A fabled warrior attempts to return nighttime to a land cursed by perpetual sunlight in the dark fantasy Toren (Versus Evil and Swordtales, rated Teen, reviewed on PlayStation 4, $9.99).
This third-person, platforming puzzle game with just a pinch of combat offers an immersion into Brazillian folklore while mixing in doses of the Tower of Babel and Tree of Life mythologies.
The action occurs within some beautiful artwork and poetic storytelling but never captivates due to the unfortunate, underwhelming game mechanics.
A player controls the mysterious Moonchild, from her first baby crawl and full steps to an adult wielding a large sword, during her confinement in and around a massive tower.
She will find herself in continuous state of death and resurrection as she precariously climbs up the dilapidated tower and through the massive tree growing within it until she can reach the top and slay an evil dragon.
Besides maneuvering her through the multistory obstacle course, a player works through a series of mostly optional dreams relaying man’s place in the cosmos but requiring some frustrating game play that complicates her goal.
Specifically, the ever-maddening requirement of directing her to use an infinite supply of salt to carefully walk over and cover the outline of shapes grounded in various locations.
It’s an imprecise exercise that will frustrate each time required.
Now on the positive side, after about a three-hour romp through the fairly simple proceedings, I now have a pretty good idea of what it would be like to be an 18-year-old female dropping acid while living in a Lewis Carroll novel.
The trippy colors of an underwater dreamscape, dimly lit trails of an abyss, ancient desert ruins, a blooming tree highlighted by rays of cutting sunlight, ominous hooded creatures floating like chess pieces and a mysterious burly knight wielding a massive shield add to the atmosphere.
Our heroine also looks upon stone statues of herself from failed attempts at climbing a difficult area (a very cool idea) and listens to poetic grumblings from a decaying wizard who has a bit of a Don Quixote look to him.
The adventure is not loaded with thrills, but it does have its highlights.
Take an attempt to smite the dragon as it spews a dark bile, that if exposed to the girl, will turn her into black stone. She must traverse a crumbling walkway, duck the bile and strike when close enough to the creature. Or, at another key area, she must walk along a stone path and at the right time hang onto dear life to statues as huge wind gusts attack her.
However, those moments of gorgeous art and interesting play choices are constantly squashed by horrendous game mechanics.
During points in the game, the action actually goes out of focus, first making me think my television was starting to go on the fritz and then realizing that this might actually be a really bad developer’s choice or a glitch.
Music cuts out abruptly while a scene loads, there’s an odd lag when she jumps, the Moonchild often stutters when walking, and the camera angles jerk around at the most importune moments.
The game actually froze a couple of times causing me to restart, and saves are very confusing, requiring me to replay areas I had already conquered.
Overall, “Toren” is reminscient of an ambitious high school computer science class project. With more funding and some better understanding of gaming conventions, the empowering of a Moonchild could have been a truly great, franchise-building experience.