There are certain expectations when it comes to video game protagonists. Heroic figures you can idolize are common, because who doesn’t love rooting for an honorable and well-intentioned person attempting to make the world a better place? Antiheroes are equally common, giving us tales of redemption or revenge. The one thing we don’t often see are titles where the leads make us cringe. Which makes the existence of Tingle and his unexpected lines such oddities. The Legend of Zelda, a series with one of the most noble and legendary paragons in all games, launched a spin-off starring the world’s biggest creepo. Even though this dude may make us tingle in all the wrong ways, he has the fortune of headlining some of the most unexpected and interesting games. Which actually makes quite a bit of sense, when you think about it.
Take Freshly-Picked: Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland. Nintendo hit the ground running with this one. An origin story, it’s a consumeristic adventure where the almighty
dollar Rupee is king. Tingle wants to go to Rupeeland. Uncle Rupee wants Tingle to go to Rupeeland. How does that happen? By collecting as many Rupees and gems as possible and chucking them into a pool. By taking on this challenge, though, Tingle ends up making Rupees his life-force, as going broke kills him.
Everything revolves around money in Freshly-Picked: Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland. You fight battles for the funds and rewards they provide. Bodyguards can be hired, should you see them out. Acting as a dealer for items, working as a cartographer to complete maps of the world and even crafting in Tingle’s home can help you acquire additional funds. Money makes the world go round, in a way that’s explored more deeply than in titles with shop simulation elements like Recettear. And it’s Nintendo’s most unsettling character that has the honor of starring in such an affair. But then, we are seeing two very unconventional elements coming together. A traditional hero wouldn’t be so concerned with money. An antihero may be, but wouldn’t reduce himself or herself to such demeaning lows and pandering to reach the goals. Only a weirdo like Tingle would do everything he does in Freshly-Picked: Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland.
It makes Tingle’s second solo, retail outing seem downright ordinary in comparison. Too Much Tingle Pack was a DSiWare collection of games and apps. The name is incredibly apt, as it was an anything goes sort of affair. You can tell time with Tingle, have Tingle help you with math, have him tell your fortune, flip some coins with him or watch him dance. It was, in short, rather ridiculous. But, at the same time, made sense. Tingle is frivolous and does his little dances anytime he appears in a game. Of course he’d dance in a minigame collection. He’s all about money, so his being tied to a calculator app or coin-flipping game works too. Even fortunetelling can be connected, since it’s an activity practitioners can use to take money from clients.
Too Much Tingle Pack in and of itself makes sense too. It cashed in on Tingle’s name. Do you think anyone would have purchased such a collection, had a The Legend of Zelda character not been tied to it? Would we really have needed any of these things? Probably not. But, who better to sell out than a man who does any and everything possible to earn Rupees?
Ripened Tingle’s Balloon Trip of Love rounds out the trio. It’s the most conventional of the three, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything close to ordinary. Tingle is sucked into a book he ended up buying on sale, which takes him to a world where he must romance and dance with five women to leave. Aiding him in his quest are three characters based on the scarecrow, tin-man, and lion from The Wizard of Oz. (I guess that would mean Tingle is Dorothy?) This means it’s part dating sim, because Tingle has to romance the five women. It’s also a point-and-click adventure, because he has to journey through the book’s world making use of his tiny scarecrow, analytical tin-woman and strong lion’s abilities to proceed.
This is a situation that would not work with any of Nintendo’s other heroes. There is no other character who could suddenly stumble upon a book and find himself in a fictional fantasy with a harem to romance and challenges to overcome. Tingle does, because he’s Tingle. We could hand-wave the adventures away as some sort of delusion. Or, if they are somehow real, we can rationalize it by remembering this is a man who believes he is a fairy, has Rupees as his life-force and is uncomfortably odd. This is normal for him, which makes it normal for us.
Tingle may be Nintendo’s most disturbing character. He’s certainly the perturbing. Yet, it’s thanks to that unsettling nature and disposition that we’re able to get such unconventional games. This creepo allows Nintendo to explore and offer unexpected games that wouldn’t work with other characters, perhaps offering a better chance of them getting played due to their slight relation to a beloved series.