Game: Towaga: Among Shadows
Genre: Action, Arcade, Adventure
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Apple Arcade and Steam)
Developers|Publishers: Sunnyside Games| Forever Entertainment SA
Price: UK £13.49 | EU € 14,99 | AUD $22.50 | CAD $19.83 | USD $14.99
Age Rating: US E10+| EU 7+
Release date: June 25th 2020
Review code used, with many thanks to Forever Entertainment SA!
Staying in the Light
Reviewing Towaga: Among Shadows at my present life intersection is kind of exceedingly apropos. With my own hope quickly dwindling (sometimes completely diminished) the light that protagonist Chimù represents, piercing the dark world that antagonist Metnal has created, was given to me. Through playing a video game, my own hopelessness is temporarily curbed whilst I process a multitude of personal decisions, actions, thoughts, and feelings that do maybe truly matter.
Frankly, Towaga: Among Shadows gave me something I’d been missing. Hope, semi-control, and empowerment. Everything happening in my own life (depression, anxiety, fear, rage) and where I live (America) has really taken the toll out of me. I felt good to remember in the very belief of hope. It is indeed real. I can still believe so and through it I can keep standing. Keep going. Keep fighting.
In addition, the notion of hope I’d been abandoning was rekindled by encouraging words on the game’s Game Over screen. A mere trio of them that brought tears to my eyes. They read, “Don’t Give Up!”. To my chagrin, a fair amount of games tend to ridiculously belittle the player for their losses: kicking the player while they’re totally down or in the present act of failing.
Refreshingly, Towaga: Among Shadows isn’t in this category. This lead to feeling hopeful again. I thought I’d lost it permanently.
There are five sacred shrines on the island of Az’kalar: Gahl’ro, Zum’arak, Anzùl, Tiel’mon, and Xol’jun. In the Az’kalarian culture, there’s nothing more sacred than these shrines since they “maintain balance in the light”. Pages in the readable Az’kalarian Almanac explain about the Kalarian masks with their light gems plus keeping the global equilibrium between the shadows and the light. Submerging myself into the Codex section personally incentivized and enriched my total experience.
A Kalarian light gem found in masks is a source of power and aura: unconfirmed and unattainable research suggests their morals and conscience is attached to it too. The antagonist Metnal, the Voidbringer, the avatar of void, is the vengeance of pure chaos, likely created through the rejection of one’s mask, light gem, and not adhering to the island’s other guiding principles (in fact, I haven’t uncovered the actual truth as of this writing). Towaga refers to the Az’kalarian village Metnal absolutely decimates during the complete ruination of the island. In the wake of Metnal’s victory, silent protagonist-survivor Chimù, the Light-Bringer, together with “Bearbird” Kurro seek reversing Az’kalar’s corrupted derelict state.
An Elegance To Gameplay Simplicity
Similar to the groundbreaking brilliance of the Atari arcade 1972 table tennis simulation title Pong, the controls for Towaga: Among Shadows have a familiar accessible feel to them. Essentially, anyone can adjust to the game’s responsive and tight controls easily for short bursts or longer stints. So, that’s quite lovely.
Predominantly game-play is done by standing in a mostly stationary position blasting hordes of purple shadow-like creatures called soul beasts during Phases. Armed with an incessant light beam along with a varied arsenal of Spells gained over time, Chimù alone tackles these. Another Phase type involves Chimù soaring high above in the sky emitting a primary light beam assault against flying foes akin to a comic book hero.
At the same time, Chimù being exposed while clearly outnumbered, adds layers to the straightforward game-play: watchful vigils of shifting between protecting the vulnerable Chimù and going on the offensive ensue as a result. A strategic observational tug-of-war mindset becomes a critical asset once these confrontations steadily intensify. Thankfully, equip-able Spells can petrify, push back, freeze, burn, and sap the life from soul beast ambushes.
Now, circular game-play sounds on the surface understandably monotonous, but Towaga: Beyond Shadows differentiates itself enough through infusing fresh threats and sometimes boss battles into an overall addictive satisfactory fluid pattern.
The rudimentary soul beasts waves of Crawlers, Whirlers, and Creepers hurriedly evolve into deadlier adversaries throughout Chimù’s quest. The inclusion of kamikaze Swarmers, explosive Bombers, enraging Wreckers, vexing Warpers, deadly Constrainers, and projectile reliant Casters, turns Phases from originally manageable to downright chaotic. This intensity is much more pronounced upon trying Void Realm Mode featuring conditions that lower Chimù’s enhancements such as Spell usages allowed per Phase.
Conversely, for some sigh-inducing reason, the Flying Phase became the basis for the Multiplayer. A co-op or Survival Mode two-player variant makes more sense story line-wise. On paper, zooming around and taking out someone with the light beam technique, yeah, that could be potentially fun. Alas having to recharge whilst dodging your opponent as purple death mist encloses y’all in is incredibly dull.
Appreciating Only In-Game Unlockables
Unlike a lot of games nowadays that are jammed with additional monetary purchases or the worse micro transactions that exceed the initial asking price, Towaga: Beyond Shadows doesn’t do so. Instead the in-game currency Void Crystals are earned by accomplishing a visible list of feats players can examine on the hub menu screen. Finishing Phases in the Story, Survival, and Void Realm Modes also garners Chimù said Void Crystals. They can be spent on Upgrades, Spells, Outfits, and other unlockables which deepen the game’s buried lore.
My persistent excitement didn’t spawn from just re-entering the selectable Modes, no. Nor from simply powering up Chimù. Truly, it came from knowing a plethora of information was hidden inside those various cultural artifacts and societal texts after the game’s previous story based teases via Ikal’s Diary.
Blinded by the Aesthetic Light!
From the get-go, the art style and animation choices (Hmm, are they a pastiche of works by animation industry legend Don Bluth?) to the intricately detailed backgrounds in terms of design with varied color schemes courtesy of Jose Gómez, Towaga: Beyond Shadows definitively sets itself apart. Seriously, I want all of these gorgeous backgrounds as prints for the walls of my home! The character of Kurro visually feels especially at home in Bluth’s piece de resistance animated film The Secret of NIMH (1982). Each transitory but fantastic cut-scene farther bolster the game’s distinct flair.
Although, rarely, fragments of animation got visibly stuck and defeated harder soul beasts stayed onscreen. Amidst an already outnumbered situation, wasting any seconds shooting a trounced harder soul beast could be the small difference between winning and losing. My favorite moment was when Chimù’s body disappeared from the game, but the light beam and Spells didn’t. Going to the Switch Home and restarting the game fixed it. As mentioned a few sentences ago, these instances were very scarce from consistent hours of game play.
Light Prevails, Darkness Falls
Ultimately, I’m grateful I own Towaga: Among Shadows. Honestly, the game came into my life at precisely a sorely needed time. For real.
Unfortunately, the gulf between the three other Modes and local Multiplayer is made painfully clear comparatively. Something to consider. Not recommended for more than one player.
On the other hand, I’m fond of the compelling albeit repetitive game play, splendid visuals, and treasure trove of in-game unlockables Towaga: Beyond Shadows offers players. Admittedly, I do speculate that the total individualized mileage may probably vary. Hopefully this ported game that was once a Kickstarter project will resonate with others as well!
Final Verdict: I like it