[Free-Game Friday is a new weekly feature in which a writer from the GamerLimit staff looks at a completely free game and discusses their experience with it, allowing you to download it at the end. Feel free to check out our full schedule right here!]
There are a lot of things we take for granted in video games; unwritten rules of things that should – or shouldn’t – happen in a game. These can range from more obvious things, such as “if there are no weapons, jumping on an enemy should kill them” to more subtle things, “such as if you can jump from a running start, you can jump from a walking or standing start”. These are the sorts of gaming ‘laws’ that we’ve become accustomed to, as they’ve been prevalent in video games since pretty much the beginning of its history.
Tacit laws, rules, and agreements exist everywhere; not just in games, but in all arts and even reality. But, how do we deal with the pressure of having someone or something violate the rules we take for granted? Tower of Heaven‘s brilliance lies in the fact that it explores the affects of throwing even a slight few things we take for granted out the window.
In Tower of Heaven, you play as a nondescript protagonist (named Eid, according to the game’s designer) who attempts to climb the titular tower, which contains riches to be obtained at the risk of the challenger’s life. Inside is some sort of deity who watches over Eid as he makes his attempt to scale the tower.
The game is a 2D platformer in style, but it’s far from your average platformer. There’s moving and jumping, but no enemies to be defeated; the game is completed by making your way from the beginning of a level to the end. It’s very simple and very plain in its presentation.
So, what’s the catch? What makes Tower of Heaven so special is an item you get in one of the early levels called “The Book of Laws”. The Book of Laws is an artifact given to Eid by the deity that watches over the tower. In it are a set of rules that must be strictly followed, or else Eid will be smitten immediately. The first rule is innocent enough: there are yellow platforms, and you can’t stop on yellow platforms. Okay, sure.
From there, the rules get pretty crazy. The next rule thrown at you is that you can’t touch the side of any platform. Then, you get a rule that states you can’t walk to the left. It only gets worse from there. Imagine if Mario or Sonic spontaneously combusted for walking left? How would they make it past the traps laid before them? More importantly, how are you going to take Eid to the top with these rules in effect?
Tower of Heaven seems to me like an anthropological study on video game mores. When a person violates a social more, it makes one or more persons in the situation feel awkward, annoyed, violated…any number of emotions. Can one evoke the same feelings of discomfort by violating game mores?
If the testimonials about the game on the internet are to be believed, the game – from an scientific viewpoint – is a huge success, and the answer to the above-stated question would be a resounding “YES”. Just about any news post you can find about this game has people saying things like ‘This game was waaay too hard and it pissed me off’, or ‘I liked this game, but it was too hard so I didn’t finish it’. For some people, the game is just so stifling that they don’t know what to do about it.
Tower of Heaven‘s genius is that, like any game you play, there are a set of rules that must be followed, and if you fail to do so, you lose. The rules of Tower of Heaven, though, conflict so heavily with what we’ve come to expect from a video game that it can be uncomfortable or even frustrating to play. If the Book of Laws causes you to feel this way when playing the game, then it has achieved its intended goal perfectly.
Appropriately, the game seems to be about questioning the mores we take for granted. Are we gamers satisfied with ‘the way things are’ because we’ve experimented with many things to come to such a conclusion? Or, are we satisfied with ‘the way things are’ simply because they’ve always been that way, and we’ve never considered that anything different could possibly be any good?
My only real issues with Tower of Heaven are purely technical ones. Controlling Eid can be very weird; as soon as you choose to move in a direction, he will reach full speed in an instant. Even after playing this game to death, I still haven’t completely come to grips with this.
There also seems to be no landing animation from a jump. If this seems like an overly specific complaint to you, consider this: when you’re playing Super Mario Bros, and you land on the very edge of a platform after a jump, the landing animation is what keeps you from running right off the cliff and dying just because you held the directional pad for a split second too long.
Other than that, the yellow platforms are sort of glitched; the platforms that change colors from brown to yellow will kill you mid-air if you jump off the platform just before it changes colors. They also still cause you to die instantly in levels where the Book of Laws doesn’t apply.
Still, if these are the best criticisms I can come up with, that’s really not such a big deal. Tower of Heaven is wonderful. It’s simple in its execution, it has a wonderful and meaningful premise, and if you’re a hardcore gamer, it also happens to be pretty hard, and there’s even a speed run mode (see if you can beat my record, 2:44 with zero deaths).
It’s also very short, so even if you find it very frustrating, you can take solace in the fact that it won’t last too long. I can’t promise you’ll like it – you might even fling a lot of cuss words at your monitor – but it’s worth it to give it a shot, just for the experience.
“May heaven grant you fortune.”