Review: Toren (PS4)

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Title: Toren
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.3 GB)
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Publisher: Versus Evil, LLC
Developer: Versus Evil, LLC
Original MSRP: $9.99
ESRB Rating: T
Toren is also available on PC and Mac.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I could barely contain my excitement upon downloading Toren. Gameplay videos likened it to one of my favorite games of all time, Ico, and from the initial moments of the game I completely understood the comparisons. To mix things up, Toren threw in the aspect of aging, whereas the main character begins as a baby (reminiscent of Ico) and ages to a young adult throughout the game.

There were some early concerns upon watching teasers to the game, namely how only one enemy was shown in the videos. But I dismissed those concerns, reminding myself of the minimalistic nature of Ico and how enemies took back seat to amazing environments and organic puzzles. Unfortunately, within minutes of beginning the game, the feeling of disappointment kicked in. Toren’s spirit is in the right place, and the potential, always within reach, falls short.

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Gameplay:
Toren places you in the shoes of a young girl (Moonchild). The game literally starts with her as a baby and has you crawling around the environment. Fortunately, this limited form of transportation doesn’t last long and is mainly there to introduce the aging element in the game. After a few moments you are able to run around as a little girl.

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At its core, Toren is a puzzle game with some minor combat adventure elements thrown in for good measure. The previously mentioned concern surrounding the lack of enemies was warranted as Toren places you in constant struggle against a black dragon that spews stone-turning breath which insta-kills you if you come into contact with it.

… something about the execution left much to be desired …
Since some of the puzzle elements have to be discovered before even attempting to solve them, I found myself being turned to stone multiple times only because I didn’t even know where to begin to look for a way to avoid the “breath of death.” Fortunately the game is relatively merciful with its spawn points, and even drops a hint or two about what has to be done.

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Solutions occasionally have you pushing and pulling structures to block the dragon’s breath and your sword (much like Ico’s) protects you from that fire. So you might have to weave in and around structures in order to reach the sword and get close enough to strike the dragon.

After years of playing similar puzzle games I’m not going to fault Toren for old gameplay mechanics, but something about the execution left much to be desired. I often felt like I was playing an original PlayStation game, which leads me to the next section.

… Atmospheric tunes guide you …
Visuals:
I understand and, in some instances, welcome “retro” graphics in video games. This is particularly true with Indie games. After all, not all developers have the resources to generate Uncharted-type graphics. The problem with Toren is that it reminds me (again) of a poorly-executed original PlayStation game. Everything from murky textures, to poorly implemented animations, make Toren feel incomplete and broken.

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Pressing the jump button often has Moonchild floating until the grappling animation kicks in. The combination of these lacking elements really breaks the intended fantasy atmosphere. So my disappointment comes not from the lack of graphical quality, but the poor execution of it. Thus even if the graphics were abysmal, proper animation and game-play mechanics could have saved this. Unfortunately, the game moves like it looks.

Audio:
One area where Toren succeeds is in the audio department. Atmospheric tunes guide you through the adventure and decent voice work (also reminiscent of Ico’s otherworldly language) compliment the fantasy setting. Other than that, sound design places some good effects upon that dragon antagonist.

… it falls short on execution …
Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
It’s very challenging to judge an Indie title harshly because one has to factor in limited resources and the trials of developing in a small team. But ultimately my job is to provide you with an honest opinion (especially if you are looking at this game and expecting another Ico).

As such, I cannot recommend Toren. It is an unpolished little game with a promising premise. But it falls short on execution and, as a result, equally disappoints in engaging the player in what might have been an interesting adventure.

Score:
5.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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