Tools Up! Is a party/couch co-op game for 1-4 players, and my immediate query would be: why no Xbox Live co-op? Anyhoo, co-op games have become massively popular as gamers get fed up with running around in circles shooting each other in first and third-person battle royale shooters, a genre that all start to blur into one after a while. There are quite a few cracking co-op games out there to choose from with completely different target audiences, styles, plots and settings; Unrailed!, A Way Out and Human Fall Flat to name but a few of the most diverse.
Tools Up! has you playing as a cartoony character of your choosing, tasked with smartening up various apartments, stripping wallpaper, laying tiles or carpet, decorating walls then clearing up all within a strict time limit and adhering to a blueprint design. The party mode means you can have up to three other players to help, which can get hilariously messy and confusing as you knock over tins of paint and slither around on any spills or trip on carelessly dropped debris from the job. The play area can feel quite claustrophobic and to add to the problems for some reason you can't open a door while carrying anything… which is annoying, so you walk up to a door, put what you're carrying down, open the door, turn around, pick up what you were carrying and… Aaaargh. It's annoying once, but if you have to pass through 2 doors? Maybe this is why they made it possible to rip a door off its hinges, although they must be replaced to complete a job.
Having only ONE bucket for everything on most levels is also a major pain: the bucket can hold scraps of wallpaper or flooring, plaster, latex, paint spills and water leaks, but although logical the fact that you can't mix plaster in a bucket that has garbage (or even water from leaks) in it will have your temperature rising as you make yet another trip to the wheelie bin, which is always outside.
When you complete a job or when time runs out you are scored on your performance by a 0-3 star system, and normally just completing an apartment to a 1-star level will award you with a new job or unlock a new character or something – "great" you might think. But this is in fact a ridiculous scoring system which rather than say, awarding you a percentage of completion of a job, marks you whereby one tile missed makes the difference between a 2-star completion and a complete fail, or even leaving the blueprint behind can mean the difference between 2 and 3 stars! –which can obviously be frustrating and discouraging. This seems even dafter as there's actually a % progression gauge in the top right corner of the screen!
The difficulty rises quite quickly and the sadistic level designers pile on the pain for us with things like; rain puddles to slip on, doors that you can rip off unintentionally, too many materials (paint, plaster, tiles, wallpaper etc.) all being on site but unwanted (so they just get in the way and you have to clear them away before the job is complete), multiple conflicting blueprints or NO blueprint, flooring or wallpaper that looks very similar to the correct one but isn't, walls that have to be demolished, walls to be built, a cute but annoying dog, a kleptomaniac ghost and delivery men who arrive at the most inopportune of times and leave with the goods if you don't collect them in time… Heck–they even deliver to the wrong door sometimes!
As I mentioned before the levels feel claustrophobic with just 2, so goodness only knows what it's like with 3 or 4 players but sadly despite having plenty of controllers available we didn't get the chance to try it.
The designers also get 'cute' with some well-hidden equipment, and you'll often have to search for basic items like your blueprint (which can be highlighted by holding LB) or bucket, bearing in mind only the player holding the blueprint can rotate the view.
The new Garden Party Episode 2: Tunnel Vision DLC brings several new elements to the game without changing the core gameplay at all. Instead of stripping carpet, tiles and wallpaper you'll be mowing overgrown lawns, weeding, making shrubs into topiary, growing new trees and flowers, seeding new grass and watering it… And you'll also have a few new tools (hose, motor mower, shears & spade) and some new adversaries, a friendly but annoying dog (who actually does redeem himself later) and an intensely irritating raccoon, who steals any unattended items and puts them in the most awkward spot possible (often in the streams that flow through many levels.) This annoying little thief can also knock items out of your hands and cackles hysterically every time he steals something!
I honestly wasn't a huge fan of Tools Up! when playing it solo, it felt too tough too soon, felt cramped and rather repetitive, but playing it with my daughter the game really came to life; it's more fun and a lot funnier as slapstick accidents happen regularly. The difficulty seems more suited to co-op play, and Polish developer All In! Games seem to know that because the Garden Party Episode 2: Tunnel Vision DLC adds some variety and fun. This returns me to my earlier question: why no Xbox Live co-op? This seems a strange omission, particularly at this time. For me, as much fun as the couch co-op is, Tools Up! loses a point or two because I can't play it with friends or family online. This is a real shame as I can't help feeling Tools Up! would have been hugely popular online, and let's face it, we aren't talking about the "Play Anywhere Party Console" Nintendo Switch here, how many Xbox owners actually have 3 or 4 controllers…?!
Special thanks to Laura at Plan of Attack for the review code.