The object of Tribal Pass is to get your tribe from one side of the map to the other via some treacherous landscapes full of predators and rival groups. During the journey you must collect food, via the bushes or deer, and avoid obstacles which will kill tribe members. The amount of food you have is crucial; if you haven’t enough to support the tribe, members die.
There is a tutorial which gives you a rundown of the simple controls and the types of problems you can expect to encounter on your journey. You start as a medium sized group of people, with a shaman at the helm. I am unable to see the function of the shaman in a way. The character is obviously the leader of the group, but if he dies early on in your run, he is simply replaced by another tribe member. It isn’t until you are down to a smaller group, perhaps 3 or 4, that it seems to matter if he dies. By clicking the left mouse button you split the tribe in half; keep clicking and the tribe keeps dividing. Press the right mouse button and it brings the group back together again. Even with the tutorial this can get confusing, the trick being that you need to remember how many times you have split the group to bring it back together again safely. The other controls are the numbers two to five. Each corresponds to a different role. Pressing two gives your tribe spears to enable them to hunt animals, three gives them fire to scare away predators and so they can see in the dark, and five adds more to your tribe if you have enough food to accommodate them. Number four sacrifices some members of the team, for the greater good, and to conserve food if needed.
Once you have gone through the tutorial you can start the game. You are plonked straight into a landscape. My first run did not go well as I kept splitting the tribe unnecessarily and clicking the wrong buttons so they were scattered across the screen not picking up the food needed to sustain my numbers. Eventually I got the hang of it and was on my way. There are rivers you also have to traverse with the tribe split into the right groups to correspond with the number of bridges that cross the water. The one thing that would have been nice to mention in the tutorial is that the trees and other landscape based objects do not need to dodged. The men go round these of their own accord without injury which took a me a second to realise that I didn’t need to be splitting the tribe more than I already had. There are also some larger enemies, rhinos, sabre tooth tigers and a large creature in the sky, which looks a little like a pterodactyl, all of which are supposed to make the journey more difficult. However, other than the sabre tooth cats, which can be avoided like any other obstacle, there is little in the way of how to fight off the other predators. If your group is big enough and equipped with spears then the rhinos get taken down, but if you haven’t enough in your group they are pretty hard to avoid and some tribe members will inevitably be squashed. As for the flying creature, you see its shadow and hear its cry as it flies over the tribe, but I am yet to notice what effect this actually has on the gameplay.
There is the option to run the levels in day or night, obviously the night time challenge being more difficult due to poor visibility. Once the first level has been completed you can choose whether to do the next in night or day. If you choose day you are punished for taking the easier route by having food deducted from your store, but never enough to make it worth taking the more difficult option. This is something that would have added another dimension to the game, if there wasn’t this choice, and instead some of the levels were just dark regardless of whether it is chosen or not. You also gather different coloured tokens along the way, which can be added to your next run. Some give you more food, some mean that tribe members collect more food, and there is one which means if you die you don’t restart the whole game, just that level. I like these tokens, but I feel they are a little redundant as it is easy enough to make a run without using them.
I actually like the art style of this game. It is often tricky to pull off a pixelated indie game these days as it seems to be the norm, but in this case there is still a lot of detail to be taken in. The animals and landscapes look good and the movements are fluid. This style also adds to the primitive theme of the game, bringing it all together.
The biggest issue with Tribal Pass is, that despite it being challenging to start and having a good concept, it simply doesn’t hold any replay value. Once you get into the rhythm of splitting the tribe the minute long runs loose their challenge and become monotonous. I managed to get across the board in less than ten minutes, and once you’ve done that, it is back to the start. It gets boring fairly quickly and their is little variation in the landscapes and perils you must face. Overall, it is an enjoyable game. If it were longer and had a few more level variations it might hold its appeal for longer, but as it stands it is only fun for the short time it lasts.