Toren marks an important milestone in the emerging game development scene in Brazil, being one of the first games to receive funding from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. The first game from indie developer Swordtales, explores the journey and destiny of a young girl known as Moonchild. Imprisoned in the tower known as Toren, you must journey up the Tree of Life, escaping your prison and saving the world from the devilish Dragon trapped in the tower as well.
As the young protagonist, you are cursed to die and be reborn until your journey is complete. The game explores the nature of coming to age, while shifting perspectives throughout your playthrough. Starting off, Moonchild begins crawling on the ground across a puddle of blood at the very bottom of the tower, becoming older as you progress up Toren (the tower) and the Tree of Life. I was heartbroken the first time I encountered and died at the hands of the Dragon, who was all too eager to see the destruction of Moonchild.
Toren uses simple environmental puzzles to block your progress, keeping the game accessible to a wide range of players. You may have to push planks of wood out of the way inside the tower. only to leap across them on the outside of the tower. Most of the puzzles involve the encounters with the dragon. The dragon has two main ranged attacks that can instantly kill Moonchild if you aren't careful. For example, perched in nearby rubble, the dragon will intermittently use his breath (I assume it is his breath) to turn Moonchild to stone. With a wide section of the tower needing to be crossed, you must let the dragon turn Moonchild to stone, creating places to safely hide behind for the reborn Moonchild. You'll find the environment contains ample clues on how to successfully defend yourself against the dragon, either by moving blocks accented in blue or destroying bright blue areas with the sword.
The realization hit me soon after, all of the statues placed throughout the tower are previous versions of Moonchild, whether she was sitting on a ledge, or even reaching for the enchanted sword in the heart of the Tree of Life. Eventually after reaching a more nimble and agile age, you'll recover the sword, allowing you to "freely" defend yourself against the dragon. I use "freely" loosely, as the young tween Moonchild awkwardly wields the sword without any finesse. Luckily combat is kept at a minimum, with only a couple encounters with smaller creatures throughout the entire game. If I had to repeat a section, I'd rather run past enemies instead of engaging.
The narrative is told through various poetic phrases, cutscenes, dream sequences and well-drawn animations, usually focused on the Wizard, one of the builders of the tower. The gameplay in the dreams doesn't vary, as you use sand to fill in various shapes that appear on the ground. You'll loosely snap to the shapes, but many times I found myself well off track, having to turn around and attempt to repeat sections until the lines are properly filled in. The percentage of the shape that needs to be covered with sand varies, as some move the game along without being completely finished, while others required every last inch to be covered in sand. The last dream sequence challenges your frustration limit, only allowing you to see the shape for very brief moments before turning the screen black.
Although Moonchild is capable of jumping, the mechanic doesn't feel right. It feels like you are floating across gaps instead of leaping over them, which is clearly evident towards the end of the game as the distance traveled is increased tenfold to the beginning portions of the game. Stairs, which you assume you can easily run up will impede your progress due to slightly highly geometry than what is allowed to run across. The dynamic camera, providing some amazing framework and cinematic shots during the game, becomes a hinderance when you find yourself in tight corridors. Toren certainly has its set of technical issues, but the short adventure coming from an indie studio still is not without it's charm. The game world is full of bright, vivid, oversaturated colors, not shying away from the use of lighting to make everything pop. As Moonchild grows, her once pristine dress becomes tattered, feeling more like something a teenager would wear to a nightclub, complete with a low-cut v-neck and open back. The musical score is perhaps the best part of the presentation, fitting well with the fantasy setting of the world Toren is set in.
Toren is the first release from Swordtales, and I feel the game could have used a little bit more time to iron out any of the technical issues. There are optional important story sequences that are easy to miss, so you may want to fully explore regions. Randomly falling through the floor randomly, and being able to see through the character models at times is inexcusable, but the narrative of rebirth and completing one's destiny no matter the adversity is well put together.
Note: The Toren review is based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided for review purposes.