TOHU‘s beautiful art style instantly drew me in, but it wasn’t long before its frustrating and illogical puzzles turned me off.
A point and click adventure, TOHU puts you in the shoes of a purple-haired little girl. Living in a strange mechanical world, the journey she’s about to embark on revolves around the Sacred Engine, a mysterious machine that powers her land. She’s going to discover a lot along the way, and luckily she’s not alone: her robotic sidekick, Cubus, is there to help.
You can switch between the girl and Cubus at any point, and both characters have unique skills necessary to solve many of TOHU‘s puzzles. The girl is light and nimble, so she can crawl through small gaps and climb up ledges. Cubus is cumbersome but strong, so he can lift heavy objects out of the way. You’ll need to switch between them frequently as they’re both equally important.
The most striking thing about TOHU is, without a doubt, its beautiful art style. Each environment has been lovingly hand-drawn, and every frame of the game is a wonder to behold. The game’s universe is unique and inspiring; an incredible amount of creativity has gone into bringing it to life. With nooks and crannies to interact with and weird and wonderful creatures you can click on to invoke a reaction, simply taking in TOHU‘s visuals is pleasure enough. It’s just a shame that the gameplay itself isn’t quite as pleasing.
TOHU is a classic point-and-click adventure through and through, and that means obtuse puzzles are the order of the day. And in small doses, obscure solutions are fine. But after TOHU‘s initial puzzles, it feels like every single one of them is needlessly obscure. The plus-side is that environments are never very big, so you don’t have to wander far – often you’re limited to just one screen – to find what you need. But it’s made more difficult by the fact there’s no quick and easy way to see what can and what can’t be interacted with, and the beautiful intricacy of each environment is actually detrimental in this regard. Expect to do a whole lot of clicking around just to get your bearings.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from some more classic, satisfying puzzles – like piecing together a broken mirror, or arranging a series of pipes to create a closed network – most of TOHU‘s solutions either require you to scour the environment, finding items and then using them with something else, or fiddle around with some object until you get a desired result. And in a world filled with weird and wonderful machinery that means nothing to us Earthlings, there’s often no seemingly logical way to know what items are useful, or how something works. It’s a good job there’s a built-in hint system in the game – but even to access that you need to complete an annoying minigame each time. It got to the point where I was needing to use the hint system for every puzzle, and I’m fairly confident in saying that most players, except perhaps the most ardent and determined adventure game players, will be in the same situation.
As cute as TOHU‘s protagonist is, the initial lack of any real narrative makes it hard to connect with her. The draw of classic point-and-click adventure games, like the Monkey Island series or the likes of Grim Fandango, is a gripping story and strong, likeable protagonists. Their funny quips and quirky personalities are what get us through those tricky puzzles. TOHU‘s wordless characters mean there’s no such connection, and frustrating puzzles are never anything other than frustrating.
Sure, if you do figure something out in TOHU by yourself, there’s a great sense of accomplishment to go with it. But if you’ve had to result to using a hint – which you almost certainly will – it just feels like you’re merely going through the motions; pressing buttons and clicking on objects because you’ve been told to do it. TOHU is needlessly complicated, and it comes at a huge detriment to the game. I’m a big fan of point and click adventure games, and no other title has had me so stumped, so often. It doesn’t make for a fun experience.
TOHU is set in a beautiful world begging to be explored, with an adorable protagonist that we should be dying to learn more about. But its frustratingly difficult puzzles and the fact most players are going to have to rely on the built-in hint system quickly sucks any joy out of playing. Unless you’re a hardcore adventure game fan with the patience of a saint, you’re unlikely to enjoy your time with TOHU. The rest of us are better off basking in the beauty of its screenshots like they’re works of art.
TOHU Review: GameSpew’s Score