Friday, February 26, 2021.
by Peggy Doyle

TOHU Box art TOHU is a cute 2D point-and-click hand-drawn puzzle game set in a whimsical mechanical world. Developed by Fireart Games and published by the Irregular Corporation, TOHU will instantly remind some gamers of the late 2000s when indie games began flourishing and holding their own in the AAA game market. TOHU is a love letter to these older gamers while piquing the curiosity of the younger crowd and giving them something to challenge their puzzle skills.

In TOHU, players take on the role of “the girl” and her alter ego, “the Cubus”, as she attempts to repair the Sacred Engine powering their giant steampunk fish world. Armed with the Cubus, the girl can explore the world around her and travel to distant planets. Here she must solve puzzles and discover clues that will lead her to uncover the secrets behind not only the villain of the game, but also the Cubus, their mystical world and the history of the Sacred Engine as well.

Each planet you travel to is a self-contained level with just a handful of areas to explore. Through clicking and utilizing using the cursor on the screen, the little girl can roam, interact with things, pick up items of interest and climb if required in the level. She can also transform into the robot (Cubus), who is required for feats of strength and doing the heavy lifting. Determining which persona to use is straightforward while working through the game. You are even prompted directly at some points.

Controls in TOHU are simple, as they are point and click. This control system isn’t always the easiest to navigate with an Xbox controller, but was fairly straightforward. Environments are filled with fascinating creatures and mechanical beasts, but all items that the girl and the Cubus can interact with are easily identifiable. Speaking of environments: they’re absolutely lovely, feel full, complete and really seem as if they are lived in by the characters you encounter.

TOHU is a game full of interesting mini games and puzzles. Some puzzles will require the Cubus to solve, while others will be done by simply controlling the girl. There is a wide variety of them as well. There is a mirror manipulating laser beam puzzle, a jigsaw involving glass shards and a clever predicament akin to the ‘fox, chicken and bag of grain’ riddle that most of us have heard at some point. It was probably one of my favourites because I knew the solution but the way to complete it was very enjoyable experience. These are the bread and butter of most point-and-click adventure games in one form or another.

A word of caution to those thinking TOHU is all simple puzzles — the puzzles can be quite challenging at times, and some were downright frustrating. Plenty of the puzzles in game are less about logic but more about trial and error. One that stands out is plugging specific instruments into a bagpipe style bag with no real path to the solution except to randomly guess, cross your fingers and hope for the best. Of course, there are puzzles based off logic as well.

The Fireart Games team did bring have a few original concepts too, like shooting mini-games, a variation of whack-a-mole and a session where you must hypnotize someone by syncing up spinning discs. Unfortunately, I feel the mechanics of TOHU don’t hold up well for these more action-oriented activities and the shooting segment in the swamp is especially frustrating as things fail to fall into place. This section took far too much time and caused a lot of frustration for me.

Puzzles often require you to use something in your backpack to solve them and, thankfully, your backpack never gets very full or cluttered. This makes it easier to determine the items best suited for solutions. There are exceptions though, with a couple of the sequence-related puzzles feeling like pure guesswork. For the rest of the time though, it’s clear and not too complicated, with examples including scissors to cut some flowers and a special mask you need to wear when navigating through a particular area.

TOHU’s animation style was what drew me to tackle this review. It was such a draw for me, to the point that I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why that was the case. I am still not entirely sure, if I’m being honest, other than it was cute, simplistic and perhaps reminded me of some of the old games, cartoons, and comics that I grew up with. The colour scheme was fairly muted, with pastels and neutral colours bringing a calming nature to the overall aesthetic.

Although I am head over heels for the style and genuinely enjoyed the wide variety of environments presented, some of the audio really irritated me. Specifically, the sounds for the girl and the Cubus when sitting idle in game. The cute animation while characters were idle was expected, and welcomed, but sound effects were thrown in as well. I found this could be distracting, especially as I’d spend time idle trying to solve a puzzle in my head. I found this nearly impossible when the Cubus would spin his head with a very consistent, motorized whirring sound. The girl’s is less annoying, but still makes sounds as she taps away at her makeshift Switch console and hums to herself. I ended up having to pause the game or take my headset off if I sat idle for too long or found it could really break my concentration.

TOHU is a perfectly charming point-and-click adventure game with its own identity due to the lovely detail in the art style and a soundtrack that captures the atmosphere of each individual planet well. There is a good balance between the standard inventory style puzzles and new mini games that kept me engaged over the approximately four hours I spent with it. Although I enjoyed this game immensely, I would’ve liked a more captivating narrative to go along with the game.

It’s not hard to recommend TOHU, especially if you love hand-drawn game environments and puzzles. This game made me really think for some of its puzzles, and also made me smile a lot. It may have elevated my blood pressure at times, especially the previously mentioned shooting part in the swamp, but I am delighted I had the opportunity to play it.

**TOHU was Reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.2 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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