Of all the amazing characters Nintendo has buried deep within its bulging virtual vault, Tingle, the green leotard-wearing Rupee obsessive from the Legend of Zelda series is one I wasn't expecting to get their own game. And yet here he is, camping up the Nintendo DS in a bizarre RPG that has just about enough charm to carry the player through to the end despite its infuriating flaws.
For those of you not in the know, rupee mad Tingle first turned up in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask on the Nintendo 64, selling maps to Link. He's been in every Zelda game since, most notably in the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker on the GameCube, where he gave Link the Tingle tuner, one of the few excuses to connect your Game Boy Advance to the GameCube. He also demonstrated his desire for rupees by charging you hundreds just to decipher Triforce maps, the little bugger.
Tingle's past has never really been fully explained. I didn't know why he wore a green leotard, why he was into maps, why he floated around with balloons and why he had this crazed rupee infatuation. He was just one of those strange bit-part Legend of Zelda characters that split the game's vociferous fanbase right down the middle -Japanese craziness or annoying nonsense.
If nothing else, Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland puts an end to that debate. Turns out that before Tingle became Tingle, he was a down-and-out 35-year-old bachelor whose life was going nowhere. Depressed and ground down by the daily grind, he hears a voice guiding him to the Western Pool. Once there Uncle Rupee, a mysterious old man with a Rupee for a head, appears on a cloud in the sky, transforms our man into Tingle and tells him about Rupeeland, a paradise where he can eat the finest food and enjoy the finest women the world has to offer. But to do this, Tingle has to throw rupees into the Western Pool to raise a tower that will allow him to float far enough on his balloon to reach Rupeeland. Not only that, but rupees are now the source of all Tingle's power. If he runs out of rupees, that's it, he's dead.
Nuts isn't it. But I was happy to run with it, this being a Japanese RPG. So off you trot on a quest for rupees, all in order to reach some mythological paradise revealed to you by some old cloud-surfing geezer with a rupee for a head. At least now we know why he was always ripping Link off in the Legend of Zelda games - he was just trying to keep himself alive!
It's this desire for rupees that highlights one of the game's biggest flaws. Characters in the game won't speak to you, or pretty much do anything for you, unless you pay them. You have to guess how much they will accept, with no pointers. If you guess wrong, they turn you down AND KEEP YOUR MONEY! If you raise the price, try again and they still turn you down, THEY KEEP YOUR MONEY AGAIN! For a game where rupees are such a sought-after commodity, it's easy to lose hundreds of rupees in a couple of minutes trying to get a guard to speak to you. Imagine going to a shop and offering 50p for a can of coke. "Sorry", the shopkeeper says. "That's 55p, but thanks for that 50p." Absolutely crazy.
Combat is nuts as well. You don't actually do anything when you fight, you just move into enemies (along with your bodyguard if you've hired one) and turn into one of those cartoon clouds of dust with fists and legs sticking out. You then move your cloud around with the d-pad picking up more enemies like a snowball. The more enemies, the more rupees and better items are dropped after victory. You have to be careful though, Tingle will lose rupees during the fight, which is why hiring a bodyguard from a bodyguard salon is so important. Bodyguards will follow you around, taking instructions from you via the DS stylus, and absorb damage. But they can only take so much before their hearts run out and you have to give them more rupees to revive them.
The game rips stuff straight from the Legend of Zelda games, which is fair enough, given that they are set in the same universe. You carry bottles around, which you can fill. Some memorable music from the Zelda series has been remixed for the game and you'll visit some classic Zelda locales too, including the Deku Forest, Lon Lon Meadow and Death Mountain. There's dungeon crawling as well, although this is more frustrating than anything else. The collision detection isn't perfect. Navigating Tingle and your bodyguard through small rooms full of spikes isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. The game also takes a leaf out of Zelda's boss battle handbook, and presents some thoroughly enjoyable and wacky encounters to bring a close to the various dungeons. Each requires a different tactic and stylus input to win. In all honesty, it's probably the only combat worth doing. But once you've defeated the bosses the bartering problem resurfaces. You have to guess how much you deserve. If you guess wrong, you won't get the cash.
Then there's the frustrating saving system, which, I'm sorry to say, is inexcusable in this day and age. You can only save in Tingle's home, in the beginning area of the game. More times than I care to remember I would spend half an hour exploring a new area, forget to save, die, and have to start all over again. Mind-numbing stuff.
Despite complaining for most of the review, there are redeeming features. The game has a gorgeous 2D look to it, with lots of bold colours and finely detailed environments. The NPCs look great and the boss battles look spectacular. The overall art direction is perhaps the game's strongest point. Cooking is good fun, and map making is a strangely enjoyable experience. But more often than not the game's plus points are ruined by its flaws. Once you've completed a map you can sell it for quite a lot of rupees. Problem here is, once you've sold it, that's it, you won't have that map to refer to. You have to buy it back for just under what you sold it for, making earning cash from mapping almost pointless.
Forgetting the Zelda license, Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland is a relatively easy RPG with tedious gameplay, rudimentary combat and a bartering system that'll have you tearing your hair out. And yet for some reason the game's charm, gorgeous look and flashes of inspiration put a smile on your face. It's even more frustrating given how only a few small gameplay tweaks would have made this game one of the best RPGs on the DS, and a credit to the Legend of Zelda franchise. As it is, only hardcore Zelda enthusiasts and RPG fanatics will be able to forgive the game for its misgivings and barter their way to paradise.