Review for Twilight Path
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I have often fantasized about being the “chosen one” imbued with magical abilities and tasked with saving the day for a noble cause. And in playing Charm Games’ Twilight Path, I got to do just that – or the next closest thing to it. The experience in VR made me feel as if I really was in a fallen kingdom, a fully realized world of relics and debris and two colourful characters whom I helped along their path to restoration. I even got to fight a dragon! Alas, just when it looked as if I could bask in the glory of my good deeds, it turns out that I will need to wait a bit longer for the story to finish playing out.
Before you can even begin playing, a tutorial requires you to learn what I will refer to as “The Move.” When playing on the Oculus Rift S, The Move requires the use of both controller trigger buttons simultaneously while moving them to the middle of your view to form a yin-yang-type symbol. It may take some practice but is well worth it, as mastering this maneuver is key to progressing and solving puzzles. Once you have passed this test, the main menu appears with four “Story” slots available, each slot autosaving its own progress with no option to return to previous checkpoints. The save system is efficient, as you need to replay only a brief part of the game after you exit a session.
As the game begins, you find yourself in an alcove with a large book on the pedestal in front of you. Upon opening it and turning the pages, you hear a narrator and can read key elements about the story of the realm you are about to visit. Here you’ll discover that your destiny is to travel to the spirit world of Twilight to restore the balance between day and night, light and dark. It seems one of the ancient guardians tried to seize control of the magic of Twilight but failed, and the resulting curse turned the guardian to a dragon and caused the kingdom to crumble with dark overtaking the light. Your mission is to aid the remaining champions of light by recovering the magical power of the Well of Souls. No small task! This introductory sequence is well-illustrated and professionally voiced, a quality in production value that continues throughout the game.
Twilight Path is split into four chapters, with the first entitled “The Curio Shop.” You start in a town at night with Asian-styled lanterns lining the street. When teleported to the shop, you are invited in by the owner, who tells you that he specializes in ancient and magical items. In fact, a new shipment has just arrived: the crate you see in front of you. Inside is a locked cabinet containing a letter about a group of people who are in peril and need your help. Here is where you are given your marching orders and the first of many interesting puzzles to solve. Solving it earns you a magical wristband that is activated by pulling the attached tag (which explains its use). Doing so via the left controller reveals hidden clues and highlights items not seen otherwise in the environment. It is highly recommended that you use this device to scan each new location, as you never know what you might find.
A few puzzles later, you will discover the second use of The Move when you see what looks like a flag hanging in the distance. The Move reveals two floating orbs that are used to highlight the flag and transport you to the back of the shop. You will use this node-based travel method for the rest of the game. Before long a mechanical fortune teller holding a crystal ball grants you magical powers after you solve a series of 3D orientation puzzles, at which point you will be transported to the realm of Twilight.
Here is where the game begins in earnest, with you surrounded by ancient ruins and ghost-like creatures staring at you from behind the rubble. The area is beautifully rendered with high-resolution graphics and brightly coloured neon backgrounds. It looks truly magical and dreamlike, with many red and pink highlights. Once you complete a simple slider puzzle, the ruins are restored to their original state (no doubt due to your newfound magical abilities) and you are able to progress to the next stage.
This chapter requires detonating explosives to clear the road of boulders left over from the collapse of the realm, allowing a sled to appear with two characters who need your help. The sled appears to be alive; Barque is a talking head directly embedded in it who seems to be in charge, while Singe, a fire spirit, is powering the vessel from a fire pit at its base. These two will accompany you for the rest of your journey and provide guidance and backstory as you go. You cannot interact with them, but you need to listen carefully to what they say – especially Barque, who does most of the talking (Singe is the comic relief). You will need to use your special powers (The Move) to continue clearing the way, and along the way you will also meet Nix, a helpful spirit in the form of a floating ball of light who occasionally guides you to key objects but otherwise does not speak or interact with you.
Progression from this point on follows a standard sequence of events, with the sled being blocked by each new obstacle to overcome. While this sounds somewhat boring, the variety of puzzles you’ll tackle to open the next passage keeps you looking forward to the next stop. At a certain point Barque offers you a deal: help them on their journey to the “Great Wheel” (whatever that may be) and he will return you home. He even gives you a ticket that allows you to ride on the sled, which you’ll do occasionally in other parts of the game. This is a real treat as the VR presentation makes it look and feel like you are riding along at street level – very cool.
