Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ico-Lite: The Toren Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: Toren succeeds at being a unique, artistic look at the concept of time and a hero's sacrifice. Watching yourself grow older and seeing the numerous sacrifices made is interesting, but the wonky combat controls and the sparse details to story can make the two hour experience feel jagged at times.

Ico has long been revered as one of the best examples of minimalist story telling in a AAA video game. Dropping players into the shoes of a mysterious little boy with no backstory and no narration, the game is excellent at telling the game's story without beating players over the head with narration or even text. Surprisingly enough, this format hasn't been emulated all that much in games, possibly because it's very difficult to balance. Toren is a great attempt at using the world to build a unique and whimsical story, but the game falls short of the well designed game it is influenced by.

Toren revolves around the story of Moonchild, a young woman trapped inside the solitary tower of Toren. To escape, Moonchild must grow into the warrior she is destined to become and take down the evil within the tower. Lead by a mysterious antlered shaman, Moonchild climbs the tower and takes on the challenges in order to grow stronger and earn the equipment necessary to take on her foe. 
Watching Moonchild grow over the course of the game is surprisingly enjoyable.

This story isn't the worst in video games, but it feels devoid of passion. Often times, the dialog from the shaman, who seems to be the only talking individual, feels empty, as if written to seem mysterious but ultimately coming off bland. That being said, watching Moonchild make sacrifices to grow stronger and grow older over the course of the game is fascinating to watch and really helped me connect with her character. I also really liked the themes of the world being cyclical, doomed to repeat itself until the evil is defeated. This theme is repeated throughout the game, including when you lead Moonchild to her untimely demise.

When it comes to game play Toren is very simple. Players will control Moonchild and, at first, can only interact with specific items and jump. Over the course of the game, Moonchild unlocks a sword that can be used in a few combat situations, but ultimately it's a prop for the story sequences. The simplicity of the game makes it very easy to pick up and play, despite your expertise with video games. 
Making my way through the darkness was easily one of my favorite trials.

But the controls are not nearly as important to mention as the puzzles within the game. In order to grow more powerful, Moonchild must complete trials of increasing difficulty. The trials consist of using sand to trace a glyph on the floor and then proceed to the next glyph until all have been unlocked. There are a few interesting trials, such as one where the level is dark and lit up randomly by lightning, but most are fairly straightforward, requiring little more than moving from point A to point B. These trials take place in otherworldly levels with great aesthetic, despite missing some sort of challenge in them. 
The different aesthetics of the tower are interesting.

Outside of these challenges, Moonchild must find ways to climb higher in the tower. Going higher can serve up it's own little puzzles that must be overcome as well as nice changes in the environment the higher she travels up. Periodically she will also come face to face with her main nemesis of the game, the giant black dragon. This creature encounter requires some minor puzzle solving to defeat and move forward. Some of these are rather fun, while others can be frustrating, including the last encounter, but ultimately it comes together rather well.

Despite these flaws, Toren is an enjoyable two hour romp. The music is subtle and soothing, and watching Moonchild grow into a warrior woman is really cool. The biggest complaint I have about Toren is that it feels unpolished, as if the game was pushed out to market before having the necessary level of polish added to it. With some more time and thought put into the trials, the story and exploration aspects in between would have been perfect. Without this, the game feel good, but not great. If you have $10 and 2.5 hours to spare, Toren is worth the time. If you're looking for a deep or challenging game with a strong narrative, you're probably better off going elsewhere. 

7.0 out of 10

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