Review

Pandora's Tower

Meat Cute

Pandora’s Tower caps the Wii’s run with a poignant love story.

By Samantha Nelson • April 22, 2013

My relationship with the Wii started as a classic infatuation. The way it understood my movements made my Xbox and PlayStation seem cold and distant by comparison. I loved its cheerful disposition, and time flew by when we were together. But like so many relationships, it was not to last. I’ve heard it said by happy older couples that their love withstood the test of time because they were always learning something new about each other. Unfortunately, the Wii is a pretty shallow creature. When I neglected the system, it would try to seduce me with a new game, but I felt like I’d seen it all before. The magic was gone even before the Wii U was released. That’s why it’s so sad that what’s likely to be the last major U.S. release for the system, Pandora’s Tower, is so good. It’s the surprise I was waiting for, but it’s too late.

Unlike my Wii and me, the heroes of Pandora’s Tower share a real love. This is a dungeon crawler where taking care of your girlfriend is more important than leveling up or upgrading your gear. Those latter things are certainly important, but staying away from your lady for too long will guarantee that you lose.

The spiky-haired soldier Aeron and his companion, a singer named Elena, come from enemy nations. But the sneaking around they had to do when they first got together was a minor inconvenience compared to the current trials of their relationship. During a performance, Elena is cursed with a mark on her back that is transforming into a horrible monster. Tentacles writhe on Elena’s shoulders, and her skin looks like it’s afflicted with a combination of burns and rot. The only way to restore her lies in The Scar, a rend in the world that is held by a series of towers bound together with chains. Eating the flesh of the beasts within the towers can undo Elena’s curse for a time, but only eating the meat from the masters of 13 towers will cure her for good.

Pandora's Tower

It falls to Aeron to get that magical meat by exploring the monster-infested towers. The fighting isn’t easy. You’re often outnumbered by dangerous foes, and moving on to the next tower can be a rude awakening—the difficulty level often spikes. But Tower’s elegant, intuitive combat system keeps the battles fun. You’ll spend plenty of time just hacking at what’s in front of you and dodging attacks, but the Wii remote lets you aim Aeron’s chain at your foes, which has a variety of clever effects. You can bind enemies together so that a blow to one is felt by all, tie them up so you can whale on them easily, and fling foes at each other. You’ll need to master all of these tactics, as some fights can’t be won without them.

That versatile chain also lets you swing around in sections highly reminiscent of Prince Of Persia, but the challenge here is not timing your jumps so much as it is finding your way. It’s important not to get lost because you need to find your way back to Elena on a regular basis, to feed her some more beast flesh.

Pandora's Tower

I normally hate timers on games, but the pathos produced by Elena’s ever-ticking clock is well worth the frustration. An on-screen display marks the progress of Elena’s transformation, and neglecting this reminder can dramatically change what you’re coming home to. Visit her often, and she’s still mostly human and in relatively good spirits. Wait longer, and you’ll find her cowering in darkness, overcome by physical and emotional anguish. If you’re really pushing it, what you find is barely human anymore. Elena is always fine once she’s fed, but seeing what my dallying had done to my virtual girlfriend made me feel like a monster. I spent a lot of time jumping from ledges and sprinting past fights heedless of my health to get back to Elena as fast as I could.

Elena sometimes feels too much like a helpless damsel in distress, but the brave face she shows is touching. Adding insult to injury, she’s a vegetarian, but she takes your gifts of nasty meat like a good patient forced to swallow truly awful medicine. Mavda, a merchant with magical powers who serves as Aeron’s advisor, is absurdly creepy. She finds Elena’s misfortune funny, and she’s carries around a skeletal old man who mutters incomprehensibly. If this is the only help you can get, you know you’re in serious trouble.

Pandora's Tower

Aeron is the weak link here. He’s certainly willing to put in the work to keep this relationship going, but he’s got no personality. The other notable weakness in the game comes from its boss fights. The tower masters are beautiful, and there’s certainly a challenge in figuring out what sort of threat they pose and how you need to defeat them. Once you’ve done that, though, it’s too easy to get into a rut where you’re not going to lose the fight but you do have to suffer through a long slog as you hack the creature into submission.

Still, the Wii could not have had a better swan song. It combines mechanical excellence, some stunning visuals, and a weird but lovely story. I just hope Nintendo can deliver more games like this to make our next relationship true love.

Pandora’s Tower
Developers: Ganbarion, Nintendo
Publisher: Xseed Games
Platform: Wii
Price: $40
Rating: T

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

3 Responses to “Meat Cute”

  1. I finished the first tower with about half of Elena’s “Beast Meter” gone. When I got back to the observatory, she looked like she did at the beginning of the game.

    I started the Master fight of the second tower with only about 1/4 of it remaining. I finished the fight – barely – with it empty and blinking. I thought I was going to time out for sure, but either I came in just under the wire or the doom clock stops ticking after you’ve acquired the Master Flesh.

    What I found when I went back to the Observatory was not pretty.

    I… I don’t think I’m going to let the clock go quite that far again if I can help it.

  2. OhHaiMark says:

     I am excited for this game, and can’t wait until summer to be able to dive into it. I think the timer sounds effective because it’s not just a visible game mechanic, it’s a narrative aspect, making it feel less like a chore. I don’t know if that’s just me, though.

    Escort missions are still fairly annoying too, but Ico is fun and gorgeous, though largely based on escorting a person around. That’s the comparison I’m going with.

  3. Enkidum says:

    I was surprised by the lack of content too, but I’ve never had any Nintendo console.