Tiny Tina has a problem. Several, really, but right now Sir Reginald is late for a very important date, and it’s the Vault Hunters’ task to locate the errant stuffed rabbit and bring it back to the colourful tween’s crib in time for her tea party.
The Hunters have been referred to Tiny Tina by the sniper-soak Mordecai for the pip-squeak’s explosives expertise, and if they hope to secure her services, they’ll need to chauffeur Tina’s guests to her gaudy shanty.
Unsurprisingly, Sir Reginald and another guest, Princess Fluffybutt, are out beyond the tundra, behind roaming gangs of bandits, and lodged in the hive membrane of monstrous insects. It’s a mechanically mundane fetch quest, but it’s dressed in a marvellously tawdry gown.
In Tiny Tina, Gearbox has created a hysterical hyper-caricature of the youngest American teens, a cel-shaded portrait of a generation weened on MTV reality shows, Red Bull, and the promises of Walt Disney’s collected works.
But scratch deeper, and Tiny Tina is innocence and experience, the twin masks of comedy and tragedy (no, really: she wears a psycho mask on the side of her head). A mentally scarred orphan, Tina’s settler parents were killed by Pandora’s Eridian-crazed convicts. Now the confused and isolated trigger-girl passes her days strapping dynamite to any psychos she can capture. How long before she finally unravels, how long before that psycho mask slips from back to front and Tina becomes what she hates is anyone’s guess.
Or don’t scratch at all. What’s most smart about this character is its subtlety. None of this needs to be explored or understood to enjoy Borderlands 2 to any greater degree. At the twilight of this console generation, the games industry – press included – is desperately seeking creative legitimacy and final acknowledgement as an established medium. Games are questionably marketed, and sometimes unduly celebrated as “grim” and “gritty”, “mature” and “realistic”. It’s as if this adolescent business is sweaty-palmed and panicking as the whole world watches it paw under the thematic sweater, and for the first time clumsily fondle such sensitive subjects as war crimes and rape.
Apparently Gearbox is indifferent to the wider industry’s need for approval. It’s not frantically pressing its demo tape against the tinted window of a limousine approaching the gates of the ivory tower. It’s concerned with entertaining gamers. Tiny Tina is clever characterisation – much more clever than the always-entertaining but ultimately two-dimensional Claptrap – and characterisation is the keystone of the role-playing genre.
For all its merits, the first Borderlands game had a puddle of a story. It was a breezy lean-to scarcely sheltering a loot pokie-machine. Gearbox has been talking breathlessly about adding narrative depth, but talk is cheap, and media-trained talk isn’t worth the cue cards it’s rote learned from. Tina demonstrates that it hasn’t all been dubstep and hyperbole. She’s a functioning example of how Gearbox and publisher 2K Games are set to take a breakout success, and groom it to establish a dynasty rather than strip mine it for the most immediate gain.
Tiny Tina suggests that Borderlands 2 isn’t made from concentrate, it is concentrate: digital high-fructose corn syrup, fluorescent food colouring, and a discarded Ritalin prescription. It’s excited babbling, dilated pupils and conflicting imagery, and it’s all superbly interwoven to create something unique in videogames.
We’ll learn if Tina is an anomaly or one amongst peers when Borderlands 2 is released for Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3 on September 20th.