Toren Review

Title screen of Toren

The culturing of the indie scene is an undoubtedly remarkable phenomenon. Independent developers are increasingly giving their bold concepts an educational and enlightening tone, which is not allowed by major publishers in their seasonal conveyor belts. And even though it may not be very successful yet, no one intends to give up on this endeavor. It all started with a polarizing approach. Never Alone Now it’s Toren’s turn from the Brazilian studio Swordtales.

The game’s world is based on ancient Brazilian folklore, transformed into an elegant legend about a tower built by a wizard to reach the moon. However, the sun did not like the wizard’s arrogance: the offended celestial body refused to leave the sky, thus dooming humanity to destruction. The only hope for salvation became the Moon Child – a chubby girl and the main heroine of the game, imprisoned inside that very tower. It is her destiny to conquer her prison, fight the dragon, and restore the world’s balance, repeatedly reincarnating in an endless life cycle. But we have dealt with worse, haven’t we?

Sword: Screenshot related to weaponry

Everything related to the plot of Toren is uniquely well done. The abandoned tower is filled with old fables, and the entire narrative is full of metaphors and moral lessons without a clear interpretation. The closest analogy would be games like Tale of Tales, but here the conceptual content is presented in a more accessible and enjoyable form. Moreover, by echoing well-known motifs from biblical Babylon to fairy princesses and dragons, it feels completely different due to its atypical views on the creation of the world.

In other words, the story reigns supreme here. Everything else, for the most part, is nothing more than annoying obstacles to its perception.

Unfortunately, the most disappointing aspect of this magical world is the gameplay itself. Ascending to the top of the majestic structure consists mainly of jumping on ruins with rare puzzle elements like “press buttons in the right order” and combat scenes, but none of these elements are of any interest whatsoever.

The platforming in Toren is clunky and unoriginal. The heroine constantly clings to imaginary platforms, willingly hangs from cliffs, and fails to reach the necessary ledges due to trajectory inaccuracies – in short, she behaves like a protagonist from a game fifteen years ago. These habits only distract from the narrative and evoke boredom.

Journey, are you?

Journey, is that you?

Riddles are much less desired, and they can be divided into two types. Some require quick thinking and reaction, for example, when there is wind at the location and you need to quickly jump from one shelter to another. For solving others, all you need are your own eyes – because a giant clue will definitely be hanging somewhere above your head, desperately shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow, just so the player doesn’t get stuck. These stages are easy and effortless, but there is little enjoyment from them due to the lack of challenge.

Surprisingly, the easiest challenge is, battles. For the simple reason that there are none. Except for the dragon-guardian, who occasionally comes to get a beating, there are only two types of enemies in the whole game – immortal and harmless. Obviously, you won’t have much of a fight with either of them.

Whether a joke, here you don't even need to balance on the crossbars

No joke, you don’t even have to balance on the bars here.

And there are also dreams here – optional pieces of the plot that unfold in a separate world. From an artistic point of view, many of them are unique, but gameplay-wise it’s all the same: jump, watch videos, and read poems. The only difference is that in the meantime, we are forced to fill in the symbols drawn on the ground with sand.

It becomes especially melancholic to realize that there is no interaction between the story and the mechanics in Toren, the elements exist on their own in the game space. The fact that the Moon Child is growing, getting closer to her goal, almost means nothing to us, except for the change in the appearance of the heroine, and it does not affect the process of changing seasons. The main thing is missing – the sense of player involvement, which is usually introduced in interactive projects like this.

The graphics also make a strong impression – as embarrassing as it is to nitpick the appearance of indie projects, Swordtales’ creation has serious problems with it. There is a soft and diverse color palette, excellent art design, and a sense of style, but technical sloppiness of the game hinders the enjoyment of all this. While you get used to the poor details in textures and models almost instantly, the accumulation of filters and effects of questionable purpose becomes more and more annoying over time. At first, everything shines, then blurs, and then everything at once – and only a confusing mess remains from the cozy picture.

The reaction of the average player to the abundance of filters in Toren

The average player’s reaction to the abundance of special effects in Toren.

This also includes animation flaws, very low quality of a few videos, and graphical bugs typical for Unity. Many of them are quite minor, for example, when the heroine’s hand sinks into the scenery during a scripted animation, but still, you expect a little more attention to detail from a handmade game.

Well, if you came here for a long adventure, Toren is unlikely to fulfill your whim. With a concise two-hour gameplay, you are given another fifteen minutes for the remaining two or three achievements – and then there is nothing else to do in the game. To be fair, it is worth mentioning that the storyline provides grounds not only for reflection but also for replayability, and you can still contemplate what you have seen without it.

Encounter with a dragon
A scene underwater

Oh, how it could have all turned out. If the developers had paid more attention to the gameplay and game design, diversifying the action with variations of acrobatic moves, enemies, and complex puzzles, and extended the storyline for another hour, it would have been an interesting action-adventure with nostalgic notes of the 2000s. Literally, at every stage, the game resembles a broken music box that could have been easily fixed to prevent the creaking gears from interrupting the beautiful music.

By the way, the music here is truly wonderful. There are a total of 23 compositions that play throughout the game, and it is largely thanks to them that the grandiose atmosphere is preserved. It’s no wonder the soundtrack is being sold separately.

In its completed form, Toren doesn’t seem like that at all: the game feels like it was hastily put together and released to the audience without undergoing a lengthy polishing process. But even through these rough sketches, fans of indie curiosities will recognize the talent and true emotional beauty. For a first attempt, it’s more than good.

Adventure, Indie
Versus Evil
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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