I Discovered Australia Through a Video Game
And why Ty the Tasmanian Tiger was my favorite childhood game character
All gamers have favorite characters from their favorite games, but kids look at video game characters as more than just the artwork on the box. Mario is more than the jumping, Goomba-smashing plumber. Donkey Kong is more than the semi-angry ape who has an obsession with getting his bananas back from the Kremlings. These characters are almost hero-like figures to be emulated in the backyard with siblings and friends. They are beloved by millions of gamers for their signature designs and slick moves in the games they come from.
My favorite character growing up wasn’t any of the Nintendo icons. It wasn’t Crash Bandicoot or Spyro or the Master Chief. It was Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. The protagonist of a 3D platforming trilogy made by Australian-based Krome Studios, Ty was just cool. Cooler than every other character I had ever played up to that point. He used his variety of boomerangs to take down the bad guys throughout the Australian Outback, collecting opals and thundereggs along the way to the final showdown with Boss Cass (weird, large, emu-like bird called a cassowary). It eventually spawned two sequels, and then a mobile phone game. Still, it’s the definition of a niche character and game series.
The franchise was certainly not an all-time great from most aspects. When thinking about the original, it’s a typical 3D platform game in the vein of all the rest of the titles in the genre from the early 2000s. What it had in abundance was character, hence why I fell in love with Ty himself.
The setting was incredibly immersive for a nearly 20-year-old game. The choice to put the characters in the Outback and make all of the collectibles actual items that you would find in Australia was what pulled me in. Ty was sometimes sarcastic, sometimes thoughtful, often times a little clueless, and certainly always a badass from the perspective of an eight-year-old.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason I was enamored with what I was playing was because Ty was the symbol of a whole new world I was becoming a part of. Australian references went beyond the items and the stages, as even the accents and expressions used by the anthropomorphic stars of the series were pretty accurate. The whole package really was a beauty and I had a ripper of a time (that’s probably enough references of language in the game).
It demonstrates that gaming really can immerse you in different variations of the very Earth we live on. I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the Australian continent, but playing Ty’s game was a way to come close. I appreciated all of the tiny geographic and cultural details even more when I replayed the game a few years ago as an adult. I guess children always have a sense of when something is special, but it takes being an adult to put it into words why we felt that way. I didn’t know why the experience felt unique, but now that I do it makes me proud of my younger self for immersing myself in a different culture. Despite the deeper reasoning I now possess, I did know my main reason for Ty stealing my gaming heart as a youngster.
As I already mentioned, I loved the boomerangs. Ty’s weapon of choice is unrivaled in gaming. Yes, I know, Link uses a boomerang too, but Ty used ‘rangs. They incorporated the elements of the world around him to create some of the most unique weapons my youthful mind had ever come across. The Flamerang, the Zappyrang, and the Frostyrang all were examples of the boomerangs embedded with some sort of extra goodie that flexed the developer’s creativity. It made Ty feel ultra-versatile and infinitely powerful. No matter what obstacle, there would be a specific ‘rang that could counter it. Fire to combat ice, explosions to take out mechs, lassos to herd, and fins to swim underwater. I’m not aware of how much boomerangs might be involved in Australian culture, but they just felt perfectly in place with the aesthetic on the screen at all times.
The second game was more of an open-world adventure, too big for my brain to comprehend at the time it came out, and I remember playing the third game and quitting after the first level. Kids don’t have a lot of reasoning for why they play a certain game for a specific length of time, and I know I barely finished any title that I started back in the day. It’s the original game that captured my liking, yet I only played it through a couple of times. It was just the idea of the character that endured for the length of my childhood.
I didn’t care that nobody else gave a crap about the game except for me. My brother wasn’t a big fan, my dad never played the game and my classmates had no idea what a Tasmanian tiger was. That was fine, I had him all to myself. I started reading up on the animal the character was based on; it’s sad to find out it has been extinct for a while now. I made a poster project about cassowaries inspired by the evil antics of Boss Cass, leaving the rest of my peers downright confused at what they were looking at. Once again, I didn’t care and it made me feel smart that I knew about a bird that they didn’t!
We now know that video games can be as culturally empowering and educational as any other piece of entertainment. Little did I know that all of the interesting aspects of a foreign land is what made me engage with a series that few others ever took an interest in. Krome has ported the original game to the Switch and the PS4 very recently. I hope others dive in and find out how much can be gleaned from games that star someone other than Mario.