Point and click adventure games seem to be having somewhat of a renaissance lately. If you’re someone who grew up on them and enjoyed the subtle humor and head scratching puzzles of things like Sam and Max, Monkey Island or countless other highly revered classics, this is exciting news. But whether or not you’ve got the nostalgia for the genre many folks do, there’s a lot of things that have to come together to really make these adventures work. You need memorable, charming characters, engaging environments, clever puzzles that are a challenge and some reason to get invested in it all. The last part is key for me especially, since I didn’t cut my teeth on the classics. Luckily, though Tohu started off a little slow and some of its pieces are flawed, the strange storybook adventures of one little girl tasked with saving her universe manages to get its claws in you and keep you engaged.
In Tohu, you’ll play as an adorable little girl who’s been living peacefully in her little corner of the Fish Planets when disaster strikes, and a sort of chibi-Reaper comes and breaks the Sacred Engine that powers everything, leaving all life on the Fish Planets in grave danger. In the seeming absence of any helpful adults, she must find a way to travel to see her Juncle, who can help provide the necessary tools to rebuild. But it won’t be that simple, as your Juncle’s gone a little mad, won’t let you in, and in fact, doesn’t remember you at all. And that’s just the start of the puzzles and predicaments you’ll find yourself facing in Tohu.
Luckily, aside from your apparent mechanical prowess and the general magicalness of the world around you, you can also transform into a big beefy mechanical alter ego, the Cubus, a sort of affable tin can of a robot dude who’s got the muscle and height the little girl lacks. You can switch between the girl and the Cubus readily, which will be increasingly important as puzzles grow in complexity.
Gameplay consists of the sort of “standard” inventory and clicking sorts of puzzles in which objects must be combined as well as a lush variety of other puzzles, from mazes and mechanical marvels to those that play with twitch reflexes or add timed elements. One of my favorite things about Tohu is that you never know what you’ll encounter next. Tohu’s puzzles are challenging, but their variety meant that even if I got really hung up in one section, the next might be something I breezed through. Puzzles are well built for the most part, and make at least a little logical sense, though sometimes that’s in retrospect.There is a decent amount of the “moon logic” that sometimes drives people off games in this genre, but while it seemed more random and egregious at the outset, by the midway point most things started to make a certain overarching bit of sense.
Being observant is key in most point and click adventures and this is definitely true in Tohu. Tohu’s world is rich and though painted in pastels, vibrant. There’s all manner of strange creatures and objects to interact with. Unfortunately, not everything is explained very well, and there is no highlight for objects to interact with, making it easier to overlook something that could be key to solving your current predicament.
On top of this, movement can be a little tricky due to slightly finicky controls. Usually, when you’re moving from place to place, you’ll see a little foot icon indicating a place where you can travel to, and an arrow indicating that you can move to another room from your current location, or a little up or down arrow indicating that, as the girl, you can climb, or as the robot, you can hoist or place objects. Sometimes, though, these indicators don’t show up, or aren’t clear enough, leading you to believe you can’t go places that you can, or meaning you end up passing by a place you could stop to perform an action. This is irritating but ultimately surmountable.
I definitely had some moments of big frustration with Tohu, where I felt like I’d left no stone unturned but still couldn’t proceed. It’s par for the course for point and click adventures so that’s not a true fault, but lucky for me and anyone else who finds themselves in a similar pickle, Tohu has a neat little mini-game that awards you hints without punishing you for using them. As I was acclimating to the game, I relied on them less and less, but having them to fall back on when I’d been staring helplessly at the same damn pirate who just wanted a spoon certainly alleviated some of my puzzle induced stress. The hint mini game is genuinely fun, too, and translates Tohu’s richer world into charming little pencil drawings I can imagine the girl jotting down to herself as she tries to save the universe.
Imagination is key, as though the story is revealed somewhat with the help of a velvet voiced narrator there’s not much dialogue. Instead, a lot of what you learn about the world happens through short cut scenes, animated conversations or interacting with the world itself, and the more you interact with Tohu’s world, the more you come to love it. Tohu has a sort of creeping charm that grows on you as you while away hours solving its puzzles, with a sort of Richard Scarry meets Edward Gorey art style accentuated by a pitch perfect whimsical soundtrack from Hollow Night’s Christopher Larkin, as well as a sort of subtle humor that worms its way into your heart with every surprising little punchline you uncover.
Tohu is by no means perfect, with some inconsistencies in controls and even in puzzles themselves, but it makes up for it with a combination of mystery, whimsy and variety that keeps you forging forward past any frustration, with a leg up for genre novices and enough challenge for seasoned pros, ultimately finding a great balance and creating a strange and delightful world that’s a pleasure to journey through and an even greater pleasure to save.
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