by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
TO THE MOON
When you think of Brazil, you think of beaches, huge parties, and skillful football players. Developer Swordtales is hoping to add “game design” to that list, with its first game Toren. You play as Moonchild, a young girl on a journey of discovery and growing up, tasked with climbing ‘the tower’. Along the way she faces puzzles, dangerous monsters and perilous environmental factors, and it’s up to you to guide her through them.
An atmosphere of mystery is created from the very first moment, and remains throughout the entirety of the game. A man guides Moonchild through childhood and into womanhood using allegory and metaphor, telling her of her importance, and how the world came to be as it is. This story is expanded further within various dream sequences that can be activated at locations throughout the game. These act as a sort of puzzle area, wherein Moonchild is simply trying to find the end of the level.
SALT OF THE EARTH
This usually involves a bit of jumping, a bit of combat, and a bit of puzzle solving. To progress, she will also often have to fill in a shape on the ground using salt. I never really understood why this was the case, and the actual act of tracing the shape on the ground using a controller was fiddly at best. Once this was done, some more mystical mumbo jumbo would be revealed, and it wasn’t long before they all started to blend into one mess of random words for me. Buried somewhere within Toren is an excellent story about growing up and saving the world, but it’s too often obscured by forced attempts at “being deep”.
Vagueness isn’t limited to the storytelling either, as you’ll often be confused about where to go next and how to do things. It recommends that you use a controller, and if you do there are only really three buttons that you’ll ever use. Jump, interact, and another button to pull the camera way out so you can get a better overview of the situation. When you approach an object, an exclamation mark will appear over it if you can interact with it. Sometimes it’s a simple tap and something will occur, other times you have to hammer the button in order to do something, and other times you have to hold the button in. You never really know until you try, which was a tad frustrating.
ENTER THE DRAGON
Early on in the game you’ll be introduced to the main antagonist, a dragon which makes appearances throughout the game, and which you are told must be defeated. The dragon has a breath attack which turns anything caught in it to stone, so you’ll often be hiding behind pillars or anything that will obscure you for a moment. Rather helpfully however, if you get up close to the dragon it won’t use that attack anymore, and it will kind of just let you hit it, until your sword gets ripped from your hand and thrown across the level. I did this a few times, and wondered if I was actually doing what I needed to to proceed. I seemed to be doing damage to it, but it kept throwing my sword further away. A bit more guidance was necessary in situations like these.
Frustrations arise from basic gameplay too. The movement is rather floaty, and I didn’t have much fun controlling Moonchild. There are also multiple platforming puzzles in the game, which are always difficult to judge in a 3D game regardless of how well the character controls. Remember the dragon’s breath attack? At one point you are supposed to get hit by it in a dream sequence, so that your petrified body becomes a place for you to hide behind so you can progress along a long, open bridge. A nice idea in theory, but instead of taking you back a little way in the level when you “die” here, it takes you all the way back to the start. Now you have to run through the trivial early part of the level again to get to where you need to be.
Slow, methodical pacing is part of what the game is trying to do, but for me it really dragged on unnecessarily. There are a lot of parts of the game that are genuinely beautiful and lovely to look at, but all too often it seemed like corridors and bridges and staircases were just a little too long. I wanted to get to the next area, but the game wanted me to reflect on what I’d been doing and look at the pretty visuals.
Toren is a game that will certainly appeal to some people. For me though, it was trying to be mysterious for the sake of being mysterious. The average puzzles and combat were not enough to drive me forward to see the few parts where Toren would throw something compelling at me. It’s gorgeous in places, rough around the edges in others, and if you dig deep, then you’ll find something meaningful. In a few short hours it’ll be over, and you may have found yourself feeling like you’ve put in a lot of effort for not much reward.
Beautiful visuals in places, some puzzle moments were interesting.
Doesn’t control particularly well, frustrating design decisions in places.