Publisher: Versus Evil
Genre: Adventure, Indie, Single Player
Platform: PC (Steam)
Release Date: May 11, 2015
Of all the reviews I’ve had to write, writing one about the indie game Toren is probably the hardest. Of course, this game has been out for a while, and has probably been Meta-critic’ed to death at this point. I’m not sure how to proceed, so let’s just start out with an excerpt from the developers themselves:
Experience the mysterious, timeless world of Toren, the first adventure game from Brazilian indie developer Swordtales. You are Moonchild, destined to climb the tower (known as Toren) on a hauntingly solitary journey to find your purpose. You must solve puzzles and face monsters as you struggle to climb to the top of this beautiful, yet treacherous environment, driven by the will to find your freedom.
Avoiding spoilers means … what can you say that goes beyond their own description of the game? I’m not sure, but let me try to sum it up with as few words as possible.
SUN, MOON, TOWER, DRAGON, WIZARD, DREAM, CYCLE.
And that’s about as far as I can get story-wise before I ruin the entire thing for everyone. More from the developer:
A Journey of Learning & Fulfilment – As the story progresses your character will age from a mere infant to grown woman creating new mechanics and challenges for each learning experience and phase of her life. In addition, the Tree of Life within the tower grows as she does, providing access to new areas to explore and new items to find.
Which is true. Every chapter of the game takes you through even more of the main character’s life. You start out as the Moonchild, stuck in a tower since birth. Much like the beloved game ICO by Fumito Ueda and Sony Computer Entertainment, the game requires some climbing, some puzzle solving and some combat. Not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily a whole lot. What it does provide is a story, and plenty of strange ways to tell said story.
Not that it’s a sad story … alright, back to the developers’ words:
Poetry brought to Life – Toren features dark fantasy storytelling in a universe filled with symbolism. The mysterious, fantastical atmosphere is conveyed through an award-winning art design and original score. As your journey unfolds you will discover scrolls of poetry, which reveal the story and true origins behind Toren and aids the Moonchild in discovering her purpose.
Which is also true. As you play, you are able to dream. Inside those dreams (puzzles) lies the story of Toren. Of course, there’s a few other things you can do that aren’t immediately obvious, and I feel stupid that I didn’t do them the first time, because it helps to do every little thing. Being a completionist, I only realized that the second time through and looking at the accomplishments.
Rich Puzzle Solving – Every stage of the game features new and progressively more deadly challenges for the player: solving environmental puzzles, how avoid and survive attacks from dangerous creatures, and eventually defeating the end boss.
Kind of true. The puzzles aren’t incredibly difficult, and the game restarts you every time you die/screw up. Strangely enough, the main character will die a few times just to progress the story, so don’t get too upset if you can’t seem to get somewhere the first time. Chances are, after enough deaths, you’ll either buy drugs online understand the puzzle, or you’ll create your own progress. Or you’ll get a cut-scene refresh with the wizard that might encourage you or give you a hint how to progress.
Is it a beautiful game? Yes. Is it a well designed game? Sure. Is the music score good? Oh yes.
So where does the game flounder?
The game is really, really short. I mean it – I finished it in one night. Actually, two play-throughs in one night. It’s then you realize the intricate, revolving story at the heart, despite the super short game (2 hours per play). You can restart the game at any chapter if you think you missed anything, too. So there is that to speed it up as well.
Some puzzles are also very frustrating, leading to having to restart at a far back checkpoint. For example, carrying a quick burning torch from one level to the next, while leaping and trying not to slow down because doing so will lead to you freezing to death … even with a controller as suggested, the camera angle can work against you if it decides to. Or trying to grab something and pull/push it. The exclamation mark helps to indicate you’re in position, but sometimes the character just doesn’t … do the thing. Which if you are in a hurry, can kill you!
It’s a great story, one that you don’t realize the full meaning until you complete everything and watch the end credits. I know what a Toren is, so when I put two and two together (with some mythology), I understand the game quite well. It might stymie some, though.
I would have to say that Toren is worth the price of admission, if only it’s somewhat cheaper than going to the movies (which can run $2 more). And since it’s part of a cultural translation from a Brazilian indie artwork, it’s a bit of a gem as well. Did I mention it was pretty?
Unless you don’t like short adventure/puzzle games with a female protagonist. Then I suggest you avoid Toren. Since that is what the game is in a nutshell (no spoilers).
You should give it a try, anyway.
Nathan is a 40-ish year-old gamer, father and programmer. His hobbies are board games, video games and watching his son. He wrote for http://www.ironmanmode.com/ for the years of 2012 and 2013 to make money for Child's Play. He has been basically playing games since the 1980's in one form or another. His very first favorite video game was actually an arcade game called Dig Dug. He has played every generation of video game console (including the Magnavox Odyssey)