The puzzles in Twilight Path are very well done and are the main strength of the game. All of them take full advantage of the VR technology and require lots of maneuvering of the hand controllers and pressing of triggers. One such sequence involves using a time vortex to summon items from the past by breaking a glass barrier, then solving a slider puzzle to obtain a key to activate a line-matching puzzle to open gates, and then manipulating bricks to finally clear the path. Most challenges consist of this kind of multi-level design, and many are very clever. One of my favourites required ringing three bells of different sizes in a specific order. A clue is presented in the form of a panel between the bells showing the correct pattern, and you need to figure out how to match that pattern by choosing which bells to ring. It took me a while to figure out the trick behind this puzzle, and when I solved it I felt a true sense of accomplishment.
My only complaint about the gameplay, while minor, is that some of the puzzle mechanics are overused. For example, there are many occasions when you need to slide objects along a path multiple times, or align objects according to a pattern revealed with the wristband. These are usually part of a unique larger objective overall, but they just feel like padding and become repetitive after a while.
But then you face the dragon! While hinted at in the prologue, I did not expect to have to battle one, but eventually you do. Earlier I’d met a huge creature with a face reminiscent of the dog-like creature in The NeverEnding Story (from which the game certainly seems to draw some inspiration). His name is Master Wade, and he told me the curse of the dragon could only be broken by the spirit of free will, before handing me a token to allow passage to a temple. Once there, after you’ve solved a series of puzzles and met Mistress Viva, a witch and priestess of the temple, the dragon appears and you must use your both your wits and hands to defeat it. He’s too strong to attack directly and your time is limited, so you will likely need to try a few times before succeeding. Fortunately, Viva will offer hints on what you need to do, so if you pay attention you should have no problems getting past this boss. If time runs out, you need to start from the beginning of the encounter and try again.
Graphically the game is outstanding, with detailed environments and vibrant colours accenting the various areas you visit along your sled journey. You will see mountains, valleys, and wild flora throughout, many with highlights of gold, green and brown. Animations are well done, especially when you reconstruct the ruins to their original state, mainly arches and bridges, using your magical power.
Sound effects are of equal quality, especially when performing magic such as The Move, solving puzzles (like beating drums in the final part of a sequence to get Master Wade to appear), and engaging with your environment when you need to summon and manipulate objects. The ubiquitous synth music is pleasant throughout and ramps up during dramatic scenes such as meeting the dragon, nicely complementing the given circumstances at any given time. While your character never speaks, the voice acting is impressive: Barque sounds like a radio announcer and Singe a witty smartass, while Master Wade sounds a bit like Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh but deeper and more dramatic, the witch Viva is very comforting and encouraging, and the dragon conveys the right amount of menace and terror along with maniacal laughter.
The story is pretty basic for a fantasy adventure, but still interesting enough to serve as motivation. You are the hero who needs to save this accursed world and return order and balance to those who live there. Of course you’ll have help along the way, starting with the fortune teller giving you special powers, Barque and Singe guiding your path, and Viva giving you advice on how to defeat the dragon. The problem is, you are told you have the power to restore this realm, but just when it looks as if you are about to fulfill your destiny, the game ends with a “to be continued” message with no indication of when the story will conclude. You have not yet accomplished your mission, nor found your way home. This lack of closure was unexpected, as nowhere does it seem to be advertised that this is just the first chapter in a planned series. This was a big letdown for me, and I am sure it will be for many other players.
Despite the abrupt ending and some issues with repetitive puzzle mechanics, I can wholeheartedly recommend Twilight Path as a solid virtual reality fantasy experience while it lasts. The hint of a deeper story, the extensive VR-specific gameplay, excellent sound design and graphically rich and vivid environments, as well as a couple of fun characters along the way will keep you challenged and entertained throughout the oh-so-brief play time that clocks in at a mere two hours or less. At the end you will want more, and not just because the story is unfinished, which is the mark of a well-designed adventure game. Let’s hope the next installment will come soon and complete the journey.