Pandora’s Tower is one hell of a climb. 12 towers of brutally overpowered enemies, clever puzzles, and awkward camera angles make sure of that. Each tower contains a piece of monster flesh you need to bring back to your vegetarian girlfriend Elena, who suddenly has to eat meat to prevent a curse from turning her into a beast. There’s no real explanation on why all this is happening, but why not? She’s cute! The curse has a time limit, so I better hurry! As I eagerly pursued the first tower, Elena sat in the observatory, awaiting my flesh.
The gameplay is centered around the use of a chain, not just as a weapon but also to grab things in the environment and swing around the towers. It’s really cool how versatile the chain is; the Wii Pointer lets you aim it anywhere on the screen and the chain shoots out of your hand towards the target. In battle, you can confuse enemies by chaining them to poles or other enemies, or grab one and swing it around with the nunchuck to clobber the rest of the group with. You can also pull enemies towards you by grabbing them with the chain and reeling them in by holding the C button; it’s useful to get particular enemies out of their comfort zones like pulling a fish out of water.
The puzzles in the towers are organised based on what the game wants you to see with its special camera angles. If there’s a ledge in the room, you can’t grab it unless the camera is pointing at it. The fixed camera angles allow for some creative and tricky puzzles, but they create more problems than they solve. The robust nature of the chain is quickly handicapped when an enemy wanders off the screen. All the enemy has to do is walk into a tight corner and it’s invincible to your chain because you can’t point at it. This means you have to swing your sword into nothing and hope it gets them, and the sword is incredibly weak. The enemies aren’t very complicated; they have two or three different attacks at most that are easy to avoid, but they take a LONG time to kill. About 20 or 30 slashes with the sword is needed to finish off the basic enemies that pollute the towers. The chain isn’t much quicker, as you have to pull enemies for quite a while before the power meter builds. It’s not bad for a few enemies but it gets old very quickly as almost every room has a small group of monsters ready to ruin the fun. The camera also makes it hard to see where you’ll land, and the game has probably the most awkward swinging animation I’ve ever seen. When it looks like you’re about to swing one way, your torso will tard out and thrust sideways in a bizarre circular motion. You have to swing up and down a couple of times before the rhythm becomes stable enough to see what the hell is going on.
Nevertheless, I won’t let a few frustrating moments stop me from saving Elena! There’s a timer winding down on the bottom of the screen showing how long before the curse consumes her. When it nears the end, you have to return to Elena whether you’ve beaten the tower or not. Basic flesh from normal enemies is enough to wind the timer back so you can return and complete the current tower, but it’s a demoralising thing to do. I felt terrible when I had to return to Elena during the middle of the day and rest, it just doesn’t feel right returning with nothing despite how nice she is about it. She worries a lot and is always grateful when you return, in this scene she even apologises for having the curse.
You can give her gifts and chat to her over and over to increase your affinity, though I’d like to think saving her life from a curse is worth more than a crappy gift. Giving her items has a permanent effect on the scenery: if you get her a blue dress she’ll put it on straight away, and pictures and objects you give her will appear in the observatory. Sometimes she gives you gifts of her own – she gave me some cupcakes for energy! I enjoyed her reaction when I gave them back. Sorry, woman – I’m on a low-carb plan. I can’t save the world with cupcakes. I suppose it’s nice to give her something to think about while you spend all your time in the towers.
The towers themselves have their own stories and origins, with juicy information scattered throughout each one in the form of notes from people who worked there 500 years ago when they were built, and scholars who wandered through since then. The vague storyline is part of the game’s charm; it doesn’t treat you like a baby with detailed explanations and there’s a lot of information to piece together.
The saving grace of the gameplay lies at the end of each tower in the boss fights. These bosses are difficult for all the right reasons, and each fight is very thrilling and different. The bosses all have unique body parts and several stages of attacks and patterns to learn. Beating them means being creative enough to expose the weak point, then quick enough to exploit it while it’s there. A lot of different things are required in each fight and all of the game’s strengths come together at once to make for some really fun battles.
I was expecting a fun mindless action game where you just run around some towers kicking arse, but it turned out almost the opposite. Pandora’s Tower has a lot of heart and emotion, emphasised heavily by powerful orchestral music. The scenes with Elena are touching; motivating enough that I happily waded through shitty camera angles and repetitive enemies to clear each tower. Could the game be trying to tell us something here, that love has no obstacle? Love is strength? Does it make you stronger or does it make you do stupid things? I had a lot of time to think about that while spending 2-3 minutes mindlessly slashing every small group of enemies. It’s quite an achievement for anything to get me thinking about love. If it wasn’t such an inconvenient, repetitive and cumbersome journey, would I have valued the good times as much? I don’t know. The gameplay isn’t horrible, it’s fun for the 75% of the time it works. A lot of new ideas made this game worth experiencing; it’s unlike anything else out there. I welcome the ambition shown in creating this game, but if Pandora’s Tower successfully captures the idea of love then I’ll be lonely forever.