‘The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition’ preview: filling the void

'Phoenix Edition' brings a new lease of life to Q-Games' 'The Tomorrow Children'

The original release of The Tomorrow Children, a self-described “altruistic cooperative world-building adventure game” by director and founder of Kyoto-based developer Q-Games Dylan Cuthbert, was caught and ultimately stranded in no-man’s land. Released as a free-to-play title in 2016 before games like Fortnite, Genshin Impact and others made the format popular on consoles, in the end, Sony Interactive Entertainment, the game’s original publisher, shut The Tomorrow Children’s servers down after just one year in service.

But now, after years of back and forth between Q-Games and SIE, The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition will be re-released for PS4 and PS5 (as a PS4 enhanced title) on September 6, 2022. The team at Q-Games has taken special care in ensuring the untimely demise of the original release will not be repeated here: switching from servers to a peer-to-peer online model and supporting a fully offline single-player experience, though Cuthbert recommends playing the game co-operatively online for the optimal experience.

The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition. Credit: Q-Games.
The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition. Credit: Q-Games.

The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition as a game is difficult to neatly summarise. It has touches of Minecraft’s crafting, hints of Animal Crossing-style town builder mechanics and some Valheim monster killing and resource management all wrapped up in a Soviet inspired aesthetic. In fact, it is this aesthetic that will stand out first and foremost. The character models take heavy inspiration from Czech and other ex-soviet marionette dolls, giving every interaction with your mysterious overseer a very deliberate creepy edge. The Soviet design runs deeply in the game, going so far as to having to report to a Department of Labour to collect rewards for your hard work rebuilding a society swallowed by the mysterious void. This art style deeply benefits The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition, both in looking timeless and incredibly crisp, especially running on a PS5, whilst also standing out from other adventure/world-building games that have been released in the years since this game’s closure.

The gameplay is simple enough, especially once past Phoenix Edition’s new in-game tutorial, which the original release lacked and feels vital in getting to grips with the world and objectives. You are responsible for mining and collecting certain crafting materials, such as wood and precious metals, from islands forming in the void around your town. You use these materials to build structures like electricity plants and crafting tables that allow you to build out your town further and ultimately save humanity. Thanks to Phoenix Edition’s new single-player enhancements, in-game AI will help with some of that busy work, like transporting materials from the island that you’re exploring straight back to your personal town. This is helpful as your character has limited inventory space, allowing you to focus on exploring rather than ferrying blocks of wood around.

The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition. Credit: Q-Games.
The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition. Credit: Q-Games.

These void islands initially look like a procedurally generated space, with otherworldly spikes and caverns forming elaborate rock formations. In actuality, they are created and curated by the developers. This removes that dreaded feeling of getting stuck in a space the game has randomly made without consideration of player mobility and means that there are hidden treasures throughout each of these islands. For example, I used one of the game’s new Void powers to slam through a big rock, uncovering a hidden Matryoshka doll inside which, when processed through one of the unlockable building structures, adds a new villager to your town.

For the first part of my preview, I played through the different tutorials, which were hands-off enough to allow for self-discovery whilst also gently nudging you in the right direction. For the second part of my preview, I was taken to a much more developed island populated with the Q-games team. This is where the scope of what can and can’t be done in The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition became apparent.

The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition. Credit: Q-Games.
The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition. Credit: Q-Games.

Where in my solo town there was nothing more than a few small buildings, here there were parks, trees, buses and electric scooters zipping around me. Other people flying off into the distance with jet packs, climbing giant monolithic structures with grappling hooks. Different vendors, once locked behind the original release’s free-to-play microtransactions, selling goods with in-game currency. In the sky, giant stingray-looking monsters fired upon the town, people scrambled onto giant cannons to fight them off. There was a very real sense that this town was indeed, alive. This plays beautifully in the overall objective of the game itself: to save humanity from the void. With other games of this style, the game’s narrative direction gets lost in the day-to-day humdrum of running a settlement. For The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition, that humdrum is the very goal of the game. Become a model citizen, and live a life. Help your fellow person.

There are some wrinkles in the overall design that I feel might be showing their age here. These ranged from minor things, like spongy gun mechanics, to some more significant oversights, like a lack of storage space for tools and items ultimately leading to cardboard boxes filled with pickaxes and rocket launchers littering the town, which felt a bit dissatisfying. Customisability-wise, there are new outfits for your character to earn and purchase but there aren’t the same levels of terraforming and town personalisation as one would find in something like Animal Crossing. But the placement of buildings, trees and parks as well as sign building and other personalisation touches that are there, though not massively diverse, will help keep your town feeling uniquely yours.

When The Tomorrow Children was shut down, many critics and fans alike spoke favourably about how ahead of its time the game was. The beautifully distinctive and novel character design, the sense of discovery on the ever-changing void islands, and the collective joy of working together with strangers to achieve one goal, whether that be defending the town from monsters or successfully navigating a park seesaw. With The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition’s quality of life improvements, graphical improvements and much-needed preservationist approach to online play, Q-Games’ time might be now. And certainly will live on until tomorrow.

The Tomorrow Children: Phoenix Edition launches on September 6 in Europe and September 7 in Japan. This preview was played on PS5.

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