On a list of videogames’ most reviled mechanics, nestled between excessive quick-time events and escort missions, is time management.
Slaying a shopping centre’s worth of zombies in Dead Rising isn’t quite as satisfying as it should be when you have a schedule to keep up with. Similarly, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is often lambasted for the 72 hour countdown signified by a falling moon constantly hung over your head.
Damsel in distress Elena is Pandora’s Tower’s ticking time bomb, afflicted by a curse that threatens to turn the beauty into a slobbering beast.
Obligated to rescue his girlfriend from this ugly fate, pretty boy hero Aeron travels to the Scar, a gaping expanse where 13 towers sit suspended in mid air by chains clinging to the surrounding cliffs.[drop]It’s your job to venture down these gigantic chains, climb each tower and slay the Masters, unique beasts whose flesh must be torn from them and fed to Elena to kick that mutating habit of her’s for good.
Time spent away from your loved one, however, is time in which she’ll begin to mutate. There’s a meter in the corner of the screen alerting you to how long you have left before her next feed.
No effort is spared in making these meals as stomach-turning as possible as Elena begrudgingly wolfs down hunks of dripping purple meat. There’s an unshakable sense of dread as she swallows every mouthful as if Human Centipede director Tom Six had been at the helm of Team Ico’s cult hit Shadow of the Colossus.
It’s not the only thing that’s hard to stomach.
Combat is a time-consuming slog employing a mix of one-button swipes, charged attacks and flimsy combos that, despite an array of weapons, fails to deliver a satisfying swing.
Saved partially by the chain, an essential tool in ripping beast flesh straight from the source, Aeron can lash this metallic whip to wrap tightly around an enemy’s limbs, torso, or head to tear away armour or disarm them of weapons.
Pandora’s Tower presents one of those rare situations where opting for the remote and nunchuck over the classic controller makes sense. Aiming your chain with the pointer to latch onto objects and enemies feels intuitive and swinging your ensnared prey around with the rattle of your nunchuck is more satisfying than a button prompt.
Where this really excels is the towers, recreating the same style of exploration many familiarise with the hybrid term Metroidvania. Misleading as the name may be, Pandora’s Tower isn’t one lone structure but 13 smaller dungeons each lavished in its own unique design from lava-filled factories to sanctuaries brimming with overgrowth.[drop2]Distinct as they are in their design, each tower share common traits.
Upon entry you’ll be greeted with a nugget of valuable information. Chains that scale the entire breadth of these tall structures act as guides leading you around, challenging you to keep on track with the progress before finding their destructible roots.
Aeron’s own chain becomes a valuable asset here.
You’ll use it to yank levers that power elevators, grapple to unreachable heights, and swing across gaps unreachable on foot. If you can imagine how a Zelda game built entirely around Link’s hookshot might end up, this is as close as it gets.
Urgency plays a vital role in Pandora’s Tower and though filling Elena up with regular beast flesh will buy you some extra time to scour each dungeon, there’s plenty of conflicting elements working against you.
Combat is often more time-consuming than it’s worth, encouraging you to dash past any threats. Lugging around metals and resources, gathered along the way to upgrade your weapons, becomes a necessary task as you power through each tower.
Those hoping to finish the game with the best ending are encouraged to keep Elena’s mood up with regular visits, gifts and lending her a shoulder to cry on every now and then.
However, being one of the darkest tales in Nintendo’s history, you’ll want to see how things can go horribly wrong. That should be a more enticing prospect to most.
Pandora’s Tower is best when it’s imitating greater adventures harking back to the likes of Zelda and Castlevania in its meticulously designed towers and Shadow of the Colossus when you play tug of war to yank out master flesh in boss battles.
The unfortunate burden of rounding off Nintendo’s trio of Japanese imports, a spotlight shared with two groundbreaking examples of eastern workmanship bolstered by the names behind them, makes it the weakest offering of the bunch.
A 15-hour campaign is barely a dent in the mammoth size of RPG epic Xenoblade Chronicles and the production values aren’t quite up to the standard of The Last Story with grubby visuals and barely passable voice acting.
Like its cursed damsel, Pandora’s Tower has a very ugly side but also a beautiful one that’s enticing enough to keep you persevering through its 13 towers and haphazard gameplay mutations to see this dark tale through to the end.
- Metroidvania-inspired dungeons.
- Intuitive chain mechanics.
- Gruesome meal times.
- Mostly dull combat.
- Tacked on RPG elements.
- Tiresome girlfriend management.
This review was written by Tom Worthington