GAME NAME: TorqueL
PLATFORM(S): PS4 (reviewed), Vita
GENRE(S): Platformer, Puzzler
RELEASE DATE(S): 08/11/2015
There are a lot of things people will look for in fast, small puzzle games. A quick challenge. Responsive, intuitive controls. Sensible physics. Lightning-fast respawning.
Poor TorqueL is none of these – and also it’s pronounced “TORK-ell,” not “turkle,” like Urkel. TorqueL eventually drops you into a primer start/loading screen where you move your little top-hatted man inside of a cube, whose means of conveyance is extending and retracting colored pistons and wobbling. Traverse stages without dying to continue to the next stage to traverse without dying. But even dying just starts you back at the beginning of the stage, so there’s little real punishment (there’s one, but we’ll get to that).
That’s it. “Move right” is the whole game, explained in no text and a single simple tutorial. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing (Journey’s interface was absent, and that game was excellent), without a variety of things to do or new ways to do it, this makes it completely one-note. And that note is an unfortunate, sad “bluuuuuhh.”
So let’s break down the why.
- A quick challenge – TorqueL‘s initial loading screen and level transitions take forever in a game that is no larger than 3 screens and made up of a palette of 6 colors. Firing up the game makes the player sit through unskippable loading and splash screens. JUST LET ME MOVE RIGHT
- Responsive, intuitive controls – The movement gimmick in TorqueL, as mentioned earlier, is the extension and retraction of pistons on each side of your box. This is an interesting little idea, but it fails in practice. Since each button is hard-mapped, the top button on your controller – triangle – controls the top piston. But if your little boxman is upside down, now it controls the bottom piston. Each side of your box is adorned with the color of the appropriate button, but 1) who looks down at the controller when they’re playing and 2) what about us colorblind folks? This leads to popping out the incorrect piston frequently, which is something my doctor warned me to stop doing.
- Sensible physics – In addition to the pistons, you can wobble and inch along. This is helpful sometimes, but more often you’ll wobble yourself right into a puddle of red and explode yourself up. This unnatural wobbling also presents a weird disconnect with physics. In other “move right” games, changing direction while jumping doesn’t occur. Think Mario, for example. But TorqueL has no use for laws of nature, even though its name includes the word “torque,” a physics term. This isn’t about learning how to low-grav jump in Unreal Tournament, this is a wholly unnatural change of a physical law.
- Lightning-fast respawning – Super Meat Boy, WE ARE DOOMED, even the original Super Mario Brothers has you respawn faster than TorqueL. While that itself is not a terrible injustice – think how long it takes to die and reload in Metal Gear Solid, for example – but the nearly 8 seconds in TorqueL feels like forever when I’m just trying to go right.
The graphics are simple, oversized pixels in every conceivable way. Red puddles will burst you into smaller blocks, which then fall away. Upside down rain clouds will pull you with big, blocky dots. As an aesthetic choice, TorqueL will not be mistaken for any other game. It’s a very distinctive style that really works. The same, however, cannot be said for the sound design. It’s appropriately sparse and a little glitchy, until you die – then a shrieking Hell Tone erupts from your controller. It’s incredibly jarring and the only real punishment for your death, aside from having to wait a while to start over.
With a little more variety, a bit better control scheme, and physics that make sense, this could’ve been an interesting, challenging game. But as it stands, this one-trick pony gets old fast, and offers little reason to revisit. Shame about it.