Growing up, one of my favorite genres of games were point and click adventures, though I wasn’t really smart enough to play anything more complicated than Pajama Sam or Spy Fox. Still, even if they weren’t especially witty, they did teach me some basic problem-solving skills, so I’m much more capable of playing point-and-clicks these days. Or at least I assumed I was until TOHU made me feel like a dummy again.
TOHU (not to be confused with Touhou) takes place in a fantastical world where people live on floating fish planets. On one of those planets is a Sacred Engine powering, well, just about everything. However, a mysterious hooded no-gooder swoops in one day, trashes the engine, and then leaves without a world. This leaves the engine’s caretaker, a little girl simply named The Girl and her mechanical alter-ego Cubus, to fix it. In order to fix the engine, she’ll need to travel the vast expanse and enlist the aid of several bizarrely-proportioned folks.
TOHU’s art style is immediately memorable, not to mention absolutely adorable. All the art is hand-drawn in a style that reminds me of several whimsical picture books from my childhood, with perhaps a little sprinkling of Rayman. While The Girl and Cubus don’t really talk outside of a few designated chats between characters, they both tackle the world with a lot of personality; The Girl is upbeat and inquisitive, not to mention occasionally cartoony as she pulls little gizmos out of nowhere, while Cubus is strong-willed and confident, lifting and hauling heavy objects with a smile.
If you’ve ever played Machinarium, TOHU may feel a little familiar, both in its general puzzle design and its occasionally sudden lurches in logic difficulty. As I mentioned before, the start of the game went pretty smoothly for me, with a couple of simple switch puzzles and a little physics puzzle with a small cannon. Then suddenly, the game was asking me to complete a closed-circuit puzzle, a task which took me the better part of 30 minutes. This game may look cute and innocuous, but these aren’t puzzles you can approach half-cocked; you’re gonna need all of your neurons for this one. Occasionally, some mildly quirky design decisions can make this process a little more difficult than it really needs to be. For example, sometimes puzzles require specifically timed mouse clicks that don’t always seem to register for some reason, or else they just have very obtuse solutions that I wouldn’t have considered myself if the game hadn’t spelled it out for me.
Speaking of, TOHU does have a hint system that’ll provide you with a visual walkthrough of any given room (though you need to unlock the hint with a little minigame, lest you think the game’s gonna give you this for free). This is definitely helpful for dummies like me, though since the hints are so simple they don’t always help when you really need them, such as during the aforementioned closed-circuit puzzle.
I get the distinct impression I’m not in TOHU’s target audience. I know people that love this kind of really head-scratching puzzle game; if you are that kind of person, you can definitely have a good time with this one. If you’re not a bonehead like me, there’s plenty of little lightbulb moments throughout this game that’ll give you that rush of endorphins you’re looking for, and the consistently cute and mysterious art style will help to keep you smiling even when things get tricky. Considering the cute art style, it could be a fun way to spend an afternoon or two if you have kids, though be prepared to solve a lot of puzzles for them after the first few.
TOHU releases on January 28, 2021 for PC on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Google Stadia.
Check out the official TOHU trailer below.