Publisher: Versus Evil
Release Date: May 11th, 2015
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
I feel like I’m going to look like a villain for this one. It’s clear developer Swordtales put a lot into Toren: the game feels like a real labor of love and it wants to tell a story that tries to use the interactive angle of video games to its full advantage. Yet upon finishing Toren I didn’t get any real emotions from the game. Instead the only real amazement I felt was how a game so unfinished showed up as a full release.
Toren tells the story of Moonchild, a child who’s destiny is to climb the tower of Toren and slay the dragon to bring back the moon. You see, after a wizard named Solidor built Toren in an effort to reach the moon, the sun got upset and since then has not stopped shining. As such, Moonchild’s mission is super imperative. The only problem: Moonchild is a baby. At the start of the game Moonchild is just a baby that is barely able to walk. As she climbs the tower I got to watch Moonchild grow up, something that was actually entertainingly endearing. Yet by the end of Toren I felt like there were plot elements missing. Turns out I actually did miss them: A lot of the game’s vital plot points are hidden in optional dreams, yet so many of these dreams are actually pretty easy to miss.
While it’s somewhat of an adventure game, Toren dabbles in a little bit of everything. The problem there is that Toren also doesn’t do much of anything well. There are some basic platformer sections, but at the start of the game Moonchild’s jump is so pathetic that I was constantly almost falling off of ledges because I had to be on an edge to land on another edge. I welcomed Moonchild’s growing up as it allowed her jumping to have a little more oomph into it. Yet even then the platforming is weak and often I would find myself floating well past my intended landing point. Toren also contains very simple and underdeveloped combat. Once Moonchild gets her sword all I needed to do was press square to have her swing. Yet with only one attack and one enemy type that shows up maybe three times in the game, Toren is not really an action game in any way. Worse, I never actually was sure when I was or wasn’t hitting the enemies and I found myself trying to hack enemies to death long after they died.
Toren seems to have a problem where it ditches any element it makes shortly after introducing it. For example, in an early game puzzle Moonchild has to avoid the dragon’s petrifying breath. Only there’s a large section she can’t pass without getting hit. The solution is to let her get hit to make a statue, then when Moonchild comes back to life (there’s some complicated rebirth cycle involved apparently) use the statue to avoid the dragon’s breath this time around. It’s a really cool puzzle, and yet it’s a one time thing and using your former body to assist you never shows up again. Another section has Moonchild having to transport a flame to keep herself from freezing, yet again this is a one time thing that is never expanded upon. It feels like Toren involved the developer starting a few different ideas and then never really building upon them in any meaningful way.
The one puzzle that Toren does seem to repeat is also a really weird choice. I wouldn’t even call it a puzzle, so much as padding the game out (for the record, Toren clocks in at about two hours.) All I had to do was simply draw a shape in the sand by having Moonchild follow an outline while holding down the square button. Despite the extreme simplicity of this I saw it occur over and over again and I was never really sure why I had to repeat it so many times. It’s really a shame, one of the last puzzles involves teaming up with another person and I found it to be a genuinely fun thing. It’s the kind of thing I wish Toren actually expanded upon.
I also want to note Toren is pretty glitchey at the time I played it. Most commonly this showed up as animation errors. Once Moonchild’s entire upper half became stuck and refused to animate, leading to a weird (yet hilarious) waddle-like animation. Another time she interrupted a cutscene by suddenly hanging onto an invisible platform in mid-air, clipping through a tree and getting violently ejected while preforming a climbing animation. Beyond that, I also got stuck on the geometry, having to jump or preform U-turns to get to where I wanted to go, and it seems like Toren has awful screen-tearing and frame rate issues.
Toren is such a mess, and that’s really a shame. A pretty art style, soundtrack, and story end up going to waste on a game that can’t seem to decide what it wanted to be. Starting and losing your way always sucks, but it feels like Toren needed to realize when it was lost and start over with a fresh idea.