Snap into a Slim Jim?! How about some beast heart?
Pandora's Tower: Until I Return to Your Side, Nintendo's latest title targeted at an older demographic, hit store shelves in Japan on May 26. Developed by Ganbarion, best known as the studio that brought the Jump fighting series to the DS, Pandora's Tower is quite a different experience from what most Wii owners are used to. The game puts the player in the role of Ende, a knight who is trying to help his friend Ceres fight a deplorable curse that is slowly turning her into a beast. From the advice of Graiai, a mysterious old woman who has her dead/zombified husband on her shoulders, Ende seeks out special beast flesh spread throughout thirteen towers that Ceres must eat to prevent herself from turning into revolting beast. After putting nearly four hours into the game, I can assure you that there is a lot of fun to be had, but Pandora's Tower is not perfect.
Ganbarion decided to give players a few different options when it comes to controls. Players can either use the Classic Controller (Pro) or the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination. For this playthrough, I primarily used the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. You control Ende with the joystick on the Nunchuk controller. The A button on the Wii Remote controls your sword while the B trigger controls Ende's whip-like chain. The Z button on the Nunchuk blocks incoming attacks. Players also have quick access to their “Bag” (which lists all of the items they are carrying) with the 1 button and the map with the 2 button. The C button on the Nunchuk is used to pick up items. Players can cycle through usable items in real time with the D-pad. The speaker in the Wii Remote is also used nominally throughout the game as well. There is no jump button in the configuration, though there are times when Ende does an auto-jump. He can also climb relatively low crates or platforms by simply walking up to them. Honestly, it was kind of surprising to not see any buttons used for these functions, but it works pretty well.
Visually, Pandora's Tower might not be the best looking title on the Wii, but its unique art style really stands out, especially in the architecture and enemy designs. Perhaps one of the coolest visual tricks I witnessed thus far in the game came from the first boss. The first tower is called the Large Tree Tower, and is totally engulfed by plants from top to bottom. By the time you make it to the final boss, the room where he resides is full of earth and foliage, and each step the boss takes (at least in the cut scene leading up to the battle) causes grass to grow beneath his feet and leaves to rise slowly into the air. Things like this that really make the game stand out visually and artistically.
The camera in the game sits fixed and changes as you progress to different locations. Most of the time, the camera is very intelligent and does not get in your way. However, there are times when having at least a little bit of control of the camera would the game a bit easier. These moments are few and far between, but it is noticeable nonetheless. One other interesting characteristic of the game comes from Ende's chain. By holding the B button, a zoomed-in circular area appears on the screen to help you find places where you can use his chain. Most of the time, this is not necessary as (at least early on) it is relatively easy to see where you can use the item. There are several levers and switches that require the player to use the chain in order to proceed. Players can also pick up small items and enemies with the chain and slam them into the floor or wall. This comes in handy in the second level, as you need to pick up some spike-like objects, slam them into a certain section on the wall, and then use the chain to climb onto the newly made “handle” to proceed upward. The chain is a really great addition to the game and really adds to some of the puzzle elements found in the levels.
While the enemy and boss designs are very well done, combat in Pandora's Tower can seem like a chore at times. The controls feel a bit antiquated and hearken back to older 3D hack-and-slash games from last generation. This is not a bad thing, it just feels a little uninspired. The chain, however, does mix thing up a bit, as it can be used to toss around lighter flying enemies and can even be used to disarm enemies wielding weapons. Parts like these are definitely what make this game interesting and fun. The hack-and-slash aspects are just a bit dull.
Pandora's Tower does feature level-building aspects for Ende. Not only this, but the player also has the ability to upgrade weapons and items. Players can also boost their equipped weapon by also equipping a special item. For example, early on, I obtained an amulet that, once equipped, increased various statistics on my sword. Ende has a limited amount of items he can carry in his weapon area grid, kind of similar to what you would have seen in Resident Evil 4. For an action RPG, it is a unique idea with a lot of possibilities. Speaking of limitations, Ende is also limited to carrying thirty items in his bag. You can, however, drop off unwanted items at a safe-house area that is overlooking the 13 towers. It is possible that at a later point in the game, the weapon area grid and bag can be upgraded.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the game centers around Ceres. As mentioned before, Ende is trying to prevent Ceres from transforming into a hideous creature. Ende has a limited amount of time each day to get through the towers, obtain the hearts of the legendary creatures, and then return to the beastly flesh to Ceres. There is a gauge at the bottom circular gauge at the bottom left hand side of the screen that lets the player know how close Ceres is to transforming past the point of no return. The game (and instruction manual) say that the player has about one hour to complete the task before this happens, though, honestly, it seemed like less time. Nevertheless, for the first two towers, the allotment gave me plenty of time to get through the tower and return to Ceres. After the first tower, I made it back to Ceres after about three-fourths of the gauge had emptied. At that point, she had transformed halfway into an odd looking creature with tentacles sticking out of her shoulder and who was oozing everywhere she walked. After the second tower, I made it back to Ceres with a few minutes left to spare and found her almost to the point where she was completely transformed. From what I have seen so far, the transformations are grotesque and are different depending on how much time has passed from the last time she had a helping of the beast flesh.
Two towers and roughly four hours into Pandora's Tower, I am pretty pleased with what I have seen. It is not perfect, but Pandora's Tower is a title that needs to see the light of day outside of Japan. With the recent news of Xenoblade coming to Europe, it is possible that gamers outside of Japan will have a chance to play this intriguing title.