It may sometimes feel like moviemakers and TV producers have run out of new ideas. But, boy, the video game industry keeps reaching for the unique. The Wii title Pandora's Tower is a good (and often bizarre) example: A young, religious, vegetarian girl must devour the goopy flesh of monsters to stop a dreaded curse from taking over the land and keep herself from becoming one of the monsters. It's not exactly Shakespeare, and it gets a bit gross, but it's certainly different. Oh, and it's a love story too.
Gamers play as Aeron, a handsome hero who's desperately trying to aid the pretty Elena—the abovementioned girl. She has mysteriously come down with a horrible malady connected to a mystical tattoo that appeared on her back and is causing her flesh to sprout writhing tentacles and dribble purple slime. It's not exactly an attractive trait, but Aeron sees past it all—as any self-respecting hero would!
As the game begins, the couple goes to a squat, old woman named Mavda, who happens to have some experience with these kinds of magical bugaboos (not to mention her own sort of curse, since she has to carry her freakish-looking, skeletal-faced husband on her back at all times). Mavda takes the youthful pair to an observatory just outside the Scar—a dark-magic gash in the earth that's held together by enormous chains that suspend thirteen great towers. Aeron must navigate those towers, the woman reports, best the monstrous masters in each and feed the creatures' warm and dripping hearts to the suffering Elena.
That will cure the curse.
How Do I Love Thee?
What that amounts to game-wise is a whole lot of dungeon crawling-type activity, gathering booty and besting beasts. There's a ticking clock that must be overcome as well. As Aeron works to find a way past puzzling obstacles and traps, a gauge in the bottom corner of the screen shows the progression of the curse on poor Elena, who's waiting back at the observatory. Only repeatedly rushing to her with chunks of gory flesh will stay her complete transformation.
Returning to the observatory also allows Aeron to use discovered treasure to upgrade his equipment, pick up health-restoring potions and spend some time getting to know Elena. That last part of the equation is very important and something that sets this game apart from the run-of-the-mill hack-and-slash. The amount of time spent talking with this young girl, giving her gifts and essentially bonding Aeron and Elena together directly impacts the game's ending—which can wrap up in any of five different ways.
Let Me Slash, Hack and Eat the Ways
This is a T-rated game, and so none of the battling activity or dark magical stuff is God of War-level nasty. But there is still quite a bit of content to consider. Aeron attacks his beastly foes with different swords and a long grappling hook-like weapon called an Oraclos Chain.
This latter tool can be used to swing to distant areas, retrieve items and overcome puzzling situations. But its primary use? Hacking at enemies and slicing away body parts. The creature foes respond by landing crushing blows and ground-shaking assaults. The end result is often quite a bit of purple spray and goop. And watching Elena nibble on the carved chunks of carnage carries its own ick factor.
The magical side of the game—involving cast spells, a tale of power-hungry, evil experimentation and that flesh-deforming curse—can be disquieting too. It's all fantasy-land stuff, of course, but it's heavy on gods, goddesses and exotic (read: very odd) twists on Eastern spirituality. And those various endings I spoke of involve Elena magically becoming part of a large female monster (flaunting more than ample fleshy curves, I should note). We see Elena's face sticking out from just beneath the creature's mouth as Aeron fights to cut her free, and two of the endings involve one or more suicides.
World-saving heroism and bloodthirsty foes. Unique time-management and a dark swirling spiritualism. Relationship building and mouthfuls of raw dribbling flesh. Pandora's Tower is indeed a creative and original smorgasbord of a game. But you wouldn't dare call it a, uh, balanced meal.