“Thou shalt not walk left.”
As commandments go, there are certainly better known (and more logical ones) out there. But the regulation in question doesn’t spring from the old testament, as hard as that may be to believe. Rather, it comes from Tower of Heaven, a PC indie platformer that’s had its fill of players running willy-nilly wherever they please. Or standing on yellow blocks. Or touching the butterflies.
On the surface, Tower of Heaven is very similar to another game that On the Stick <3’s, VVVVVV. They’re both platformers with retro-styled graphics, catchy soundtracks and a level of difficulty that borders on the sadistic. Of course, it’s a bit unfair to compare the two, since Cavangh’s VVVVVV is an exceptional work and Tower of Heaven tops out at “pretty good”. Thankfully, Tower has a few unique ideas that make it worth a gander, despite the healthy competition in the world of crazy-hard PC platforming games.
Tower of Heaven puts you in control of a man with an onion for a head who has, for reasons unexplained, decided to scale the eponymous tower. He does this to the great distress of the tower’s deity, a disembodied voice who initially feigns compassion but who grows indignant, and even bitter, as the protagonist continues his ascent. Miffed at Onionhead’s continued progress, God attempts to trip him up by forcing an ever-expanding set of rules upon the traveler. The rules are fairly arbitrary, and the punishment for breaking them is a good old-fashioned smiting. The tower’s god is an old-school god, to be certain.
It is the continual introduction of these rules, as well as their illogical nature, that gives Tower of Heaven its unique flavor. The actual gameplay has Onionguy dodging sawblades, leaping gaps and avoiding cruelly-hidden spikes, all of which must be done without touching the sides of blocks and, you know, walking left. Navigating the hazards is hard enough, but remembering a half-dozen crazy rules while doing so makes for a stiff challenge indeed. Thankfully, the game is quite liberal with its checkpoints, meaning you never lose more than about a minute’s worth of progress when you step onto a dandelion and get smited. Uh, smote? I don’t know.
As you ascend the tower, a sort of one-sided story unfolds through the deity’s text boxes. Onionface never responds to his tormentor, he simply keeps jumping and climbing, seemingly driven by a simple desire to overcome the tower’s obstacles. Whether the reward he gets at the end of his journey is fitting or merely the product of nonsensical Japanese anime philosophy is left to the player to decide. Either way, the whole game takes less than an hour to play, and the journey is interesting enough to warrant seeing once.
Tower of Heaven is definitely made more interesting due to its aesthetics. The graphics are pure GameBoy, from the chunky pixels to the limited animation and the four shades of yellow-green that make up the world and everything in it. But the soundtrack is the real star, a brilliant bit of work by artist flashygoodness that stands up as one of the best indie game soundtracks of the last few years. It is largely built around one a single theme, but the variations on it run from morose to energizing to disco, and their chiptune renditions are wonderfully realized. The soundtrack is short, but you can get it for as little as a buck on the composer’s Bandcamp site, and anyone who likes chiptunes would be foolish not to. Even if you don’t agree that Tower of Heaven is worth a look, it is certainly worth a listen.