Tasomachi: Behind the Twilight PC Review
The release of Tasomachi was the first time I had heard of the game, but it was the release trailer that had sparked my interest in the title. It was clear from the video that this game was wonderful to look at, a striking visual style that oozed charm and bright, popping colours. A big Japanese artist, Nocras, is tied to the game as the exclusive developer, handling direction, programming, art, and modelling, while the music was done by Ujico*, adding his electronic musician talents into the mix. If you have not heard of Nocras, he is an art designer who has worked on titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Pokemon Sword/Shield, and even Final Fantasy titles, such as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. That is quite the resume to have, and also quite a transition from artist to a full-on game developer, so let us jump into the world of Tasomachi to see how well of a debut the game is.
Tasomachi does not give off a great first impression, especially on the user interface and graphical PC options. The user interface feels like a template from a demonstration on how to create menus, with a semi-transparent grey rectangle acting as a background with the text for each option menu filled within. Even the headers for categories are in the same text and size as the options, so you cannot clearly see what is an option and what is the label of said option. Disappointingly, the game seems to go no higher than 1080p resolution. In fact, you do not know what the different graphics settings do, as they are unhelpfully named “Lowest Resolution”, “Low Resolution”, “Medium Resolution”, “High Resolution” and “Highest Resolution”, but these seemingly change graphic detail and not the resolution. This is such a shame that a game with pretty visuals cannot run at 4K. What is strange is the game uses Unreal Engine, so surely it is possible to switch on a now common resolution in such a popular used engine.
The same can be said for the first 15 minutes of the game. The movement of the main character, Yukumo, is awkward, with the ground movement feeling sluggish, while her jumping is rather short and floaty, which makes it hard to do precision platforming. I got a sense that the game needed some extra time to polish up some of the inconsistencies in it – the animation, the UI, the feeling of the game – all this could give Tasomachi a better first impression if more time was spent to fine-tune them. I feel people who jump into the game for a short while might feel underwhelmed.
Tasomachi is a title fitting the platforming collectathon label, an old school platforming game about finding all the Sources of the Earth, which they are plenty to find – over 200. Unlike say Super Mario 64, Tasomachi has no enemies, it is all about the platforming and exploring the three small hub areas to discover the collectables, gaining enough to unlock the next area until the end target is achieved. This will not take a long time as the game lasts about 3.5 – 4 hours, a bit more if aiming for all the Sources of the Earth.
The game’s collectables are hidden in two types of areas. There is the hub area, which is a playground to run around in. These three hub areas have similar tasks to perform – remove posters, pop balloons, find hard to reach areas, smash pots – to collect the sources. This is a slight problem as even though the hubs are designed differently, the same tasks mean there is this sense of similarity, a deja vu effect. Then within these zones are two doors that are locked behind a collection goal. Grabbing enough of the sources opens the door enabling the player to try their hand at finishing four challenge rooms. This process is repeated for each of the three hub areas.
Something happened to me after breaking past the initial opening of Tasomachi. In the beginning, I was thinking this is a little boring and generic, but things suddenly all clicked together after exploring the first group of challenge rooms located inside the first area, Shiokaze Pier. It was the blend of the brilliant soundtrack that was pumping into my ears getting me into the mood to overcome these small tasks mixed with finally having some platforming to do. The straightforwardly designed hub area can only do so much, so the challenge rooms helped keep my interests alive.
These hubs are designed around small towns, which, by the way, are always empty, as it seems the heroine and friendly cat, who feeds the player tips, are the only living things visible in the game. On the other hand, the challenge rooms are the game’s main form of offering a typical platforming segment, but there is no lives system in Tasomachi – simply falling off into the depths of the water respawns Yukumo to the start of the current challenge room. Still, this game is not hard. The puzzle platforming never gets complicated – the most they offer towards the later parts of the game are teleporting platforms, invisible platforms and a maze – but they strike this balance of feeling like the player is accomplishing something while keeping them focused on platforming. They are a bit like the shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, only with a focus on getting to the end of them through jumping or manipulating platforms. Having worked on that game, Nocras probably used that as a base towards the designing of Tasomachi, and in that regards it slots in nicely. I wish there were more, as I want to see how crazy the designs could have become when fleshed out.
This leads to my other slight concern with the game. Without the threat of enemies, Tasomachi has to go on its level design alone, but with the rather limited skill set Yukumo has, a dash down, an air jump and an air dash, all unlocked from each of the hub areas, this does not allow the game to flourish. The platforming that requires these new abilities are added over time, so you never use them all together until the last hour of the game, which then goes back to my wish for more levels to put these moves to their full use. Tasomachi is never given the time to go wild, and so it feels like it was aiming for people who do not have a history with classic collectathon 3D platformers. A lot of the elements are streamlined to keep the game’s focus on platforming, but because of only having those three abilities, Yukumo cannot perform some of the magnificent moves seen in some of the more well known 3D platformers – her hopping antics are never spectacular enough to be memorable. There is even an option to spend 20 in-game coins, which are mainly used to buy costumes and items to store inside a house, and bypass a challenge room, again giving off the vibe that it is a game made for anyone to play and have fun in their own way. What on offer here is surprisingly enjoyable after the start, but it is a flawed bit of fun, a sort of janky platformer that happens to have wonderful art backing up its simple level design and platforming.
I have to mention the music before finishing up the review. As mentioned in the start, Ujico* is the composer and he smashes it with the soundtrack. There are only a few tunes in Tasomachi, but what is here is wonderfully sculptured to the themes, be it matching with soothing aesthetics of the town hubs or the more pumping beats for the challenge rooms. It’s one soundtrack that has some songs I have been listening to after finishing with the game – Sanctuary-SHU can stay on my repeat playlist. On the graphics side, Tasomachi has a great style pumped with bright colours using an anime cel-shading look. There are some obscurities within the visuals, such as the character model not reacting to light making her look flat and bland, but mostly this is a lovely game to feast your eyes on.
Tasomachi: Behind the Twilight sits in the middle of the landscape for 3D platforming. It is an achievement that one person managed to develop most of the game on their own, but that is not an element that should be taken into account when speaking of the quality. The gameplay is stripped back for simplicity, which is a double-edged sword for Tasomachi: Behind the Twilight. The challenge is never truly there, and the limited amount of challenge rooms means the game never gets the time to flesh out more intricate platforming designs, leaving it with a lack of variation. Still, when it was all coming together, I was enjoying the game, its lovely art style, its sort of tranquillity state when the music hits and the platforming is in full swing as it can be. It might not be a memorable platform game, but Tasomachi: Behind the Twilight is a fair starting block, a sort of alpha test that could be made into something much bigger, deeper and better in a sequel.