Image: Tonka Construction Box Art
Written by: Katelyn Vause
“Games from my Childhood Library” is a series where I go through the CD-ROM games that I played/owned when I was growing up. I donated some to the CD-ROM Fossil Library, but some, whether due to a lack of particular value or me being too nostalgic to give them up, are still in a black CD case at home. I’ll talk about both, and I hope you’re ready for some hard work today, because I’m reminiscing about my time playing Tonka Construction.
I both was and wasn’t an outdoorsy child. By that, I mean I didn’t much care for getting dirty, but I grew up in a very rural area and was frequently outside, exploring the woods around my house, usually looking for a good tree to read a book in. My parents got a load of sand dumped in our backyard at various points throughout my childhood, which my brother would then use as the home base for his toy trucks.
They probably bought Tonka Construction with him in mind, but I ended up playing the game rather frequently. Longtime readers of the website will not be surprised to find out that part of the reason I like it is because it is a point and click game.
Tonka Construction has five main areas: the city, the desert, the garage, the mountains, and the quarry. Each one has a character that guides you through what you need to do, from digging cars out of the snow to paving a new road. Upon completion, you get a certificate that you can print out, which I never did, probably because I knew I could start the game over and easily see it again.
The order in which you play doesn’t matter, but I usually started with the garage. It made sense to me; I had to assemble my fleet before going out into the world and doing work.
The person running the garage is a muscular woman who loves monster trucks, which I think is pretty great detail in a game from the 1990s. I loved using the wrench to tighten the bolts into place; the buzzing of tools made everything feel more real, even if the animation itself was a simple switch from being able to see the screws to not being able to see them.
The paint feature is also a little weak; while you could choose from six colors, you could only paint an entire object, not individual parts. So if you clicked on one tire with the orange paint equipped, all of your tires would be orange.
The music when you exit the garage is funny, as it sounds more like a classic surfer riff instead of something that makes me think of a construction site. However, it does give the player a sense of going fast and having fun, so maybe that’s what the creators focused on evoking instead.
One of the best features is the tiny animated construction workers who you can prompt to act based on what you do. For example, in the quarry, if you dig up the red rock, oil will come shooting up like champagne out of a bottle. The workers will come out, scratch their heads and talk to each other. They then grab a giant cork and hammer, stop the oil and wipe their hands, proud of the job they’ve done. If you dump snow on them in the mountain area, they will nonchalantly dig themselves out and continue to stand in the exact same spot.
My two favorite areas in the game were the quarry and the city. I loved the quarry because of the fun animations, like the dinosaur skeleton you dig up coming to life, only for it to trip over a rock and fall apart. Of course, it was also pretty fun to hunt for gold in the walls of the quarry too.
The city has the most to do, as you start with a demolition site and build your masterpiece from the ground up. In retrospect, building a castle with a moat doesn’t make much sense in the middle of a metropolis, but it was cool to me. And again, the construction workers play a big role in the joy of this area. While building a pond for a park, one of them comes out with a giant water hose, which gushes water everywhere and flings the poor worker around before finally dropping them in the (now full) pond.
Both of these areas had enough variety and animations to hold my interest, and even though what I actually uncovered or built never changed, mixing up the order would keep things from feeling stale.
The mountain area was my least favorite in terms of what you actually had to achieve, which was mostly dig cars out of the snow and scrape ice off the road. The little animated workers made up for it through the way they casually took the snow being dumped on them, or how excited they got when a hot chocolate truck rolled through. Still, it’s hard to make endlessly shuffling snow around fun for very long.
The desert area is like an improved version of the mountain area. The goal is build a new road and bridge that will eventually allow cars to travel in and make a city. I enjoyed the silly way the game deals with cacti being in the way: simply push it with a bulldozer until it disappears from the screen, completely intact. Grading and paving the road was kind of boring and repetitive to me, but getting to blast through rock wall (with the help of a very sacred construction worker) was always fun.
I remember Tonka Construction quite fondly, and I find that I don’t have much to criticize. Sure, the mountain area bored me, but that tends to be true of any game; there will always be one area that just doesn’t quite compare to the rest.
Did you play Tonka Construction or it’s sequel when you were a kid? What other games made you (if you weren’t the outdoorsy type) interested in playing in the dirt? Tell us about it at email@example.com or in the comments!