Pandora's Tower (Wii)
Pandora's Tower is a Wii title that comes in a black box, at least in Europe. This immediately indicates something special, but it might also oversell the game. Aeron and Elena are running from the Empire. Elena has also been cursed and is doomed to turn into a monster, unless she consumes the flesh of twelve masters who are located in a mysterious building that is held above a deep and wide canyon by a number of chains. At least according to the female merchant Mawda who leads the couple to the towers. These are already all characters in the game. The protagonist Aeron who tries to save his love interest Elena and the strange Mawda who provides him with goods and information. Despite so little on the surface and despite the only places you visit being an observatory and the towers, Pandora's Tower accomplishes a lot in the story and world-building department.
Elena's curse comes with a time limit that translates to roughly one hour of gameplay. If you don't manage to get the top of any of the twelve towers in time, you can fall back on flesh from lesser foes to buy yourself more time. Even the worst variant resets the time limit to about 45 minutes, so Pandora's Tower isn't a particularly stressful game. In the first half of the game you will have to play towers in a strict order - the difficulty goes along with that - but in the second half you get to choose from five different ones. Appropriate for the world's history, the second set of five towers represents the same elements as the first set, so they are essentially harder versions of things you've already seen. Of course, the bosses will be new. The final two towers come with a special feature that I won't spoil.
Pandora's Tower is divided into an urgent part and a relaxing one. Before I talk about the latter, I want to say a few more things about the former. You level up as you kill monsters, you can choose between four different main weapons eventually and each one of them can be forged to become more powerful and unlock new combos. The secondary weapon, the chain whip, can be used as projectile, to tie up a single enemy and to rip flesh and items out of monsters. It can also be used to tie two enemies together and then the damage of your main weapon is transfered from one enemy to the other by the chain to do damage to both of them at the same time. There are quite a few possibilities to consider.
In your base, the observatory, you don't have to worry about the time limit. You can spend as much time as you want with Elena to raise your bond with her which ultimately determines the ending you will get. You can talk to her and make her a wide variety of gifts. It's here where you can learn surprisingly much about Aeron and Elena's past, and can unlock about two dozens of special and mostly short cutscenes. You can change the in-game clock and learn that Elena has a daily schedule and that she does a good job at housekeeping, so she doesn't just sit in the observatory and twiddles her thumbs while you are out in the towers and risk your life to save hers. It is these interactions that give the whole game a lot more purpose.
Overall, Pandora's Tower is one of those odd games that tend to be written off quickly by most players. It simply doesn't look particulary good and playing it for a bit doesn't change that. But the more time you invest, the more the game returns. After you've finished the game with any ending, you get a chapter select to jump between different stages and you can buy a key from Mawda to explore the rooms that couldn't be accessed previously. One big oversight is that there's no in-game list for the cutscenes you've already seen, so 100% completion is very tricky without a guide. It can also be a bit tedious to play the towers again for the few things that couldn't be collected previously, but the focus on new game+ shifts to interactions with Elena, so it's not that bad.
|Controls||10||The simple combat controls do a good job. The chain
whip comes with some irritating delays at times.
|Gameplay||Climb towers to defeat bosses and retrieve their flesh.
Kill enemies and solve simple puzzles on your way up.
|Story||The story of Aeron and Elena is quite average at first, but the
characters grow on you and the world is fleshed out with files.
|Single-player||Pandora's Tower gears up after an only okay start
and the pieces begin to fit together.
|Graphics||Fixed camera angles for nice environments. Some
good special effects, but also occasional framerate drops.
|Sound||A fitting soundtrack that also features compositions
from writers of classical music.
|Value||About 15 hours to see the first of five endings. This variation
of new game+ comes with chapter select to obtain the rest.
|Replay Value||Since you essentially play the game twice to fill out all blanks,
a proper new playthrough is going to be a while away.
|Score||7||Pandora's Tower is greater than the sum of its parts. It seems
mediocre at first, but rewards you for the time you put into it.