Tinykin is a Surprise Contender for Game of the Year

It's about a bunch of little guys running around.

I don’t really do marathon gaming sessions as an adult. Sure, I’ll play through a bunch of Destiny 2 while catching up on podcasts or my YouTube subscriptions, but it’s rare that I pick up a new game and just tear through it in a single sitting or two. And yet, yesterday I downloaded Tinykin on Xbox Game Pass and, albeit with a couple of breaks throughout the day, had finished it about six hours later.

Tinykin is a Pikmin-like game that casts the player as Milodane, a human explorer from the planet Aegis who returns to Earth to seek the origins of humanity. When he finds himself stranded in a gigantic house, he enlists the help of the titular creatures to build a machine that will get him home. The game mentions the year 1991 in its press materials, but this isn’t really a nostalgia grab — the time period doesn’t have much to do with Tinykin, aside from the appearance of some household items from the era.

In fact, the narrative of Tinykin doesn’t really matter at all. There is a story here, albeit a very loosely-told one, but the draw is the puzzle-solving and laid-back platforming. Unlike Pikmin, there’s no time limit or real dangers in the house Milo’s exploring. There are no enemies, and while you can fall into hazardous pits or drop from great heights, doing so only respawns you nearby. The game is all about using the various kinds of Tinykin to access new areas or retrieve objects sought by other characters, and it introduces you to their varieties over the course of a breezy five stages.

Tinykin

The first kind of Tinykin you find are good at pushing, lifting and carrying things. The second explodes when thrown at a destructible object, making them a limited resource. This is when the game really starts to open up, as these Tinykin can blow up crates releasing climbable ropes or even cause little silkworms to launch threads across the map, which you can grind across on Milo’s soap board. Exploring each area, then, becomes an exercise in creating shortcuts and opening up more of the terrain. Later, you find Tinykin that can help you climb, make bridges, and solve electrical puzzles.

In the tradition of 3D platformers, there’s a bunch of stuff in Tinykin to collect, though this aspect of the game never reaches the absurdity of late 90s Nintendo 64 titles. There are a few side objectives in each area and a ton of pollen scattered throughout — collecting a certain amount of the latter extends Milo’s gliding ability, but you aren’t required to find every little piece in the game. Generally speaking, it’s a delight to poke around the game’s stages, looking for pollen, Tinykin, and hidden secrets.

By weaving the gameplay of Pikmin together with 3D platforming mechanics, Tinykin ends up being more than just a clone of Nintendo’s little guy-herding franchise. There are almost no disclaimers here. The game doesn’t lean too much on humor, and aside from a few hacky jokes with character names that aspect is pretty unobtrusive. The dynamic soundtrack sets the tone well, changing, for instance, as you enter a piano or wiggle under a rug. The platforming isn’t too demanding, the designers smartly realizing that the 2D character models might might precision jumping frustrating. The only gameplay issue some might find frustrating is the lack of a map — but you really don’t need one, and like Dark Souls it ends up being fun creating a mental map of each area and its various shortcuts as you go.

It’s extremely rare that I get so hooked by a new title lately, and Tinykin will likely find its way onto my Game of the Year list. You can check it out on Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation, Switch, or Steam.