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Posted on May 25th 2015 at 12:00:00 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under PC

Toren is a game I've been looking forward to for quite some time. We might as well get the Ico comparisons out of the way now, since Team Ico's influence on this game is a big part of why I was anticipating it so much. In tone, story (or lack thereof) and setting, the likeness to Ico is undeniable. But thankfully, Toren never feels like a rip-off, nor does it try too hard to be like a Team Ico title. The developer Swordtales has done a commendable job in creating a unique experience here. But does it succeed at being an enjoyable game? Well, yes and no.

First of all Toren is a lovely game - except when it's not. The art direction is fantastic. The color pallet bounces from being serene and soothing, to being uncomfortable and harsh with an eye for extreme juxtaposition. The backdrops feel like paintings much of the time and the art direction is impressive with its crumbling castles and brutal organics. On the other hand, the polygonal renderings stick out like a sore thumb. Moonchild's (the main character) own, often-lifeless face and jaggy clusters of hair make her look like a character from a PlayStation 2 game trapped inside a HD world. Luckily, we don't all play games for their appearance, but I'd be remiss to overlook this.

The game itself often feels like a non-game. While Ico was filled with interesting puzzles, the same cannot be said for Toren. Instead, puzzles are generally reduced to tracing lines in the ground with sand. They're not so much puzzles, but rather tasks to simply move the story forward. And that might be my greatest complaint of Toren, there's not a lot of gaming to be done, so to speak. The game is a wholly linear experience; one with little fighting, platforming, exploration, or puzzle solving. So then what the heck is this "game" and why should you even care? Because it is actually an interesting experience.

Let's move away from comparisons to Ico now. If Toren's gameplay brings to mind any other game for me, it is Journey (a game that I enjoyed immensely). If you recall, Journey has little to do other than march forward and progress the game until its ending. And while on paper that may sound boring to some, it was a beautiful experience and one that I was willing to play through more than once. Toren may well have that same quality going for it - minus a few missteps that I'll get to in a bit. The pretty scenery, the fitting audio, and the weird "Groundhog Day" mechanic of completing a section only to awaken once more in a slightly different reality to try to live out the day successfully again... it's all interesting stuff.

As for the missteps, there's a few. For instance, the camera is terrible to control and hit detection and environment clipping can be a pain, though it's par for the course for many indie 3-D games. The one major derailment of my enjoyment came from a single section late in the game where you must complete these sand-filling-cracks puzzles in the dark. Every minute or so, lightening would crash, and illuminate the screen for a brief moment, but it was never enough. I suppose if controlling the sand was easier in general, then it would be easier to control in the dark. Instead, it was a hugely frustrating section of the game for me, while everything before and after it felt like a leisurely 3 hour stroll through a pretty painting.

My thoughts on Toren come across conflicting, no doubt, but at the end of the day, the question I hope to answer is if I'd suggest others play it. To this I'd say, "yes." Though it's far from perfect for the reasons I've mentioned above, there's also something slightly haunting about it. It's the sort of game that I think others should play since there would be great dialogue about it whether you ended up loving it or hating it. And really, isn't this a good argument for any media being worth your time? I think so. Though I can't see Toren ending up on my personal end-of-year best of list or anything like that, I am still impressed enough with Swordtales' debut to keep an eye out for whatever they plan to do next. I can't help but think that they have the potential to learn from any mistakes made with Toren and deliver something even better in the future.

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Very interesting looking game, and one that I will put on my wishlist despite the rather frustrating sounding hick-ups you mentioned.  It looks familiar yet different enough to more than pique my interests.  Thanks, noise.

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