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SummaryKids and adults need more options
The GoodTorin's Passage was produced by Sierra during that strange time period where technology was skyrocketing and gameplay was in crisis. At that time they were seemingly focusing more on visual presentation and exploiting the new multimedia possibilities than anything else.
Indeed, in terms of presentation and visual artistry, Torin's Passage is a quality product. The entire game looks and feels very much like a Disney cartoon, complete with lovingly designed backgrounds, contrasting colors, very pleasant music, and excellent animation. The latter must be the game's greatest appeal. Almost everything you do in the game is displayed as a snippet of cartoon animation. Sometimes it is used for comical effects (exaggerated reactions, funny jumps, etc), but even simply controlling the hero and watching him happily saunter around with his purple pet is a joy. All this is complemented by very good voice acting.
The gameplay has its bright sides. In fact, the designers really did a good work with the meager means they had at their disposal: there is only so much you can do when you are forced to interact with the game world with a pitiful cursor and a few hotspots. There is decent variety in the puzzles: while inventory-based tasks are pretty tame - to the point of being elementary actions performed when the game hardly gives you any choice - the stand-alone puzzles are pretty good. The head-assembling in the second chapter or the leprechaun-conducting in the next one are among the better examples. Also, the idea of using your pet as various tools needed for specific tasks is great; it is a pity it was so blatantly underused.
The humor is mostly a mixed bag. Frankly, I expected more from the creator of Leisure Suit Larry; but I understand this game was conceived as a children's product, so they couldn't make any adult jokes. Then again, it is a bit too sophisticated for kids, some of the humorous situations being much more suitable for an average teenage audience - which, naturally, could have also enjoyed a slightly more mature style. As it is, Torin's Passage is neither innocent enough to charm us, nor humorous enough to make us laugh. That said, I did like some of the jokes, characters, and situations in the game; I just think they could have done more with them.
The BadUnfortunately, Torin's Passage suffers from the very same disease that plagued King's Quest VII: simplification. The very same company that first combined text input with third-person navigation, and later developed a wonderful icon-based interface, decided to throw it all out of the window and replace interaction with a "smart cursor", read: the death sentence to adventure games.
The gameplay process is thus mostly reduced to clicking on hotspots until something happens. Granted, there are puzzles, but they are nowhere as challenging and as interconnected as in, say, Myst, which could get away with lack of interactivity thanks to the sheer complexity of its mechanical tasks. There is so little experimentation involved that much of the experience feels almost on-rails, your progress being impeded only by occasional obtuse task or low pixel-hunting skills.
These gameplay-related deficiencies undermine the game's value as a comedy as well. Much of the classic Sierra humor came courtesy of game interfaces, which allowed experimentation with the environment leading to all sorts of amusing text feedback. Here, all we have are scripted jokes; some of them are funny, while others are less so. The point is, even the funniest jokes lose much of their value when they are forced down our throats in a game, instead of being subtly integrated into the gameplay process. Case in point: the TV sitcom in the second chapter, a veritable gold mine for humor, is reduced to a harmless gimmick with a few scripted sentences; the entire set is non-interactive, which means that the player is not allowed to trigger any humorous comments by himself.
Another problem of Torin's Passage is its unbalanced structure. First of all, I don't understand why they let players start from any chapter. This kills the suspense and turns into legitimate cheating when you know you are near a chapter's end and just want to jump to the next one without wrecking your brains over the final puzzle. Second, the chapters themselves are very uneven in size and quality. Only the second chapter has a more or less open structure; the others take place in small, confined areas with little to do. The third chapter, for example, is just a series of fairly contrived puzzles without any exploration whatsoever.