Graphics:
6.6
Gameplay:
5.2
Sound:
7.4
Control:
4.5
Replay Value:
3.7
Overall Rating:
5.5
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
Versus Evil
Developer:
Swordtales
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
Action/Adventure
Release Date:
May 11, 2015


When I heard Toren compared to the PlayStation 2 classic ICO , I was immediately intrigued. Who wouldn’t be? ICO remains one of the most beautiful, compelling, memorable titles in history. And as Fumito Ueda and Co. don’t appear to be any closer to finishing The Last Guardian , I turned to the debut title from Brazilian developer Swordtales. Unfortunately, while the concept is fantastic and I love the colorful, inventive atmosphere, the critical technical mishaps and a lack of connection with the protagonist left me feeling decidedly unfulfilled. Artsy goodness only gets you so far; without the requisite execution and identifiable feeling, everything falls short.

Within the first thirty seconds, you notice it: The disappointing lack of polish and refinement in the visual presentation. There are constant hitches in the frame rate during cut-scenes (and occasionally during gameplay), shimmering and shading issues are everywhere, and the textures are just plain bad. I’m usually not finicky about graphical miscues, especially when the art design is outstanding and the developers successfully convey their thoughts and emotions. But in this case, the amateurish quality of the technical elements is just too significant to ignore, which is unfortunate, because they have some great ideas here. There’s also lots of good variety and intriguing locales to explore; it just needed a lot more time to cook.

The sound is much better thanks to a beautiful, haunting soundtrack and a series of strange voices that add mystery and intrigue to the adventure. The balancing isn’t quite right (indicative of the aforementioned technical failing), and there are a few miscues. But as opposed to the severe graphical drawbacks, these audio shortcomings don’t ruin the overall presentation. The effects are appropriately subtle and that music continues to play into the feelings of awe and intrigue. We could’ve used a few more impact-ful effects when Moonchild is in a critical situation but otherwise, the sound keeps us involved in the fantastical quest. It’s just too bad that it can’t save the gameplay from being disjointed and unsatisfying.

As I just mentioned, you play as Moonchild, a girl who finds herself trapped in a strange tower. A vicious dragon appears to be lord of that tower, and your goal is to reach the top and defeat the dragon in battle. At the start, you’re just a little baby, and then you grow into an adolescent. Assisting you along the way is an aged magician who instructs and enlightens; he will be the voice in your head throughout. As you climb, you’ll explore lots of different environments, including undersea areas, arid desert sections, and “The Abyss,” which is a dark, nightmarish landscape that makes you feel as if you’re being watched… The variety of environments really is good and is a big highlight; at the very least, you’re always interested in seeing what comes next.

Control is straightforward but it’s not responsive or reliable. The jumping mechanic is slow and loose; it’s not terribly difficult to master but it hinders the flow of gameplay. Even general movement seems slow and tired, as if Moonchild needs to be encouraged to walk forward. Now, I remember the protagonist in ICO . He wasn’t exactly a superhero and he lacked agility, coordination, and strength. But once you grew accustomed to the unique control (more realistic and fragile as opposed to unrealistically powerful), you could rely on control consistency. Once you got it, you would no longer fight it. That’s not the case in Toren , as you’re always frowning at Moonchild’s tedious movement.