonderful way each character speaks, to the way Milodane’s footsteps sound accurate to each item he’s running on.
“Tinykin is a wonderful little game that takes interesting concepts from equally excellent games and finds a way to make them its own.”
However, Tinykin is not a totally perfect experience. Moving around can be a bit unpredictable at times—much like Demon Turf it can be hard to get an idea of where a two-dimensional character is placed in three-dimensional space, particularly when precision platforming. Furthermore, the many of the side objectives in each level are a bit same-y—you’ll definitely be getting a Ring-Pop for someone in each level, or somewhat same-y carry-an-object quests. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, I just wished for a bit more diversity, especially considering the different uses for the five types of Tinykin.
Also, during my time, there were a couple visual glitches and some strange object collisions, particularly when having to jump on platforms in a big pool of water, and touching the platform sometimes acted as if Milodane was touching the water, resulting in a pop. But these are small hiccups and didn’t really detract from the fun I was having with the game.
Tinykin is a wonderful little game that takes interesting concepts from equally excellent games and finds a way to make them its own. It’s a clear case of design by inspiration, instead of design by imitation. While it’s not overly long, I couldn’t put it down—it’s definitely the kind of game that would have made an epic weekend rental.