When it comes to picking the next game I’ll dive into; the biggest factor is always variety. Was I just beating people down as Spider-Man? Well, I suppose I’ll navigate clickers and commit brutal homicides as Ellie for a bit. Or, getting tired of Battle Royale? Let me pick up an indie-puzzler with a charming art style like TOHU. Though, while TOHU is a fun head-scratcher with a Gaiman-esque aesthetic, it suffers from the now ‘as per usual’ port control problems that plague so many games.
The world of TOHU is easy to explain. A hooded villain has come to Tohu, a location made up of several “fish worlds,” and has begun wreaking havoc. This villain ends up breaking the “Sacred Engine.” And now, it’s up to the Little Girl and her robot alter-ego Cubus to travel to other fish worlds and undo the damage. See, easily explained. But, without context, it’s as puzzling as the riddles within that you’ll need to solve.
In TOHU, you play as Little Girl. She’s an inquisitive character whose small size allows her to do things like climb a precarious stack of books or crawl through minuscule holes. Many of which will contain secrets. Believe me, when you’re looking for the final glass shard to put a mirror back together, you’ll appreciate getting her into every hidey-hole you can find. Alternatively, Little Girl can turn into Cubus, a robot version of herself that is cumbersome yet quite strong. As an alternative to playing as Little Girl, the Cubus gameplay revolves around moments like, for example, throwing a broken pipe to smash your way through. Between the two, you have to navigate various maps and solve a series of puzzles that remain ever-growing in difficulty.
Each world/fish/map you visit is fairly simple, usually made up of 3-5 screens. Each screen is one giant puzzle, consisting of many smaller puzzles. For example, you have to find three tickets in one of the earlier maps. To find the tickets, you have to solve a puzzle for each. This allows you to come back and solve the big puzzle to achieve your objective. Sometimes they’re as straightforward as ‘follow this recipe.’ Other times you have to backtrack across the map to find all the pieces you need to unlock a door. The key is that TOHU offers absolutely zero insight into how to do any of it in a narrative form. Everything is on the screen, but it’s up to your detective skills to solve the levels. Yes, that does mean that even simply figuring out what the puzzle is can also be a puzzle. Luckily, the developers offer a hint page for each puzzle – though even this isn’t easy. There’s a skill test that involves clicking the right buttons as your cursor speeds up. Even then, the hints are vague pictures that, hopefully, you can piece together. There is no aspect of this game that isn’t a puzzle in some way or another.
Aesthetically, the art style is also up my alley. If you’ve read anything Neil Gaiman or obsessively watched Coraline, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of what Tohu looks like. Featuring weird, colorful, and truly inspired character design, TOHU feels familiar while being its own thing. Fireart Games do a wonderful job of incorporating things like talking pictures or “wrench snakes” to bring the world to life, making every environment part of the puzzle-solving.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and I’m about to turn into the Bernie meme here (not the mittens one). I am once again asking; if you can’t make the console controls work, please don’t port the game. In something like TOHU, I don’t mind that it’s a cursor-based game as the whole thing is essentially point-and-click. It’s when you have to do the puzzles based on reaction time that issues arise. You can click a mouse and keyboard at a moment’s notice, so reaction time isn’t necessarily required. Do you know what is not conducive to that? The PlayStation stick and the X button. No, no, I cannot do that in under a second. And, realizing that, it was around this time when TOHU ran into a wall for me. After nearly throwing my controller through the window, I had to give up. For what seems like the millionth time, a ported game’s controls mar what once was a wonderful gaming experience. Yes, it was only a particular part of the game that was sullied. But when you need to have every puzzle solved to advance – and the controller is stymieing you – it’s extremely frustrating.
Overall, TOHU’s lovely aesthetic, challenging puzzles, and do-it-yourself style of direction make this a real winner in my eyes. While so much good hits a real stumbling block with controls not designed for a controller, it didn’t stop me from really enjoying this unique and wacky world. And I appreciate the complicated puzzles that are enjoyably difficult instead of ‘smash your head against a wall’ hard. I would recommend TOHU, especially if you’ve somehow managed to figure out quicker reaction times with your controller than I have.
***PS4 code provided by the publisher***
Challenging, Yet Fun
Interesting Art Style
Complex Level Designs
Basically just a series of puzzles
Ported controls are obnoxious