Toren Review – Once I Built a Tower to the Sun

Once I built a tower, now it’s done.

Posted By | On 18th, May. 2015 Under Article, Reviews | Follow This Author @will_borger


As a writer, there’s three types of games you’ll encounter. The first are the games you absolutely love. Those games are easy to write about. They inspire you to write your best, because you want your prose to match the level of excitement you feel about the game. Games you hate are just as easy, for obvious reasons. Reviews for those games write themselves.

The third game, the average game, is a little more problematic. Neither impressive enough to be good, nor broken enough to be bad, these games seem content to revel in their mediocrity. These are the hardest games to write about. It’s like writing about a middling restaurant or an unremarkable movie: “Yeah, it was alright, I guess?” I mean, really, what else can you say?

Toren Screenshot 7 (Dec 2014)

" In Toren, you’ll play Moonchild, a young girl trapped inside a decaying tower. The tower, the titular Toren, was built by arrogant men in an attempt to seize great comic power. As you no doubt guessed, this doesn’t work out that well, and all of humanity is punished for the arrogance of the Toren’s architects."

Unfortunately, Toren falls into the last category. In Toren, you’ll play Moonchild, a young girl trapped inside a decaying tower. The tower, the titular Toren, was built by arrogant men in an attempt to seize great comic power. As you no doubt guessed, this doesn’t work out that well, and all of humanity is punished for the arrogance of the Toren’s architects. Mankind’s last hope is Moonchild, a young girl doomed to repeat an endless cycle of death and rebirth until she can scale the tower and slay the monstrous dragon that shares her prison.

What’s perhaps most interesting about Toren is the game’s take on the nature of time. Moonchild starts out as a toddler, but she ages as she climbs the tower, usually in conjunction with the Tree of Life, a symbolic tree she is given as a child by the tower’s only other resident – the Wizard. As the tree grows, so does Moonchild. The uncoordinated, bouncy movements she displays as a toddler gradually give way to grace, control, and poise as she ages. The sword that you acquire early on takes all of her effort to swing as a young girl, but moves with ease in the hands of the woman Moonchild eventually becomes.

Time isn’t a linear construct in Toren, however. When Moonchild dies, she leaves behind a stone statue that you’ll encounter when you return to the area later. It’s a cool idea with interesting implications, especially when you come into a particularly dangerous area for the first time and see dozens of statues there waiting for you. How long has this been going on? What, exactly, is resurrecting Moonchild? What is her relationship with the mysterious warrior the story keeps mentioning? How does the Wizard factor into all of this? And what’s the deal with that dragon, anyway?

Toren Screenshot 3 (Aug 2014)

"Toren’s story and setting, and how it explores them, are legitimately interesting. Unfortunately, it’s also a game that pushes story and theme at the expense of everything else, especially gameplay. Nothing about playing Toren really feels good."

Toren’s story does explain all of this, but you’ll have to do some digging if you want to hear all of it. This isn’t the kind of game that is going to sit you down and explain its plot in detail. The malleable nature of time means that Moonchild has lost many of her memories, so you’ll have to retrieve them by completing short, mostly optional “dreams” that will usually end with the Wizard explaining a bit more of the plot and offering some pseudo-deep philosophy on the nature of mankind. These are the best parts of the game, and fairly easy to miss, which can hinder your understanding of the plot. Still, everything more or less comes together in the end, as long as you’ve been paying attention.

Toren’s story and setting, and how it explores them, are legitimately interesting. Unfortunately, it’s also a game that pushes story and theme at the expense of everything else, especially gameplay. Nothing about playing Toren really feels good. The controls are clunky, especially when Moonchild is young, and don’t really become any better as the game progresses. Moonchild’s ability to jump is nebulous at best and seems to change depending where she’s jumping from. The camera also tends to get stuck in the environment at the worst possible times, and the best the game can do in terms of combat, even during boss fights, is have to have you dodge attacks that will instantly kill you before striking the enemy in question with all the force of a six-year-old hitting a professional wrestler with a wiffle bat.

The game makes up for the inconsistent gameplay by being almost insultingly easy. Everything, from the combat to the environmental challenges, can be conquered fairly quickly and without much thought, unless the game decides to deliberately waste your time, which it does frequently. One such instance requires you to navigate a maze positioned above an abyss. It’s pretty simple, but the issue is the environment is pitch black, and you have to wait for sporadic lightning strikes to illuminate the paths and puzzles. As you might imagine, the light only lasts for a few seconds, which means you won’t be able to get much done before you have to wait for the next bolt to strike.

Toren Screenshot 2 (Aug 2014)

"There’s certainly beauty here, and the game has quite a few flashes of something special. For every moment of striking art or good design, however, there’s something wrong with the game technically or in terms of its moment to moment gameplay."

The upside is that the game is pretty – or, at least, fairly pretty. There are some very noticeable low quality models and some low-res textures, but Torn makes up for this with a beautiful art style, striking color palette, and a detailed game world. You can tell a lot of care was put into the game’s art, despite the sometimes obviously low production values. Even the credits, which feature painted artwork, are worth your time for the visuals alone. This is complemented by a lovely soundtrack that really accentuates the game world and everything in it.

Toren’s not a long game; I finished it in a couple of hours, and ended up experiencing most of what it has to offer. Even with the brief runtime, I’m not particularly compelled to go back for seconds. There’s certainly beauty here, and the game has quite a few flashes of something special. For every moment of striking art or good design, however, there’s something wrong with the game technically or in terms of its moment to moment gameplay.

Ultimately, like Moonchild herself, Toren would have benefitted from a bit more time in the tower, exploring its own design and ideas before rushing to the top. There’s very few things that are more ironic than a game that plays with the notion of time feeling rushed.

This game was reviewed on the PC.

THE GOOD

Beautiful art style and music. The setting and story are genuinely interesting. A few interesting gameplay ideas. Watching Moonchild grow and evolve, down to her animations and abilities, is both satisfying and intriguing.

THE BAD

Clunky controls. Bugs and glitches actively hinder the experience. The game feels rushed, despite its short length. Low production values are glaring obvious in some areas. Some of the puzzles actively waste your time.

Final Verdict

Toren is an imaginative game with an interesting narrative and beautiful game world. For every moment of striking art or good design, however, there’s something wrong with the game technically or in terms of its moment to moment gameplay. Ultimately, like Moonchild herself, Toren would have benefitted from a bit more time in the tower, exploring its own design and ideas before rushing to the top. There’s very few things that are more ironic than a game that plays with the notion of time feeling incomplete.

A copy of this game was provided by developer/publisher for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.
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