Review: Pandora's Tower
Posted 13 Apr 2012 at 10:45 by Aaron Clegg
Developer Ganbarion has some previous form in the action/adventure space, but Pandora's Tower has the studio trying out quite a different tone. The game sees you take on the role of tacit and softly-spoken soldier Aeron as he fights to protect his fair friend Elena. Just what the pair is running from is gradually revealed to you as the game progresses, but the basis of the plot is that Elena has been inflicted with a strange curse that will eventually turn the lovely young lady into a slimy beast that wouldn't look out of place at a Marlon Brando tribute party. To vanquish the curse, both protagonists will have to face hardship – Elena will have to eat the putrid flesh of thirteen Master beasts, and, unfortunately for dearest player, Aeron will have to conquer thirteen deadly towers to retrieve that flesh.We hate to say it, but Pandora's Tower always ran the risk of being the least notable and least hyped of the 'Rainfall' trilogy. It far from shares the ambition of Xenoblade's vast open world, and it certainly lacks the pedigree of the Sakaguchi-stamped The Last Story. Thus, before it's even out, it looks like Pandora's Tower needs to answer the question of its own identity – just what is its unique selling point? Perhaps ironically, we think the best way to address that is with reference to another game: Pandora's Tower is the closest thing to the Wii Castlevania game we never got. Let's try to forget Judgement...
The game throws you into the action refreshingly quickly. After about a two-minute intro scene, you find yourself in the first tower. To get by the servant beasts of the towers with your limbs remaining attached, you're armed with a sword and a chain – the latter being the key item for the entire game. Combat and other gameplay mechanics are taught as you progress, but Pandora's Tower offers a fairly simplistic fighting experience – not too dissimilar to a Castlevania game.
With your sword, you can chain combo attacks and block enemy blows, but the meat of the gameplay comes by using your chain – both in combat and outside it. The chain utilises pointer, motion and button controls. You can aim at enemies and click B to latch onto them, after which you can either chain them to other things – like other enemies, or the environment to hinder their movement – or yank the Wii Remote back to cause damage. Whilst latched onto them, you can also charge your chain to deal more powerful gouges, although charging for too long will obviously leave you exposed. Smaller enemies can also be swung about using the Nunchuck, or just lifted and slammed back down to the ground by pointing and clicking A.
The chain has just as much use outside of battle, as you find yourself flicking switches from afar, pulling yourself up to hidden nooks and crannies, and swinging your way across gulfs. One of the most impressive aspects of the game is how the boss battles require you to use your noggin with the weapon. Each Master beast presents its own puzzle to defeating it, just like a Zelda game. One fiery boss requires you extinguishing its flaming body parts by chaining them up to stalactites, whilst another has you disabling its various lasers and turrets so you can deal a clean blow on its weak point. Finally and crucially, you'll need your chain to rip chunks of flesh out of the fallen Masters to take back to Elena for din-dins. Yum.
So far, so simple, but there's one key caveat that stops Pandora's Tower from feeling like a total Zelda homage. As you enter each tower, you're essentially slapped with a time limit – take too long and a gauge at the bottom of the screen will empty, at which point Elena will succumb to the curse. To prevent that from happening, you'll have to complete each tower at a pretty brisk pace, or, as that becomes quite difficult later on, you'll have to collect flesh from the towers' enemies to take back to Elena to keep the curse at bay. One the one hand, the race against the clock stops you from properly exploring every corner of each tower first time round, but on the other, there is more of an incentive to return and explore afterwards than your typical Zelda game.
The chief incentive to do just this is a predictably addictive loot and customisation system. Various trinkets you pick up in each tower can be brought back to the Observatory 'hub' and either sold or crafted to make new items. Once you start hoarding a varied range of materials, you'll be able to upgrade your weapons and create bits up equipment to improve your stats. It's the sort of thing that will be familiar to any dabbler of RPG's, but as later towers throw tougher enemies at you, you're going to want to take advantage of everything you've collected on your journeys.
Graphically, Pandora's Tower sports a very clean, solid look. The art style is pretty much what you'd find in most ecclesiastical Japanese games, and while everything is technically more impressive than what's found in, say, Twilight Princess, the fixed camera means the game never looks quite at grandiose as the fantasy world of The Last Story.
Equally decent is the soundtrack. It's about the sort of thing you'd expect from a non-blockbuster JRPG, but there are a few tracks, especially the harmonic main theme, that you'll find yourself humming away to. Yet again, characters are given the full voice acting treatment, and we're glad to say the English accents still make a nice, placid change from the screeching, American college-kid inflection we're all too familiar with.
That there isn't much else to be said pretty much sums up Pandora's Tower. There are a couple of other interesting ideas going for it – there's a Shadow of the Colossus-style moral theme suggested to you fairly early on when it's left open just what exactly these Master beasts you find yourself slaying are. There's also a simple 'relationship' element between Elena and Aeron you can increase by chatting to her and finding her gifts, but it's mostly incidental.
On the face of it, Pandora's Tower might seem like a game with a few interesting ideas that's hindered by largely samey gameplay. A cynical mind might just see it as a sub-Zelda slash 'em up, but it's probably fairer to think of it as the Castlevania we never got on Wii. Well-worked motion controls and some very inventive boss battles go quite a way to redeeming the fairly monotonous combat, making Pandora's Tower a very solid choice for any action RPG fan.
N-Europe Final Verdict
A very solid, fast-paced action romp with islands of greatness in a sea of repetitive combat. Still, there are surprisingly few better Castlevania alternatives on Wii to this day.
Inventive chain mechanics
Clever boss battles
Addictive loot management system
Combat gets samey pretty fast
Pointer controls sometimes fiddly