Fish planets, an alter ego and some wacky conundrums. A TOHU Review


The sacred machine has been broken my a mysterious hooded figure. Someone needs to repair the machine that has been in place for ages and restore things to how they were. It will take a lot of brain power of one little hero and her robot alter-ego Cubus. Together they will discover the truth about themselves and the mysterious Sacred Engine that powers their world.


What is it?

TOHU is a beautiful handcrafted puzzle adventure in which you take control of a little girl who can transform into a powerful robot. Using brain and brawn you have to solve many puzzles as you move across a variety of beautiful locations sprawled through space and time.
Not everything is what it seems and it will take you full cunning to not only solve the puzzles but also to determine what the puzzle is in the first place.  To be clear , this is not a platformer. You can move your character to certain locations , in our case by mouse click, and interact with objects but there is no run and jumping skill based gameplay involved. 


Gameplay
In TOHU you play as a little mysterious girl with a sort of antenna on her head with a cube at the end of it. Using the mouse (on PC) you can navigate a cursor to look at different things on screen. Depending on context you can click and different things happen.  You can walk places, talk to some of the creatures and interact with various objects. When you click on the girl her self she transforms in powerful robot. The girl can talk to creatures, fit in tiny spaces and climb. The robot is your source of strength and can lift and move heavy objects, break objects, etc. If you try to interact with an object while not in the right mode you will get a visual hint that helps you determine what to do. For instance if you are supposed to lift something, the girl will shake her head , sigh and flex her arm to show she is not strong enough. If you try to fit the robot into a small hole, he will try to fit and then give up. In other cases maybe neither of them can do something yet. If that is the case they will shake their head and make a firm Nu-uh sound indicating that "that's not it chief". Prompting you to go look a little further.  


The game also provides you with a backpack on your UI. This is where any collected objects go that you will need later in the game. Once used up they will disappear  and no longer clutter your inventory. Using things from the backpack is done by a simple click and drag to where you want to use it. There is not always a clear indication if you are on the right spot so it might take a few tries even if you are sure you are doing the right thing.

Throughout the game you will be transported to various locales that fill your screen with a visual spectacle. Most of them have one or more areas to explore. These areas of objects within them will be filled with mystery and step one if figuring out what your goal is. A handy notebook will give you a bit of a clue and will also mark off the parts you have completed. 


Sometimes knowing your goal is not enough. You find items you can interact with and things are happening but you are just not entirely sure what you are missing. I mean look at all the things going on in the picture below. We know we need to use that flying machine but it is not accessible. How are we going to make it work? If you are hopelessly stuck you can unlock a hint to what to do next.

The game will not just spell these hints out for you however. 
First you will need to use a little bit of skill to unlock access to the information by clicking in time on a number of red tumblers to unlock the page. 


Once you achieved the unlock the page opens up to you and it will visualize clues to you in a picture/comic format. As you can see it still does not bluntly spell the whole solution but gives you a good idea of what needs to happen. I found this a very intelligent solution to add to a puzzle game that stops you from getting frustrated and still make it feel earned once you solve the problem. 


Presentation

The artwork and character design in TOHU is simply put breath taking. It just jumps of the screen in  full HD with its unique art style. Packed with detail and bizarre creatures and mechanical structures. When I read the game description talk about it taking place on fish planets I did not realize that the planets themselves were fish as opposed to be different worlds with fish folks populating it. It is a well crafted lore with a distinct, yet familiar feel to it. What is great , without giving away too much, is that the plot and puzzles are woven into the design and feel of this world. Everything fits and is wacky and strange yet never out of place.


These spectacular visuals are accompanied by an excellent musical score composed by Christopher Larkin, the award winning composer responsible for the soundtrack of Hollow Knight. Rounding up the audio are the sound effects which are simple and effective. Often the sounds will change when you interact with the game, giving you a clue that you are on the right, or wrong, path. The various parts are all combined in a complete package that is best experienced with a set of good headphones on your noggin.  


You are probably curious about the puzzles and their difficulty. On that I will say that they are of moderate difficulty and are varied throughout the game. Even though the unique visuals can throw you off a little bit at times it is quite possible to figure out what you need to do after a little exploring. And if you get stuck there are is the earlier mentioned notebook and hint system. Some puzzles were unique to me but a lot were using a reference to familiar puzzle styles such as sliding puzzles or connecting different pieces to create a pathway or close a loop. I even saw a variant on the old goat, wolf, cabbage river crossing problem as part of a larger challenge. 




The puzzles should be solvable by all ages with some time and cunning and none of them felt cheap or illogical at any time. For those who are experienced puzzlers a lot of the ones in TOHU are probably easily recognized and should not present a huge problem. But the new takes the developers took with them combined with the visuals and presentation it  makes for a unique experience. The only problem I had were a few of the skill based challenges where I felt the "feel" was not as tight and even though I knew what to do I had to rely on getting lucky with my mouse click timings. 


Final thoughts
Depending on your puzzle solving skills and tendency to explore all the various things to see on each screen filling environment TOHU is not a very long game. But as they say often good things come in a small package and this particular package is filled with some great stuff. It is a lovely little story with fun challenges that does not overstay its welcome of ever reach frustrating moments of being stuck without any way of moving forward. It's hint system and the visual design allow for logical thinking in how a puzzle can be solved and how it fit in the overall larger puzzle design.
Even if you are a seasoned puzzle gamer you would do a disservice to yourself by not experiencing it for yourself, at least once. There is not a lot of replaybilty other then to complete you collection of clickable creators that unlock stickers in your journal and to relive the adventure once more. But at the friendly price point under $15 it is well worth the cost of admission. 




Game information
Title: TOHU
Developer: Fireart Games
PublisherIrregular Corporation
Release date: January 28,  2021
Platforms: PC (steam and humble), Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch.
Review platform:  PC ( Steam)
ESRB: E for everyone - 
Mild Cartoon Violence

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