Tuesday, 17 October 2017 07:36


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Tauronos is built around you playing it again and again, developing an intimacy with each level and discovering new secrets each time.

Tauronos requires patience. It requires an endless patience, like that of the Minotaur that stalks you through the maze. Dare you know yourself? [1] Do you really know why you seek out challenging games? If you mean to crush the olives, then you must get your hands green — or, so the fully voiced protagonist jokingly reminds us, in between Herculean efforts more likely to stain his hands sanguine than a peaceful, verdant shade.

The turning of great wheels, the sprinting past deadly traps, the steady dismantling of fallen boulders in his way as a nightmare breathes down his neck, all is undertaken as breezily as if easier tasks would have been a disappointment — yes, this guy is a true Ancient Greek, from a culture with no word for boredom. Apparently, he enters the labyrinth freely, but we don't know why. Maybe we find out later. Unclear character motivation isn't as much of a problem here as it might have been if those voiced lines weren't so engaging.

I love the feel of Tauronos. I love the beautiful, haunting soundtrack that speeds up with harsh drumbeats when the Minotaur gets closer or angrier. I love the retro-dungeon adventure and the simultaneously alluring and menacing mystery of the labyrinth. A classic top-down view evokes retro-adventure titles, and though you'd think this angle would provide a sense of security and perhaps too much information in a maze setting, indie developer Conradproteus is already one step ahead of you, limiting your vision radius to a ring of light cast by the torch you carry.

In part because your vision is so limited, your success depends heavily on how well you remember dangers, rewards, and paths you have encountered before in each level on your previous attempts. Forget ingame rebirth and experience points, because Tauronos isn't a roguelike; instead, your accrued familiarity with its labyrinth is the carryover. Your character even comments at the start of each new game: “It feels like I've been here before.” Tauronos is built around you playing it again and again, developing an intimacy with each level and discovering new secrets each time.

Normally, I like failure. I like the stakes of permadeath. So why don't I like these elements in Tauronos?

In Tauronos, if you lose all your lives, you have to start again from the very beginning, including the tutorial. If you die in a level, you have to restart it and collect any upgrades you ferreted out there again. You have to solve puzzles and unlock doors again even if you were almost finished. I'll allow that shimmying around traps between me and a speed or stamina gauge boost is difficult and satisfying the first time, but repeating the sequence only proves tedious when you have to do it multiple times per level, and when there's really no speeding up that process no matter how well you memorize it.

Normally, I like failure. I like the stakes of permadeath. So why don't I like these elements in Tauronos? For some adventurers, playing through the entirety of the title again and again and demonstrating expertise and familiarity with old challenges and puzzles might prove satisfying. I personally felt more like I was being scolded for not understanding the basics, particularly when I replayed the initial tutorial stages, and that the real reasons why I had to restart were not being addressed. I had to work and wait too much for my taste before I could get back to what killed me and try a new strategy.

I often felt I wasn't given enough opportunity to apply past lessons to new challenges, as the most influential factor in my success or failure at any given time was my familiarity with that level of the labyrinth. If the level was new to me, I had no familiarity. I can absolutely make up for mistakes with traps and take care in passages that look suspiciously safe and inviting, but I can't do anything about a dead end. Yes, I learn the location of that dead end so I could avoid running that way again with the Minotaur hot on my heels, but I pay for that lesson with one life, and I can only lose so many lives — discover so many unavoidable new dead ends — before I'm forced to start again from the beginning.

Some uninteractable debris that denotes dead ends even looks exactly like debris you can normally remove by holding down E. I genuinely don't understand that. I have no complaints whatsoever about how Tauronos looks and sounds in general, but impassable debris ought to look different.

Thematically, I'm very into Tauronos. I want to experience more of the story, but I find the gameplay too frustrating. The Minotaur is a patient beast, you see, and so I concede; it's more patient than me. In a way, I'm surprised I'm saying that. I always play on ironman and permadeath mode, and I think of myself as a gamer who enjoys heavy and frequent failure. Accordingly—even though I didn't reach the later parts of Tauronos's story which the Steam store page implies deal with the question “Dare you know yourself?” — this title's approach to failure has still forced me to face that question.

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The Verdict: Good

Tauronos is a retro dungeon drawler full of traps, upgrades, and secrets to find. The title promises an intriguing story, but since running out of lives forces you to start your journey again from the beginning, few players will have the patience to persevere and experience more than a fraction of it. Luckily, whatever portion you play sports an aesthetic perfectly fitted to Tauronos's themes, and a minimalist but hardworking narrative.

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Kelsey Erwin

Kelsey seeks out RPGs with the narrative clout of Greek tragedy and strategy sims more punishing than QWOP. Their favorite part about being a gender neutral PC gamer and reviewer is that it's probably the only thing no one else on the site will put in a biography. Super saiyan special snowflake originality! Kelsey always keeps a pot of hot tea close at hand, and the sign of a truly great game is when it can monopolize Kelsey's attention so completely that the tea grows cold. While a dedicated believer in the PC Master Race, Kelsey also still spends time with their old favorite console, a cinderblock size Playstation 2.


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