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HYBRID MONTH: Pandora’s Tower

With a mix of Zelda gameplay and Shadow of the Colossus boss battles, Pandora’s Tower offers a compelling mix of platform gaming, time management and combat, if you can overcome irritating camera angles and repetitive enemies. As an action roleplaying game, Pandora’s Tower ticks all the boxes we’d expect; a fantasy world, a love story and well-designed dungeons, but offers very little innovations to shine above the genre.

You play as Aeron, a young warrior who’s love, Elena, is slowly being transformed into a demon by an ancient curse. The predictable task ahead of you is to stop this transformation. In order to find the cure Aeron must battle through 13 towers to defeats the demon Masters residing there.

Each tower is a distinctive dungeon in which Aeron must traverse, fight his way through and solve puzzles. At the start of Pandora’s Tower you are equipped with a sword able to unleash heavy and light attacks that are both simple to learn and effective. As you progress you’ll be able to unlock several more powerful weapons. Unlike the likes of Bayonetta, the focus isn’t on the complexities of combat, but the challenge each tower offers up. The difficulty curve is well designed so that the starting challenges include navigating simple platforms, and will escalate to traversing narrow walkways in the dark, whilst battling enemies.

To help you in your quest you are provided with a magical chain by a witch-like character you meet called Mavda. Although both her cackling and appearance shout, ‘Don’t trust this hag,’ the chain she provides proves to be your most useful asset throughout your mission. With it you can swing across chasms, pull or throw objects and open magical doors, as well as being central to solving the many puzzles that slow your progress, each of which are straightforward but well thought-out. At times you’ll be tying giant animated roses up that would otherwise escape if you’d try to attack them, while other puzzles involve activating water wheels or throwing burning debris to light your way. You won’t be left scratching your head or scouring Google for the solutions, as they are right in front of you. Instead they offer a nice change of pace to the quickly repetitive combat.

While the chain can provide diversity in combat by swinging or throwing your foes, very little excitement is to be found with enemies outside of the boss battles. As well as the simplified move-set at Aeron’s disposal, the enemies you face are limited – and once you encounter the first introduction to a new enemy, they will offer very little in terms of new challenges.

Despite the limitations of the combat, the boss battles are what you’ll remember with fondness. These Masters of the towers lay waiting for you at each summit. Just like the tower’s they inhabit, they offer their own dangers and ways to exploit them. For instance one Master, a large plant beast, uses his photosynthesis abilities when in the light to heal any damage done, meaning you’ll need to chain him up to defeat him. Delivering some the prettiest action on the Wii, each Master is designed intricately and shown off in spectacular introductions.

These towers and their giant bosses pose an additional challenge: time management. While you are navigating each tower or battling their Masters, Elena is awaiting your return with bated breath – the reason being is that it doesn’t suffice to just kill the Master: Aeron must return its heart to Elena for her to eat. These moments are made more poignant and disturbing by the fact that Elena is a vegetarian: watching her gag as she eats this beast flesh while tears run down her cheek is moving to watch, and helps to build your desire and urgency to save her. The later you return the more Elena’s transformation will take hold, with purple puss and demonic limbs in all their gory details. When minor enemies are downed they too drop beast flesh which can be fed to Elena to keep the curse at bay. Should you leave it too late however, you’ll both face the consequences.

This sense of urgency means you’ll be finding the quickest way to navigate each dungeon, solve each puzzle and defeat each adversary. Fortunately the puzzles don’t reset, meaning you can return to Elena as often as you like. Each time you do you’ll be able to buy or sell items to Mavda and craft equipment. Most rewarding though is talking to Elena. Slowly you’ll discover more of the story, but perhaps not quickly enough to make an real impact – indeed the storytelling falls rather short of the narrative driven Zelda series. But with each interaction with Elena your bond with her will grow, so much so that alternative endings are offered depending on your relationship. The believable voice acting strengthens these moments, helping create the sense that how you treat Elena really matters.

And so you’ll spend your time traversing the towers and returning to Elena. Frustration arises from poor camera angles that occasionally obscure parts of an area, or make exploring it difficult. At other times the poor camera position will mean targeting enemies is harder than it needs to be. Also there are times when jumping or swinging to platforms demand that you be irritatingly precise for one jump, but not so for another. And after the 15 or so hours of gameplay on offer, the lack of enemy variety may disappoint – this is a long way from the imaginations of Dark Souls.

Despite these shortcomings Pandora’s Tower does offer solid action throughout. Just as Elena relies on Aeron and the Masters, you’ll rely on the Masters and Elena to deliver the most enjoyable experiences in Pandora’s Tower. As will any game at the end of a console’s life cycle, it is difficult to introduce ground breaking mechanics, and while Aeron’s adventure is full of exciting bosses, poignant moments and well-designed levels, it simply doesn’t challenge the best of the action RPG genre. But with five possible endings and a New Game + this should see you though to the Wii U.

7/10

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