Other Peoples' Games: Tower of Heaven

A tower of heaven.

A tower of heaven.

I was vaguely aware of this game for a while via the TIGSource devlog forums.  Eventually one day I noticed it had “complete” next to its name, and decided to give it a shot.  As it turns out, it was actually pretty awesome!  And then, apparently because I have my finger on the pulse of the indie gaming scene, other websites started mentioning the game and giving it glowing reviews, and I discovered that I was not the only one who thought this game was, in fact, the bee’s knees.

Read on to find out why!

So first some basic info:  The game is made by AskiiSoft, and is freely downloadble from their web page.  It manages to carry off an excellent retro feel (apparently the “in thing” these days) through excellent art and music direction.  The graphics are all pixelated and entirely drawn in 4-color original-gameboy-greens.  The music is marvelous chip-tune fare, via the talented FlashyGoodness.

The tower is pretty sweet looking.

The tower is pretty sweet looking.

The game itself is pretty straightforward.  You are a nondescript guy.  There is a tower, and god is at the top of it.  You are trying to climb it! (Apparently having never read any mythology, and have not heard what usually happens to people who attempt this sort of thing…)  The game takes place inside the tower then, where you run and jump through the various rooms on your way to the top.  The action will be immediately familiar to any fan of platforming games.  You run and jump across moving platforms, trying to avoid the colored platforms that kill you, the spikes that also kill you, and the moving saw blades that inexplicably make your head pop like a balloon.  (Which, of course, also kills you.)  The controls are responsive, and the gameplay is standard platforming.

…  At least at first.  After a few rooms though, God starts getting annoyed at you, and starts making up additional rules you have to follow.  This is where the game really shines.  Because of the arbitrary rules, levels that would otherwise be extremely simple suddenly start to become far more difficult.  (The penalty for breaking God’s rules is, as always, being struck down by lightning.)

And even without God making up random crap on the spur of the moment, many of the levels are not trivial to navigate.  Flaming blocks, moving platforms, spinning blades, and similar hazards give the tower plenty of danger even without arbitrary rules.  With the rules in place, the levels start to become downright diabolical.  Make no mistake, this is not a game for people who are afraid of dying.

Why does God even HAVE a tower full of spikes and spinning blades anyway?

Why does God even HAVE a tower full of spinning saw-blades anyway?

Which is part of what makes the game work so well.  It gives you very hard levels, (although unlimited continues) but anthropomorphizes the source of that difficulty.  When playing, and dying for the 29th time because you forgot about some rule for just long enough to violate it and be struck down, the person you’re mad at isn’t the evil game designer.  It’s either yourself for forgetting (they were fairly clear about the rule) or the game’s God figure, for imposing such ridiculous limitations on you in the first place.  It’s sort of like the “AI Director” in Left 4 Dead.  Every so often it completely screws you over, but because you have some imaginary, malevolent intelligence to blame, it’s fun.

It’s a short game.  It will probably take you around 20-30 minutes to get through it the first time.  Maybe a bit longer to find the two secrets.  (Which amusingly enough are just big treasure chests which, when collected, tell you “you found a secret!”)  But for comparison, people on the TIG Source Forums organized a speed run contest, in which the winners were all around two minutes, seventeen seconds.

My one complaint with the game was a minor graphical problem.  Sometimes when I run the game (particularly if I run it after running most other games that use graphics) then the transparency in the game is all screwed up and the game becomes very dark and largely unplayable.  (I suspect that something in Tower of Heaven is not initializing everything properly, and is counting on the graphics hardware starting in some state that they are not guaranteed to start in.)  In my case, this was solved by rebooting, although I’ve heard that other sorts of voodoo can also work.  (Starting a screen capture program and then quitting it was listed as a known solution…)

Anyway, aside from that one minor glitch, I enjoyed the game immensely. The glitch is possible to work around, the game is free, and there are lot worse ways you could spend half and hour of your life. Download it and give it a try!

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