At first glance, I wouldn’t have said Tohu was my cup of tea, as us Brits are fond of saying. Although I am the first to admit I am a sucker for a good puzzle game, I will admit just as readily that a certain, what I will call “busy” art style can be enough to put me off, and Tohu has made “busy” art the hook upon which it hangs its hat.
What do I mean by “busy” art? Granted, Tohu is stunning to look at, but a lot is going on on-screen. Each area is filled with detail and quirky features to spot, but which parts are relevant and which are just there as window dressing is sometimes hard to decide. How do I know if that little buzzing creature is crucial to solving the current puzzle I am on, or just an added extra detail to help breath life into the world? The art style of Tohu might be something that immediately draws you in, but with my gaming tastes, it was nearly enough to put me off.
I realise that will be quite the controversial opening gambit – for some, Tohu’s art style will be the draw that makes them take a punt on giving it a go when it is lined up among the 1000s of other games on PSN right now, but not me. If you are one of those people who have seen the trailer or any of the gameplay for Tohu and your immediate thought was “Wow that looks unique and original I want to play that”, then I will state here, full disclosure – this review isn’t for you. Cultured folks might dismiss my immediate superficial judgment – I would counter with I likes what I like – and surprisingly, I like Tohu.
Tohu tells the story of The Girl, who lives on a fish planet – don’t get too hung up on that part – as she first sets off to repair her Sacred Engine. To do this, she must travel to other fish planets – again, don’t get too fixated on that part – solving puzzles and meeting a cast of bizarre characters along the way.
The Girl might be the brains of the outfit, but you also have the ability to transform into Cubes, a robot that The Girl can transform into at any time. While The Girl is used for talking and climbing in certain areas, Cubes is used for heavy lifting – picking up planks of wood to use as bridges, or hauling large objects around to clear paths.
This ability is used well throughout Tohu, with each playable character getting their time to shine. Most puzzles require you to switch readily between The Girl and Cubes, and both are utilised in just the right way without beating you over the head with either one. Often there would come to a point where it was obvious which character you need to use to progress, and this was down to clever gameplay design and not because the game whacked you over the head and told you what to do.
On that point I will say this – Tohu is hard. Don’t be fooled by its colourful cartoon aesthetics, the puzzles in Tohu are tricky, and there were a few times I was stumped as to what to do or where to go next. Each fish planet is a self-contained location consisting of a few side-scrolling areas, and often I would find myself going back and forward within each one looking for something I had missed or overlooked. In many ways, this felt like a blessing as the puzzles thankfully don’t take place over massive areas, but after a few times of walking back and forwards through a particular scene simply to get to somewhere else the draw of the artwork quickly wears off as tedium starts to set in.
While this did lead to a great feeling of satisfaction when I finally managed to solve a particularly fiendish puzzle, it did come at the expense of a few frustrating attempts. Tohu does have a hint system, which in itself is a nice little minigame of sorts, but I always felt I had cheated a bit whenever I ended up using it, even though there is no obvious penalty for doing so. Not only that, but some of the hints offered aren’t really hints – each hint takes the form of a sketched note that shows you the steps you need to take to complete the current puzzle, but often I would know what to do but be stuck on a particular aspect of it, making the hint itself useless.
Alongside that, the controls Tohu uses feel a bit cumbersome, particularly on consoles. Tohu uses a cursor to navigate the world and interact with objects, and although it works, I did find it became a bit of a chore in a few areas. Whether that was because I had to work quickly and the fidelity in which you can navigate a cursor using an analogue stick is a bit wonky, to say the least, or simply in that the characters move incredibly slowly and having you point and click where you want them to go further compounds that fact. There was a few occasions where I longed for a sprint button, and yes, I know that that isn’t the point and this isn’t that kind of game, but in those areas where you are required to trap back and forward to solve a puzzle, a bit of haste wouldn’t have gone amiss.
And what about the puzzles? It is here that Tohu really does excel. While the game heavily relies on the point and click element of getting from A to B, pocketing a few objects or moving a few switches, every so often you do encounter a unique and satisfying puzzle. Each puzzle is unique and fits in with the whole art style, and on top of that, each one really does require you to use the old grey matter to solve them. As I said earlier, the hint system Tohu employs merely tells you the steps required to solve the current story point, without going into too much detail on any particular puzzle, so you quickly realise you can’t rely on that to brute force your way through. As well as the strength of each puzzle, it is the variety of puzzles that I really enjoyed, and they felt like the reward for sticking with some of the point and click stuff that the game uses throughout.
TOHU PS5, PS4, Review
- Overall - Very Good - 7/107/10
Tohu is a unique and satisfying puzzle game, with an art style that is sure to draw lots of praise. Some great puzzles and a brilliant soundtrack all create a good game, but some clunky controls and a frustrating hint system prevent it from becoming a great one.
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Reviewed using PS5.