As we near the end of January, we’re suddenly seeing a ton of games being released again. One of the standout titles this week is TOHU from FireArt Games and The Irregular Corporation, which is out now for consoles and PCs. We checked it out on a PlayStation 4, but the game is also compatible with the PS5.
Although labeled as an adventure game, TOHU leans much more heavily towards puzzles than other games in the genre – at times reminding me a little of the old Gobliiins games, where much of the storytelling was visual in nature rather than through a narrative or choices in conversations. In TOHU, our main protagonist doesn’t even have a name, and we just know her as “the girl”.
She lives in a fantasy world in which life centers around “fish planets”, a way of life that’s under threat from “the stranger”, who destroys the engine that keeps the world running. Your job is to fix it and restore order, and you set out on that quest with your trusted mechanical friend Cubus. Thanks to a nifty gadget from your friend Juncle you can lift heavy things and interact with the game world, but ultimately a lot of the journey revolves around exploration and discovery as much as it does around puzzles.
The two go hand in hand though, as you often need to search a scene for things you can interact with – much like we did in the classic PC adventure games of old. TOHU definitely has its roots in those titles, and the control scheme (which is cursor-based) is a testament to that. To help the player, the cursor dynamically changes when objects can be interacted with – though sometimes what you can do with an object depends on whether you’re controlling Cubus or the girl.
TOHU isn’t a puzzle game in the sense of centering around a single mechanic and building on it, but it has a rather diverse selection of challenge instead. This is great in terms of mixing up the gameplay experience throughout the (somewhat short) adventure, but at the same time the design of a puzzle can feel a bit random in nature as well – likely stumping you unless you’ve played a ton of puzzle games before.
Luckily, there is a built-in hint system in TOHU. I like that it’s not immediately accessible as well, because you first have to beat a little skill-based minigame to see the (visual) hints to your current conundrum. It suppose this could be frustrating to those just wanting access to the hints, but I like that it gave me a second chance to think about the puzzle rather than hand me the hints on a silver platter. After all, the satisfaction is greatest when you solve these without any help at all.
But as with many narrative puzzle adventures, TOHU succeeds in great part thanks to its beautiful audiovisual presentation. With its hand-drawn artwork full of soft colors it’s a joy to behold, and a soundtrack from Christopher Larkin (of Hollow Knight fame) supports the whole thing beautifully.
It’s on the short end, but if you enjoyed games like Shady Part of Me over the holidays this is a great way to start 2021.