I’ve had to play a lot of local Filipino games over the years. Even helped making a few. They’re all mostly mobile games or student projects, so when one of them is announced as a PC game, I sit up and pay attention. I don’t see too many of these projects making it to release day, and just getting to that point is always something the developers should be proud of.
Towertale by Misou Games is an ambitious project for a dev team of only five people. A sidescrolling hardcore boss rush about four adventurers fighting their way up a wish-granting tower, the game boasts a story mode for each adventurer, complete with their own unique dialogue, endings, and cutscenes, and a free mode that lets players fight any unlocked boss with any unlocked character. It certainly aims high, and I’m glad to report that Towertale actually hits its lofty goals. Mostly.
The core game itself is good. Really good. The four heroes – Lionel, Faindrel, Snicklefritz, and Dark Echo – are all varied characters with simple controls and solid executions of the tropes their skillsets are inspired by. Lionel’s the classic knight archetype, with a shield that blocks projectiles and a sword with decent damage and a wide range. Faindrel’s the elven archer with arrow spam for days. Lord Snicklefritz is the mage with a whole ton of spells that so just about everything and a blink to avoid damage. Finally, Dark Echo’s the edgy ninja assassin with two swords, lots of mobility, and no invincibility frames whatsoever. The variety in their skillsets is enough that these four characters approach the same 13 bosses in very different ways, keeping the story mode fresh even after seeing them for the third or fourth time.
Speaking of the bosses, they come in even more flavors than the characters do. Each one is unique in both character design and fighting style, with Towertale having everything from sandworms and massive stone golems to duels with the grim reaper and the ghost of a samurai. While not all of them are hits, the majority are fun to fight with any character, and I didn’t find myself getting bored of seeing the same faces by the time I was on my fourth playthrough.
Overall, the boss designs in this bossrush are pretty great.
They’re also rather difficult. Even novice mode can prove to be quite challenging for players new to sidescrolling action games, with certain bosses like the Minotaur and Lightning Samurai easily killing the player character if they get complacent or are still unfamiliar with the boss’ moveset. There are also at least two massive laser attacks from two different bosses that just delete a character’s HP, and one of them isn’t telegraphed particularly well either.
Fortunately, Towertale also comes with a fantastic assist mode accessible from the pause menu that lets players toy with the player’s health, damage, and even game speed to make it easier or even harder for themselves, balancing the game as they see fit. This was my favorite feature of Towertale and I had a lot of fun nuking bosses with Snicklefritz with 500% damage or bouncing around like a hyperactive child on three cups of sugar with Dark Echo having the game speed set to 150%. With the assist mode also restoring player health but not resetting your progress on the boss, even the most hopeless players won’t find themselves impeded by Towertale’s difficulty forever.
As strong as the tower of Towertale is however, the tale leaves a lot to be desired. Although four intertwining narratives where the choices of one affect the stories of the others, seems pretty cool in theory, the reality is that the story of the next character had the character I previously played select all the opposite choices, which felt like I was being cheated. They also didn’t seem to matter in the stories after that, and my playthrough of Dark Echo’s storyline had Lionel and Faindrel using the two choices in their storylines that directly contradicted each other, making for a plot point that had zero logical sense whatsoever.
The stories themselves vary in quality, with some good ideas propping up execution that can only be called ‘just okay.’ Lionel has the strongest one, with a very simple but strong premise to his character’s trek up the tower, and Faindrel the weakest.
Let’s go into that. I must complain about how Faindrel is treated. The one female character in this story gets literally nothing but pervy jokes or extremely generic tsundere moments. At first, it’s nothing too annoying; she’s unfortunately not the first girl to be done this way and definitely won’t be the last, but then you play as her and her backstory is that after her city was burned down, she was kidnapped by bandits and made a sex slave, which makes everything about how the story treats her just really gross. The worst offender is the goblin boss, whose pre-fight dialogue is literally “WOMAN WOMAN WOMAN slurp” and had me cringing in my seat.
I have no doubts that the developers didn’t intend to make Faindrel’s story feel rather misogynistic, and they may have thought since Faindrel beats all the bosses up anyway, she establishes herself as a strong female character. It is what it is however, and the female audience for this game may find playing through the elven archer’s route uncomfortable.
Aside from this, I found numerous grammar errors and missing words peppered throughout the script, which wouldn’t be so bad on their own but became commonplace enough to be noticeable. I also found myself getting annoyed with the camera zooming in to each character saying their line, as later on in the game it made conversations just dizzying to read every time Dark Echo practiced his evil laugh while the others were holding a conversation.
It’s a shame because, with a tighter script and a rework for Faindrel, I really would have enjoyed Towertale’s story mode. I’m a huge sucker for Fate/Stay Night, which Towertale references multiple times throughout its script, and I found the characters having the potential to be rather endearing despite the game’s short running time. With a bit more storytelling practice and a good editor, I’m sure Misou Games could spin a saga I would like very much.
That being said, Towertale is still very much worth your time. The art is cute and the action is great (my favorite to play is, ironically, Faindrel), and the sound of smacking a boss is oh so satisfying. I love seeing the local scene’s passion projects survive to release date, and any of these that release on Steam has my respect.
I recommend Towertale for any action fan new or old who may be looking for games in a more digestible package. Like Dark Echo having no invincible dodge on a mobility-based ninja: I’ve got a few caveats, but I like its style.
Towertale is available on Steam. This review is based on a free review copy provided by Misou Games.