Reviews

Toren PS4 Review: Too Much Salt


Dying for the moody, isolated atmosphere of a Team Ico production? Absolutely love the PS2 classic Ico and wish more games were like it? Than Brazilian game developer Swordtales has a game for you and its on Playstation like its spiritual cousin.

Toren stars a young girl, Moonchild, on a quest to reach the top of a tower in the hopes of defeating a dragon that is apparently making things pretty hard for humanity. The game’s plot is intentionally vague and cryptic, sometimes to its advantage and at other times it comes across weak.

There is this magician who helps Moonchild, through lessons and “wise” dialogue but overall this story is about girl vs dragon. And mankind benefits somehow if the girl wins,…maybe.

Immediately, the art style in Toren shines. The art direction is superb, never relying on one set of colors for too long. Environments are varied, largely due to the game taking Moonchild to new locations via dreams she enters. Even the tower, which you would think would suffer from visual repetition, has a lot of variety to its many levels. The soundtrack is fitting, providing an epic backdrop at the right moments.

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The great art direction and sense of isolation and adventure almost make Toren a strong recommendation. Unfortunately, severe performance issues and gameplay that is sometimes dull really pokes holes in Moonchild’s adventure.

While the game’s art designers deserve tremendous praise, the texture work is not even worthy of last-generation consoles. Textures on environmental objects look dated and wouldn’t be out of place if originally released alongside Ico in the early 2000’s.

So the game isn’t a graphics powerhouse, that must mean it performs well since it isn’t pushing the PS4, right? No. The frame rate is all over the place constantly, no matter what area of the game you’re in. Drops are sudden and significant.

That isn’t the only performance bug, there is excessive screen tearing too. This is even worse than the frame rate due to how often it happens. It makes the beautiful art direction hard to swallow since its so hard to ignore this performance hiccup.

Moonchild’s animations often get stuck and the fixed camera angles work against you. I understand why there are fixed angles,since the game is trying to be Ico, but there is no excuse for bad camera angles that work against the player.

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Sadly, gameplay doesn’t make up for these issues much. The sections where Moonchild fights the dragon are the highlights of the game and they’re very simple. Again, just like the final boss in Ico, the dragon sends out waves of energy to hurt Moonchild. These can be easily avoided by taking cover behind certain objects, like in Ico. Physics are floaty, again like in Ico, but this seems less excusable in 2015 than it was over a decade ago.

The dreams Moonchild enters often task her with filling shapes on the ground with salt. Yes, salt. The most actual interaction you’ll get in Toren is dropping salt on the ground. This happens more often then actual combat with the sword that the game builds up to so much. Moonchild will be told to wait for her weapon and when she finally gets it there is little to do with it outside of breaking some chains or hitting the dragon a few times.

I will say that Moonchild’s encounters with the dragon are well-built up to. Each feels epic and like a real heavyweight fight even if they aren’t all that complex.

Simply put, Toren is no Ico. It lacks production values, entertaining combat/puzzles and has serious performance issues. The art direction is great but is a pain to actually appreciate due to frame drops, screen tearing and bad texture work.

Solid music and good art can only do so much for a game that has so much else going wrong. Toren needed several more months in development. Despite its so-so quality, I’ll keep Swordtales on my radar, hoping for their next project to knock it out of the park with stellar gameplay AND art.

Final Thoughts

Toren emulates Ico so much it seemingly forgets to trim its frayed edges. Performance issues hold the entire experience down though it does having some nice moments. Review copy provided by the developer. Completed on PS4 in a few hours.

Overall Score 55%