Tools Up! – Nintendo Switch
Developed By: The Knights of Unity
Published By: All in! Games
Category: Puzzle Party Game
Release Date: December 03, 2019
Couch multiplayer has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance since it was pushed out of the way by online gaming. Sega were the first to introduce online console gaming as standard with it’s short lived yet beloved Dreamcast but when Microsoft arrived on the console scene, they saw this as the perfect way to introduce it’s Xbox to the market with superior online play to Nintendo and Sony. Microsoft and Sony invested more in online gaming, but during this period Nintendo released one of the most popular couch multiplayer games of all time in Wii Sports. Couch multiplayer was taking a bit of a backseat in favour of online multiplayer however Nintendo continued to fly the flag with games like New Super Mario Bros Wii. Nintendo has continued to do so since with each new Mario Kart and Mario Party, but now online play is also included in most Nintendo games that offer multiplayer.
Online gaming became a hugely popular way to play with friends and remains to this day, but Team 17’s excellent and hugely popular Overcooked has shown across all platforms that couch multiplayer can’t quite be replicated online. It showed there is nothing quite like having friends or family alongside you sharing your joy or despair. This has opened up a sub-genre of couch co-op games, with the latest arriving from Polish developer and publisher duo The Knights of Unity and All in! Games.
Tools Up! is a couch co-op game where you must renovate apartments against the clock. Each level has a top down view of the apartment so you can see each room, and at the start of every level is a blueprint you must find to see what needs done. It could be carpet needs laid down in the living room, bathroom walls need retiling or the bedroom needs re-wallpapered. Your blueprint and your bucket are two of your most essential items in Tools Up!, more on that later.
You can choose to play as one of a cast of fairly derivative characters, and you start off with a few with the opportunity to unlock more in the campaign. Characters range from men and women to animals with the body of a human such as a horse and a lizard. Disappointingly there’s no discernable difference between the characters, they all move roughly the same which is a fairly slow waddle.
You can choose a one player campaign or a party mode for up to 4 players. In the campaign mode there is a level select map which is split into different floors, with each floor having levels with their own theme such as winter or Halloween. Each level you unlock in the campaign can then be replayed in party mode. Levels have their own hazards and obstacles such as slippery floors in the ice stages or obstacles that are put in your way, such as dogs or furniture, but you also will have to avoid puddles that can appear in rooms created from rain falling. Quite why none of these apartments have any roofs is anyones’ guess.
You usually start with some of the materials needed, but the rest are brought to the front door by a courier who usually arrives when you’re miles from the front door in the middle of something and will leave if you don’t get to the front door in time. Fortunately they come back to try again until you collect the materials from them, which would be a great real life innovation in the parcel delivery industry if it meant couriers kept trying until we answered the door.
Tools Up! appears to be quite simple although more complex jobs are introduced as you progress through the campaign’s 30 levels. Initial levels have you painting walls which is very simple. But in later levels you will be wallpapering which requires you to strip the walls of the old wallpaper then create wallpaper paste in your bucket, then paste the wall and then put up the wallpaper quickly before your paste evaporates.
It can wander slightly too closely into having to repeatedly complete menial tasks that many people may choose gaming to escape from in the first place. The aforementioned bucket is one of your most essential tools for doing certain jobs such as plastering or wallpapering but also for tidying. You fill it with any debris such as old wallpaper or carpet but also if you spill something it creates a puddle or debris on the floor which your character will slip on if you don’t clean up, so tidying on the go is encouraged and essential to get the top score in each level. Once your bucket gets too full you need to walk out the apartment to empty it in the bin, just like in real life! The fact that characters move like they’ve just ate too much for dinner makes going to the bin feel even more of a chore.
Your other essential item is the blueprint which you also need if you want to swivel the camera for a better view. The view of the level is fixed from an angle above, but when viewing the blueprint you can swivel the level 90 degrees for a better view of some rooms or to spot some materials that may be hidden from the default view. This mechanic to Tools Up! is the tank controls to OG Resident Evil which artificially increased the difficulty and tension but which many gamers eventually revolted against. Gaming (and the Resident Evil series) has come a long way since then, and instead this restrictive mechanic leads to feelings of frustration.
Continuing on this theme, controls can be fiddly with the choice to go down the road of simplicity backfiring slightly as too many actions are mapped to too few buttons. You may put up wallpaper, then mistakenly take it straight down again as the same button to put it up and take it down is the same and you can’t put it back up as it’s become debris.
Tools Up! is not the Dark Souls of party games, but the clock and memorisation of what needs done in each room are your biggest obstacles to success. It usually takes a failed attempt or more to overcome each level. In campaign mode you can choose to play without a timer, which is good for kids as it removes a lot of the challenge. But in party mode the timer can’t be removed and counts up instead, which is a shame as it would be good to have the option to mess around without the distraction of the timer.
Party mode with you and some friends round is where it’s at it’s best with up to 4 players, including support for play with a single Joy Con. There is a lack of options in party mode other than play any level unlocked from the campaign which is a bit disappointing, but there is fun to be had with what’s there.
Tools Up! is a fun party game and may stand out as one of the only games where you and some friends can redecorate apartments, but it’s too derivative and falls short in too many areas to stand out from it’s main influence Overcooked. Many levels have no unique hook and rely on out of date mechanics and the fun unpredictability of playing with friends to inject interest and excitement. When it does have some ideas these may appear only in one level never to be seen again. It feels like a missed opportunity but leaves plenty room for improvement for a potential sequel or DLC.