Playing The Last Tinker: City of Colors evokes memories of both Aesop's fables and David Sedaris's book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk because both use animals to illustrate human foibles. It's somehow easier to recognize stupid behavior when it's enacted by something not human and City of Colors employs this strategy to great effect. By using cartoony candy-colored critters, it effectively conveys a serious message—the importance of racial equality.
This is surprising because on the surface, The Last Tinker: City of Colors is merely a cute action-platformer where digital equivalents to Jim Henson's muppets live in a vivid place called Colortown. Kermit the Frog said “it's not easy being green,” and in Colortown, it's not easy being green, red, blue or any other color. Once harmonious, the multicolored burg is torn apart by rampant colorism. Where all colors once worked holistically for the greater good, they now hide within monochromatic ghettos and dicker pointlessly over which color is “best.” Enter Koru, a young boy/monkey/scarf-wearing thing who lives in the Outer district on the fringes of Colortown.
The Outer district remains relatively friendly and free-thinking, and Koru enjoys the companionship of neighbors who continue to see the benefits of color blending and accept him for who he is. Traditionally, the monkey's seen as a trickster figure, but here, though physically monkey-like and possessing of a monkey's agility, smarts, and resourcefulness, Koru's well-meaning and generous. He's a fair-play kind of guy who readily looks out for both his neighbors and his floating pinata-like sidekick, Tap. As the only one of his kind, (the titular “last tinker”) it's no surprise that Koru is the one called upon to save the myopic residents of Colortown.
What's the worst thing that could happen to a place called Colortown? Obviously, it could have the color sucked out of it. Sure enough, that's what happens when a threatening entity called the Bleakness shows up, covering everything in white goo and turning Colortown residents into gray, colorless statues. Though the Bleakness threatens everyone regardless of color, those yet-unaffected by it appear incapable of letting go of their negativity long enough to defend themselves. Getting the different colors to work together against the common enemy is a real chore, and Koru has his work cut out for him calming the raging reds, uplifting the bummed-out blues, and reassuring the gutless greens.
From the outside, the residents' color discrimination is absurd. In the face of imminent destruction, they continue to worry about color purity and in the face of that stubborn ignorance, it's easy to dismiss all Colortown natives as idiots. Still, their behavior is easily compared to that of our own world. City of Color's developer Mimimi Productions is based in Germany, where its racial message no doubt resonates differently than it does here in the 'States. Here, it calls up polarizing events like the Fruitvale Station shooting and the George Zimmerman trial, which draw attention to just how strongly race discrimination, despite our protestations of social sophistication, still affects all our lives.
Of course, City of Color isn't life; it's a game, and games get to enjoy the happy endings to which our world isn't often entitled. The threat is neutralized, the different colors learn to trust one another again, and Colortown is reborn even better than it was before. Since the game has distinctly child-like appeal, (it even has a kids' difficulty level) this makes a kind of sense. After all, our culture likes to believe that goodness is rewarded, and City of Color, like the fables that came before it, gives its characters the chance to redeem themselves before it's too late.
The Last Tinker: City of Color is an extraordinary game in every sense, but especially because of its message. It's not only thematically savvy, it uses simple, non-threatening means to demonstrate the foolish self-destructiveness of racism in terms gamers of all ages can understand. Though adults can certainly enjoy it, clearly it's aimed at a new generation—one that with any luck, will realize the value of differences and appreciate the importance of every color's contribution.