Ever since Overcooked’s debut in 2016, several games have launched having clear inspirations from the breakout, co-op centric hit. Tools Up! seems to fall into that pot, being a hectic, havoc promoting co-op party game that has you and up to three others do their best to do home remodel jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible. As someone who is used to selling paint in their regular life and not applying it, but also as someone who is a big fan and supporter of the Overcooked series, I wanted to put my overalls on and see if the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. Tools Up! is here, but is it a painter’s paradise, or are you going to want to put your tools down?
Tools Up! is a four player party game where, as a team, the goal is to strip and apply wallpaper, paint, carpet and more within a set amount of time. In the Campaign, you have a limited time to earn enough points to get a rank of up to three stars, with three stars only being achievable if you 100% your required blueprints. In the Party mode, you will face the same levels, but earn stars based on how fast you complete the blueprint, not if you complete the blueprint. At the start of every level, one player is going to run over and physically grab the blueprint and hold the X button to take a view at what things should look like when the job is complete. Note that holding the blueprint is the only way to rotate your view of the level (by 90 degrees), which can be a pain, so we often left it stagnate unless we really needed to see what we were missing. There is typically two or three rooms that need work in most cases, with some needing a full refresher with both walls and flooring being worked on, while others may already be mostly prepped and just need carpet laid out. How you split the workload and tackle each task is crucial to finishing the job on time.
There is a certain chaotic hastiness to the gameplay that, not to mention the ex-girlfriend again, but that Overcooked really perfected. That same urgency is there, but the problem here is that the gameplay is not quite as refined. While the controls are simple in nature, they are not very user friendly. It is not that they do not work, but they just do not work well. Unresponsive is the best way to put it. Holding X lets you strip, gather, or apply material, while pressing A lets you pick up and put down, as well as dispose of it. Again, sounds simple but in practice there is just something irritating about the schemes accessibility. Tapping A lets you dump off garbage or unnecessary material, but since material applications are linked to X, I think it would make more sense to keep the dumping to X. Even the access to the blueprint is touchy, requiring a hold on the button instead of tapping to open. It’s just frustrating when you are already going against the clock to have the controls just not respond in a timely manner. It is also quite trying when you attempt to apply a specific material and it will not register the correct tile you are aiming for, or when you get turned down constantly by your avatar for trying to put down an object in an area that evidently does not have enough space.
With all the materials scattered about, this unresponsiveness hinders the experience, but there is still fun to be had. Some of the materials you will find are paint, flooring, tiling, wallpaper, and more. Each has their own preparations that are needed too, like stripping paint and wallpaper, tearing out carpet and tile, and even laying down new drywall compound, patching, or pastes. The preparations are heavily reliant on one thing: sharing a single bucket. Really? A crew of four only has ONE BUCKET? Ok, lets make this work. The bucket not only holds your pastes and applications that need mixed (paint has their own buckets), but it can be used to haul garbage (stripped products) to the garbage. Planning revolves around not only sharing this bucket, but also keeping an ear out for the doorbell. New materials on some levels are delivered throughout the day, so knocking out what you can in the given moment is important to stay on pace. Applying a carpet, which doesn’t require use of the bucket, is a smart thing for one player to do while another is pasting and wallpapering, or even stripping, which requires a clean bucket. Watch for your materials though, as a messy job site is often a dangerous one. If you tip over your paint or garbage buckets, spills will line the floor and become a slipping hazard. These need to be cleaned up immediately, and you can attempt to avoid more spills by not only placing your materials off the walkways, but also by taking out buckets, wallpaper, or anything else that is no longer needed, which also saves you time when cleaning up at the end of the job (you cannot get a three star rank if the home is not cleaned before the clock runs out!)
There are other un-avoidable hazards, too! There is ice, lava, and even pets. Of course the environmental ones are a little more obvious, don’t touch the lava because it is hot, the ice is going to be hard to move on, and falling in a pool is not going to get your job done any quicker. But the pet dog, that little bastard is evil. This animal runs across your job site, and if you are in its path, you are going to get knocked over and likely drop whatever you are holding. This is definitely one of the more unexpected, but equally annoying hazards. The level design was pretty standard. I did not see enough diversity and character within the 20 of the 30 levels I played before writing, but a quick peek at some assets shows that I am not missing much. I could not get into the music much either. In the fourth biome, which seemed to be old manor style, there was very pirate-esque music on a loop, and it just felt out of place. There is furniture on the maps as well, some of which needs to be moved out of the way to complete jobs, but this kind of fell into the background as well.
The general visuals do not do much to stand out. While colorful, it feels very dull and lacking character sadly. The cast of characters are honestly cute, but really ride that line of almost plagiarizing Overcooked in my opinion. Not the bodies so much, but the beady black eyes and cute animal characters that litter Overcooked are seemingly echoed in Tools Up!
Tools Up! needs some home improvements of its own. There is a lot I like here, especially the core concept. The variety of applications and materials is awesome, as is the necessity for teamwork (best played with two people in my opinion.) I also really like the progression of difficulty, as these new concepts are slowly and naturally rolled out to you (no pun intended), though one in particular that featured two blueprints made absolutely no sense to me. So there is some good in the bucket, but there is just as much bad in there. It is disappointing that a game that ideally could be fun to play, is just annoying because of how poorly it seems to control. If it was smoothed out, its new lacking area would be its unoriginal attempt at bringing character to the table. This project is a little sloppy, so developers The Knights of Unity may want to offer to spruce it up, or face the consequences of a bad online review.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 6/10
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