Publisher: Xseed Games
Publisher: Xseed Games
We all watched Saturday morning cartoons, right? As a youngun, every Saturday morning at 8AM, I'd plunk myself down right in front of my family's TV. No matter what, I knew what would happen in the next 30 minutes: Cobra Commander would concoct a heinous scheme, Darkwing Duck would confront him about it, and by the end, the conflict would've been resolved with various explosions and antics. The content and pacing were predictably satisfying.
Pandora's Tower excels at Saturday morning cartoon gameplay. On every day for two weeks straight, I'd come home from work to greet a new dungeon to crawl and a new boss to fell. Nothing more, nothing less. The dungeons come straight out of a standard video game playbook; they're simple mazes with plenty of enemies to kick around and helpful items to loot. As for the bosses, I'll put it like this: according to the story, each tower (read: dungeon) is built to house a master (read: boss). Understandably so, since the masters hone in on the heart of the gameplay and milk it for all it's worth.
The main gameplay mechanic of Pandora's Tower is the Oraclos Chain. Aeron (the rascal you play as) can shoot the chain to grapple objects or bind foes from afar. Just aim the Wii pointer at an object, hit the B button, and Aeron will launch the chain towards the object of your choosing. Bosses have all manner of bits and bobs to fool with, with plenty of knobs and whistles to poke and prod using the chain.
This fella is covered with slimes that shoot Aeron, so I ripped them off as quickly as possible. Once I had cleared out enough and could safely dodge the rest, I then went about launching my chain into his heart: a glowing purple and yellow organ. The goal of each boss is to obtain this organ, the master flesh, by impaling it with your chain and gradually dislodging it from the beast. Getting to it is the fun part, though; all of the tuggable parts on a boss serve a different function, and tugging them to your favor is a matter of experimentation and taste.
For instance, this plant ruffian restored his armor in the sunlight (accursed photosynthesis). I yanked him out of the sunlight using my chain, then tethered him to a nearby post while I wailed away on his armor with my standard sword. However, I witnessed someone who just let this guy sunbathe all day long. This particular player overwhelmed the boss with a powerful weapon, doing enough damage to counteract any benefit derived from the sunlight.
To reach each boss, I needed to unchain its door in the tower. That meant loosing massive chains pinned down at various points in the tower, a process that lent direction to the labyrinthine structures.
These towers were once well-kept, as evidenced by the notes left behind by previous caretakers. In recent centuries, however, things had fallen apart, creating typical video game dungeons, chock full of winding passages, splitting pathways, and mysterious dead ends. These mazes each followed their own structural theme, and I often had no problem solving one by simply observing its layout. For instance,
there was a chain on the left side of this room, so it only figured that there was also a chain on the right side of the same room. (Symmetry is a big thing in this game.)
However, the chains also had a less subtle use in navigation. From the boss door, they wound along walls through the tower. Simply by following their paths along the wall, I could find their sources and unpin them. They provided an obvious trail in otherwise mazelike dungeons, standing in as Ariadnian threads.
After the Oraclos Chain and the boss door chains, chains even found their way into the story, making for some hokey symbolism between Aeron and the lady pictured above, his girlfriend. By the end of the adventure, even the A in Aeron's name was subject to hokey symbolism.
Just like a Saturday morning cartoon, though, there was no continuity between sessions. Of course, the game saved my progress, but the game design itself lacked development. Within a chapter, any tower could've been swapped for another, and any boss could've transferred to another tower without a hitch. So, even though each session had a thoughtful rising action and a unique progression of elements, the game rarely advanced its overarching ideas past their state in the tutorial. As if to acknowledge this, you can play any tower in the second chapter—the meat of the game—in any order you like.
- Hearty bosses that encourage experimentation.
- Although each tower in the game is a maze, each one also provides plenty of clues through its structure.
- If you like the first tower, you're bound to like the rest, and if you don't, I wouldn't hold out hope. This is a predictable game, so it's easy to know right away if you'll enjoy it.
- I prefer the Wii Remote and Nunchuck for this game, but it does support the Classic Controller. You can use the right analog stick to aim the Oraclos Chain in that case.
- Cobra Commander is not from Darkwing Duck.
- The towers take on an episodic nature, rarely building ideas from one to the next.
- Non-boss combat is nothing to write home about: simply wrap up the enemy in your chains and have at it.
Price at time of review: $40
Mileage will vary on this one. If all you need for a good afternoon is a sensible dungeon crawling session, this has you covered for quite a few afternoons. If you don't need yet another dungeon crawler, the bosses might grab your attention—if you can sit through the cookie cutter dungeons.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game for the Nintendo Wii obtained by the reviewer.