Tokoyo: The Tower of Perpetuity is a new 2D Roguelike Platformer, developed by //commentout and published by PLAYISM, that I played on Switch this week. First impressions were bad. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a game pander to an audience as much as this one. However, I did warm to Tokoyo after a while. The gameplay is solid, if a little frustrating, and it has an interesting take on randomized levels. The game looks good, despite how busy the screen can get, and even though I don’t like chiptune music, the soundtrack isn’t half bad.
The problems mostly come in with the story. Pandering aside, it’s just too shallow of an experience. There are five playable characters in Tokoyo and I didn’t care about any of them. After finishing the game with one character, I found it harder and harder to keep playing the others. Lot’s of work has been put into making Tokoyo a fast, flowing and replayable experience, but all that keeps getting interrupted. It’s a solid game, certainly, that lacks staying power. Tokoyo: The Tower of Perpetuity is available on Steam (worldwide) and the Nintendo Switch (in certain countries) for $11.99.
Story – The Pity Of Tokoyo
The story of Tokoyo is simple. Five heroes are brought to a mysterious tower that they must conquer to return home. It’s a good premise for the game. Wanting to go home is a perfectly understandable goal, and Tokoyo tries hard to contextualise it for each character. Everytime you enter the tower, a brief background is given on whoever you’re playing with. Normally, that would enhance the experience. However, Tokoyo falls into the same trap as Raven’s Hike, and gives too much context.
Roguelikes and platformers rely on flow. A fast, smooth flow in gameplay is what creates the addictive appeal of the genre. Forcing the player to read paragraphs of backstory breaks flow like you would not believe! Sure, you can skip it, but even that adds time between starting the game and playing the game. Frankly, the story bits are unnecessary. A simple entry in a glossary would have been perfect. Or, if we have to read the backstory, have it happen once, then put it in a glossary, but don’t repeat it!
The stories themselves are pretty shallow as well. For instance, one of the characters is a self-automated cleaning robot from the future. She enters the tower with no intention of returning home, but rather to simply clean up garbage with her flamethrower. That’s a neat idea, and a character with no motivation and no personality. It isn’t enough to tell me who a character is, you have to show me why I should care. But, no matter who you pick, the tutorial girl says the same lines, as does the shop owner and the bosses. It truly doesn’t matter who you play as, no one cares. So, why should I?
Trope On a Rope
It might seem like I’m just nitpicking here, but all this context adds expectations. For instance, I expected the characters to be characters, and Tokoyo did not deliver. Each of the five heroes are just anime tropes, and not even interesting ones. There’s the maid character, a self-automated cleaning robot, a sickly dragon girl and two different flavours of fox girl. Each of their backstories are weirdly detailed, but never truly expanded on in game, and add nothing.
Now, there isn’t anything wrong with using tropes. I’ve played games before that, with good delivery, managed to make those characters feel fresh and interesting. Tokoyo doesn’t do anything interesting with it’s characters, because deviating from the established trope would alienate the audience they’re trying to pander to. Hence why every character is a cute anime girl. And why we needed two fox girls, so we can tick off another box on the generic anime checklist.
The most annoying part is that any one of these characters could have been an interesting protagonist. Had //commentout picked one character and focused on them, expanding their story and showing how they grow and change by the end of the tower, I would have loved it! Sure, the pandering would’ve still felt gross, but it might have been worth it. As it stands now, the story is shallow, the endings you get as rewards feel narratively unearned, and all of this weighs down a perfectly solid game.
Gameplay – A Hard Day In Tokoyo Tower
Tokoyo is a 2D roguelike platformer, with an interesting twist. In opposition to how roguelikes normally function, the tower procedurally generates new rooms every 24 hours of real time, rather than every time you start a new game. I wasn’t sold on this at the start. It seemed like a hybrid of strategically planning around carefully designed levels and reacting to randonmness. Surely this feature gives you the worst of both worlds? But, much to my surprise, it works. The tower always feels fresh and new, but the 24 hour cycle let’s you plan your next run.
Another interesting feature is that there is no basic attack. Each of the five characters has a unique skill attack that needs to charge up before it can be used again. I was also not sure about this at the start, but it creates an extra layer of thought to every level. Sure, you can make this level easier by clearing out the enemies with your skill, but what if you need it for the next one? When you’re skill is charging, the only option available is platforming, skillfully dodging attacks and obstacles.
Overall, Tokoyo is pretty fun. The platforming feels smooth, the levels are challenging but not impossible, and the skill attacks are actually unique, so every run with a new character feels different. It borrows pretty heavily from games like Risk of Rain by giving you artifacts that help out incrementally, with some even giving you a cool effect, like gaining like from killing humanoid enemies. Plus, during your run, you can find a temple room where you pray to one of two deities, which then changes the layout of the tower. This is a game trying its hardest to give you a unique experience.
Big Trouble In Little Tokoyo
That being said, Tokoyo has its issues. I mentioned above that before you start every run, a bit of skippable backstory plays. While that in itself is a minor issue, a major one is how many dialogue boxes are not skippable. The temple room dialogue can’t be skipped, nor can the shop keeper telling you to have a nice day, and the tutorial character making fun of you for dying. All of these are incredibly flow breaking. Starting a new run takes a few seconds longer than it should, and that’s just enough time me to consider taking a break.
Artifacts in this game also occupy a weird space for me. I like a lot of them, like the sword that circles you when you take damage and the potion that brings back health when you get to the next level, but I hate upgrades in this vein. It’s not fun to see an upgrade increases your damage by 2.5% when you’re close to death. I don’t know how much of my damage I do normally, how would I know what an extra 2.5% will do? The best upgrades are the kind that change how the game is played, not the kind that increase a number I’ll never remember.
Tokoyo might have worked better as a roguelight, in the vein of Enter the Gungeon. Being able to unlock benefits to help out your runs would have balanced out the brutal challenge level. I don’t think I got past level 30 in this game once without using the revive item, of which the tower gives you like nine a day. There’s some other issues I could have brought up, but they’re more just annoying than harmful, and Tokoyo is very good at making you feel skillful. I definitely suggest playing it in small increments, but moment to moment, it’s engaging.
Audio & Visual – Busy Yet Functional
Tokoyo‘s visuals were better than I expected. The monster models are destinct and varied, despite the ever present cute anime girl motif. The levels seem purposeful and are pretty well designed, which is usually a pitfall for roguelikes. Unfortunately, you probably won’t get to see a lot with all the particle effects. This is the kind of game where an enemy will shoot out five brightly coloured orbs in an arc, while three other enemies do the same. Compound that with the visual effect of your skills and artifacts, and it becomes very easy to lose track of where you are.
When I started playing Tokoyo, I had to mute it. The soundtrack was loud, crunchy chiptune songs that gave me a headache if I played for more than ten minutes. But, like a lot of things in this game, it grew on me. The sound effects and background music suit the theme, and I even started liking a few. I still think of this as the kind of game you mute so you can listen to a podcast while you play, but that may come down to preference. I don’t think the music’s bad, but it doesn’t particularly stand out either.
Tokoyo: The Tower of Perpetuity was reviewd on the Nintendo Switch with a code provided by Stride PR.