Itorah (PC) Review

A little too traditional for its own good.
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Itorah – developed by Grimbart Tales and published by Assemble Entertainment – is a traditional and accessible 2.5D action platformer, with some streamlined Metroidvania elements. You take control of the titular Itorah, a young human girl and the last of her kind, who awakens in a verdant future inhabited by anthropomorphic races that worship balance and nature. However, the lands of Nahucan have begun to change and the local fauna – and some flora – have become increasingly hostile; corrupted by a malevolent plague seeping from an ancient ruin.

Itorah is immediately paired up with an enchanted talking axe that, as a small human child, she wields with lethal efficiency. After a lengthy prologue gets you to grips with the basic gameplay mechanics, she stumbles upon an amateur archaeologist with a fondness for explosives and exploring forbidden human ruins. Itorah accompanies her on a scouting expedition to discover the source of the plague, which leads them into uncomfortably familiar ruins, complete with advanced equipment, cultish décor, and scrawled references to Xibalba – the Mayan underworld. One desperate escape later and they find themselves on a new quest to save the world using Itorah’s power to absorb corruption… seemingly with no side effects.

It’s an intriguing setup that provides a solid excuse to traverse the realm, purify nature guardians, discover the source of the plague, and defeat it once and for all.

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The story is told primarily through dialogue sequences with no voice acting but wonderfully expressive characters.

Itorah‘s gameplay and level design are both refreshingly straightforward – but perhaps too familiar for their own good.

You’ve got the 2D combat, with a strong focus on dodging. positioning, and utilising directional power moves to defeat enemies and bosses. Your foes, although beautifully animated, have a fairly limited move-set and fill specific roles: think nimble flyer that complicates platforming, stationary projectile spewers, braindead chargers, or slow but damaging tanks. As both the dodge and attack animations offer up a generous number of invincibility-frames, the challenge comes from juggling multiple enemy types or trying to reach a boss’s weak-spot while avoiding damage. While Itorah‘s bosses certainly look intimidating, they’re also gimmicky. Once you realise “how” you need to defeat them, it’s simply a case of surviving several attack cycles before emerging victorious. With no alternate weapons and no option to upgrade your damage output, combat mastery requires careful movement and timing, and the responsive controls are up to the task.

Talking of movement and timing, traversal is your typical mix of jumps, double-jumps, and wall-jumps – modified by several power-moves with secondary functionality. You’ll explore some truly massive areas – which make full use of the 2D map space – leaping chasms, jumping between ledges and grapple points, dodging a myriad of traps, and collecting keys to open doors. Enemies are, of course, thrown into the mix to complicate these sections and you’ll also tackle several tense escape sequences that serve as an alternative to boss fights (with mercifully generous checkpoints). Again, the responsive controls shine during these moments.

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When you’re not tackling a scripted sequence, combat and platforming go hand in hand. I just wish some of these zones were briefer or contained a few more secrets to make the trek feel worthwhile.

Now, there were streamlined elements I enjoyed in Itorah. The limited number of sequential upgrades on offer are simply tied to defeating enemies for shards and secret hunting. All you need are a few petrified memories or pale feathers to increase Itorah’s health and stamina, or the number of healing spells and their efficacy. I hate grinding for dozens of resource types when they all serve the same purpose, so this is a great change from the status quo.

What I found less enjoyable was the by-the-numbers approach to ability upgrades, the predictable level design, and – most problematically – several overlong zones. Whenever Itorah ever presents you with two paths, one will always be blocked until you find the correct ability shrine down the other path. At that point, you’ll be faced with a lengthy zone, with progression almost exclusively driven by that new ability, leading up to some sort of roadblock (usually a locked door), followed by a long detour to acquire a key item, followed by a boss or escape sequence.

It’s a classic design sure, but Itorah‘s developers needed to show more restraint. You’ll spend so much time using your new ability to progress, it feels simultaneously overused for that zone and underutilised everywhere else. Unfortunately, the streamlined upgrade system – that I like – means there are usually only one or two secrets per massive area, resulting in locations that simply feel big for the sake of padding.

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The fantastic character designs and production values ensure each boss fight looks great in action – though they were never too tough once I identified the basic attack pattern.

A constant highlight – although also undermined by repetition in larger zones – is the Meso-American inspired visuals and soundtrack. The beautiful hand-drawn backdrops are perhaps the most vibrant and striking feature, but you’ll soon notice the detailed character models, intricate animations that give combat impact, and the expressive faces that make up for the lack of voice work. There are few locations that wouldn’t make for a great screenshot, while moving parts ensure the world still feels alive. There’s also the impressive use of lighting to create cinematic moments, like creeping through oppressive darkness or battling in silhouette against the setting sun.

The enchanting soundtrack primarily uses string instruments with a distinct Central American vibe, but it’s also dynamic – able the shift the tempo based on the on-screen action or transition smoothly as you move between areas. Again, given the lack of voice acting, it does a great job of providing the emotional component in several dialogue sequences.

The presentation was clearly designed as a core part of Itorah‘s experience and it carries a lot of weight, especially in light of the gameplay issues.

The hand-painted backdrops and stylised characters never ceased to impress.

All things considered, Itorah leaves me torn. The premise and characters are intriguing, the visuals and soundtrack elevate every scene, and I certainly enjoyed the traditional and streamlined gameplay loop… for a few hours. However, for a game that’s easily 10+ hours on a casual playthrough, that traditional and formulaic design, coupled with several zones that dragged on too long, and generally low difficulty, all left me increasingly disengaged. Of course, this is subjective, but the more I played, the more I began to feel like I was just going through the motions while waiting on the next story beat or awe-inspiring backdrop to keep me hooked.

A review code for Itorah was provided to gameblur by the publisher.

Itorah (PC) Review

Itorah (PC) Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    7/10 Good
    It follows a predictable save-the-world narrative but the novel setting, characters, and production values elevate the experience.
  • Gameplay
    6/10 Normal
    With rigidly traditional and streamlined mechanics, what starts out comfortingly familiar slowly shifts towards methodical and unengaging over the length of the game.
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
    Like a moving painting coupled with fantastic animations. However, repetition can undermine the impact.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    The dynamic soundtrack complements every scene but the well-animated dialogue sequences are begging for some voice work.

The Good

  • Intriguing setting and characters
  • Fluid and responsive controls
  • Beautiful Meso-American-inspired visuals and soundtrack

The Bad

  • Rigidly traditional and formulaic progression
  • Several zones drag on for far too long
Total
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