Review: Troll and I – That Wet Troll Smell
Developer: Spiral House Ltd.
Publisher: Maximum Games
Platforms: PC, Playstation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
There’s something about the classic 90s movie formula that’s almost like comfort food. An evil rich guy sends out a gruff, amoral hunter to go and find him some mythical beast. A million in his pocket, two million more to come. He’d get his wish, too, if it weren’t for the plucky young lad at the heart of the tale who befriends said beast, sweeping them both off on a magical journey through strange lands. The plot-line is paper thin and the conclusion foregone, yet there’s something about it which never fails to draw you in.
Troll and I trades on that exact formula. The boy is Otto, a young man living with his mother in a Nordic village. The beast is Troll, a massive mythical being 10 metres tall who saves Otto from vicious monsters. In their attempts to flush out the troll, the hunters have set off giant explosions, creating fissures in the earth from which the gremlin-like ahky crawl.
Oh, and they burned down Otto’s village and maybe killed his mother. Thrown together, Otto and Troll end up with the same goals: defeat the hunters, avoid being captured, and reunite with their families.
The relationship between the two is the core of Troll and I’s story. Players switch control between Otto and Troll or play co-op, each character having their own set of skills. Otto is able to sneak up on enemies and sabotage equipment, his hunting experience allowing him to craft weapons from what he finds. Troll, being a hugely strong giant, can reduce enemies to paste with a single punch, scale cliffs and hurl giant boulders. Combining their efforts allows the pair to get past the mountain’s challenges and find their way home.
In the end, the game hits a spot somewhere between the co-op of Brothers and the action of Uncharted – and in doing so, doesn’t really achieve either. Though the mountains are occupied by ruthless hunters and snarling monsters, there’s never any real sense of danger or tension. Since paths so often loop back on themselves and progress is often not clear, most tension disappears while you run around in circles. For all its violent finishers, the game never raises itself above the PG movies it so resembles.
It’s all the stranger when you find out that Troll and I runs on the most irritating kind of game logic. Most of the puzzle-platforming sections fall prey to the same basic problem: the gigantic troll at your side could easily lift you over or punch through any obstacle in your way. One section in particular stands out. Finding a wounded hunter, Otto learns that he needs a key to get through a giant wall the hunters have constructed. The game, apparently, didn’t consider the troll simply forcing the door open. Or the fact that there’s a ladder directly next to you which Otto, for whatever reason, decides not to use. It’s almost egregious as the fact that Otto, wielding makeshift clubs and spears, never thinks to pick up the hunter’s guns.
The emotional whiplash Otto goes through is also hilariously jarring. Faced with the hideous ahky, Otto caves their heads in immediately. Moments later, when the Troll saves him from certain death, he’s breathless in shock at this mythical creature. The first time he kills a man (accidentally), he’s distraught, sobbing over the corpse that he didn’t mean to do it. Not four seconds later, he’s creeping up on the next hunter and slitting their throat without a second thought.
Immersion is so, so important in games like these. We want to be transported to a different world, absorbed by the details. We want to feel like we’re really there. Every railing Otto doesn’t hop or ledge Troll doesn’t lift him onto is another strike against that sense of immersion. Considering how light the story is, this does the game no favours at all.
The whole thing could be saved if it were pretty or fun to play. But it’s not. Every texture and model looks like early-era PS3 fare, popping in awkwardly or simply looking quite ugly. Even the most beautiful mountain scene is kinda cut short when the grass is literally loading in before your eyes. Animations take a painfully long time, every time, especially on the already dull task of scaling walls.
The sound is certainly nothing to write home about, either. It’s the kind of sedate, vaguely Nordic sounds and generic battle music that go in one ear and out the other. Sitting here now, I couldn’t recall a single tune if I tried.
Troll‘s gameplay is the same: it works okay, except when it doesn’t. One neat feature is that Otto can ride on Troll’s back, allowing them to move as one unit. This lets him be carried to high ledges (but only some), throw spears from on high (which are shaky and uselessly weak), and hold on while Troll scales the massive cliffs (except when you accidentally punch, which means watching Troll pick up Otto again, hitting the button to climb, then slooooooowly hefting your weight up the cliff). Apart, one can call the other to follow them…except that they pretty much always get caught on the environment, rendering the whole thing pointless.
Yet the greatest cardinal sin is one on a much grander scale. Troll and I simply does not teach the player. While I’m all for not treating gamers like drooling babies, the game takes such a hands-off approach that confusion and frustration become almost mandatory. While it teaches you how to attack and roll, Troll doesn’t bother with other silly little things. Like what your powers are, how to use them, what the collectibles do, or even that there are skills you can level up. These just have to be found by fumbling with the awkward control scheme, chewing up your precious resources along the way. Between that and running in lost little circles, it’s very hard indeed to mine the fun from the frustration.
Still, let’s be fair. Not every game needs to be a top-tier masterpiece. Some of the best games are indies with a lot of rough edges. Yet even when the whole package is okay, meeting glaring flaws at every turn would take off any amount of luster. From a dull story to awkward controls to a total lack of direction, there’s frustration and disappointment at every level.
Despite all that, Troll and I is not a bad game. It’s simply a sloppy game, priced far too highly for any of this to be bearable. If you’re willing to dig a little and allow some rough edges, the gentle heart under the giant, hairy chest might just be worth it…but probably not.
|1.8 1.8 ( on 5 rating)|