An unusual title from Brazilian developer Swordtales, Toren is about a girl (a ‘Moonchild’ to be specific) who is trapped in a tower. There’s something about needing to free the moon and thus save humanity – it’s a little obscure – and in order to succeed you must climb the tower and defeat a dragon. The story, which lasts approximately 2 hours, takes your character from infant to grown woman, and provides a variety of unusual and mystical challenges which make up the gameplay.

It’s kind of hard to pinpoint a specific genre for Toren – since A: it amalgamates a variety of gameplay mechanics, and B: it’s way too short for any of those mechanics to set themselves as a core feature – but there are a few of puzzles, some platforming, and a little bit of combat. These come in the form of matching symbols and drawing patterns, creating platforms, dodging dragon fire by hiding and timing your movement, and so on. The mechanics aren’t repeated much, if at all, throughout, but the game presents a variety of obstacles to overcome as you progress up the tower.

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In a way the variety of challenges and their presentation provides a good pace for the game – there’s a real sense of progression as you overcome these, and of course less chance of things becoming rote – but it also exposes their shallow nature. There’s not much skill or intellectual engagement required to overcome the challenges, which ends up making them less enjoyable. They are, however, still interesting due to their presentation and the games aesthetic.

It’s the first thing that strikes when the game begins: it’s a very whimsical and mysterious game. A strange horned/hooded figure provides most of the dialogue and exposition, guiding you with obscure explanations and backstory. It’s like playing through an ancient myth. It’s slightly confusing, but avoids being pretentious or inaccessible, and successfully weaves its gameplay to match the narrative drive. The challenges themselves may not be that inspired, but combine them with a mystical setting and they are at least interesting – spreading salt to create patterns, for example, is mechanically speaking just a matter of following the line on the floor, but when the symbol you have made lights up and allows you to progress, it gives of a magical vibe.

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It’s also a pretty game…well, kind of. The aesthetic is certainly beguiling, but it’s not the best in terms of graphical fidelity. The character design and textures are highly rudimentary, but the lighting and environments are quite effective. Climbing up the tower’s damaged old stairs, vegetation sprouting from the ground, and the view of the sky and the distance makes the game feel deceptively peaceful (considering the high stakes and hostile dragon). You also experience the girl’s dreams/visions which are quite dark and creepy.

In terms of the presentation and story, Toren is an interesting and enjoyable little game, despite its basic looks, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for much else. It’s a clunky game – control of your character isn’t very smooth and there are some delayed reactions if you hit the jump button. It’s not much of an issue just running around (the camera angles manage to be helpful as well as visually pleasing), but it can make the few platforming sections and other challenges a little awkward. There is a part of the game where you need to hide from a strong wind – there are objects to hide behind and you must time your movement to the next one or else be blown back – and loose controls are not what you want in a section like that.

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Additionally the combat, which I briefly mentioned at the beginning of this review, is about as barebones as it can get. The sword that you acquire, and that forms an integral part of the story, has a passive ability to protect its holder in part against the dragon (so if it shoots at you, you will deflect it), but there is little else to concern yourself with…you hit attack to do a clumsy strike and that’s about it (you only run into the dragon a handful of times too, so there’s not much chance to use the sword anyway). There are some enemies, but only one of which you can attack (excluding the dragon), and the others just need to be avoided. There’s no real impact to your attacks and certainly no genuine skill required to succeed at it.

So, the game has bad graphics, rubbish combat, shallow gameplay, clunky controls, and lasts no more than 2 hours…so why did I give it a 6/10? Because I’m generous, perhaps? Depending on what you want from a game that may very well be true. I enjoyed the story, visual presentation, the soundtrack, and nothing about the game is massively obnoxious (even those negative aspects of the gameplay), and this pushed it above an average score. I found it engaging in a whimsical kind of way – it is surreal and non-conventionally pretty, and the story is a simple yet profound one. But if you can’t appreciate those more subjective elements, then your experience will be much lesser than mine was. If the mechanics were tighter and there was a bit more actual gameplay, then I would give this a more general recommendation, but as it is, only buy if you can tolerate lacking gameplay for story and setting.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29