Review – TOKOYO: The Tower of Perpetuity

Spotlight. A large stage, beset with various monitors, props, and a couple of plush toys for accents. Behind the stage, a single, seemingly endless hallway leads from an unseen green room to the main viewing area. Before the stage are five chairs, and, in each, a powerful figure in the world of finance, technology and/or real estate. Down the hall comes a single developer, ready to present their vision of the gaming future to the world at large. Clearly, //commentout is nervous: never before has this been tried with a Japanese indie title, much less one that has already been in Early Access for a while and, finally, is ready to hit the prime time. But the determination is there. It’s time to finally present TOKOYO: Tower of Perpetuity to the world.

The Pixels. the Green Hair. The Japan of it all.

“Greetings, Sharks!”, pipes up the developer. There is no tremor in their voice, for this is the ending goal that they set out for so long ago. “My name is //commentout, and I am seeking $9.99 in exchange for one copy of my new game, TOKOYO. TOKOYO is a procedurally-generated vertical platformer, with pixel art aesthetics and a chiptune soundtrack. As one of a handful of colorful characters, it is your task to ascend to the top of this mysterious tower in one twenty four hour cycle. You can try as many times as you’d like, but, at the end of the day, the tower will reset and regenerate, creating a brand new series of floors and enemies therein. Mixing in light social media elements with some interesting takes on combat, I believe TOKOYO is here to reinvent the daily gaming wheel.” Here, //commentout takes a deep breath: will the final pun land? “So Sharks, who’s ready to rise to the top with TOKOYO?”

Good natured smiles greet this ending, but no laughter, not even from Robert; the joke has went awry.

The important part is that we got here using just a compass and eighteen (now dead) sherpas.

“So, we’ve seen games like this before,” begins Mark Cuban, eager to get the conversation in motion. “From things like Towerfall to Nuclear Throne, daily runs in procedurally-generated games are anything but new. I even put out a game where you play as one of the Mavs on Stadia last year, but it was a procedurally generated dating sim. Logistical nightmare. How does TOKOYO stand apart?”

“Simply put, the lack of combat and directional movement create a different gaming experience,” answers //commentout. “You only have one attack, and it relies on a magic gauge that needs to cooldown after a single use. While each character has a different attack, they all have the same crux: you have to use it sparingly. So, if you decide to fire it off on one floor, you need to really pace yourself before it can be charged up again. Using it too early means you’re vulnerable for the next one or two floors, and you can’t just wait for it to charge up again because an unseen force will attack you if you take too long on a single floor.”

Mark nods, impressed with the succinct answer. It’s certainly different, but he’s still uncertain if it conveys a fun aspect. 

I couldn’t get a snapshot during the actual attack phase because there were too many bullets to dodge.

Barbara puts down the controller, a crease of frustration on her face after running through the demo. “//commentout, I gotta say, this was hard! I kept moving up, and then I wanted to jump back down through a platform, and the dang game wouldn’t let me! Almost every platformer I’ve played in the last thirty years has allowed for the down jump to permit backpedaling when you’ve overstepped. Why the heck wouldn’t you let players move back down easily?”

//commentout turns slightly red: they aren’t used to this level of profanity in a review. “But that’s just it, Barbara. If you make the game too easy, there’s no skill or purpose to be found in the exploration. Sure, if you jumped down through some of the smaller platforms, it would make evasion easier. If a succubus came to shoot you with a love arrow that reversed your controls, or a witch threw a blob that would blind you and limit your vision field, it’d be far easier to jump down than dodge left or right. I wanted that challenge to encourage better skill development, to make players feel like they were getting better.”

Sensing Barbara about to launch into a tirade about Cousins Lobster, Robert quickly jumps in. “I love it. I think the game is phenomenal, and the title, TOKOYO, reminds me of a Ghibli movie. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, and I could not get enough of the chiptune. Did you compose it yourself?”

//commentout nods. “It was created by one of the members of our team, yes. For the sake of this review to be as accurate as possible without leaving someone out, //commentout exists as a singular entity, but we have no idea how many people are on the team. So the answer is yes, but the details are patchy. We also designed the character sprites for the core five characters, but we have collaborated with other creators – streamers, designers, even players – to make new characters that will appear in the future. There is also a character creator that the player can use, but it’s only available in the Steam version.”

Be prepared for a lot of lewd commentaries from the enemies.

This update creates some grumbling: character creators are, by and large, a resource hog that draws away from actual gameplay, and the breaking of the fourth wall in the last answer from //commentout makes the rest of the case seem suspect at best.

Lori smiles brightly, ready to soften bad news by playing up a positive aspect. “//commentout, I love your energy, and I love what you’ve done here. You clearly put in some great social elements with TOKOYO, allowing players to leave comments where they died like it was Dark Souls or Elden Ring. I know you kept it to pre-fabricated comments to keep it simple and to prevent people from leaving lewd messages, and I can appreciate that. Unfortunately, I can literally see no way that I could sell this on QVC, or put it in Bed, Bath and Beyond. I’m sorry, I’m out, but I wish you the best.”

//commentout had seen this coming, and is unsurprised by the turn of events. Quickly, Barbara also goes out, seeing no way to connect this to her childhood in New Jersey. Robert offers exactly what //commentout wants, and //commentout is quick to decline Robert’s offer, lest the bargaining seem weak and far too easy. After all, we wouldn’t want people to think that getting what you ask for is the ultimate goal, now would we?

Two Sharks are left. Mark…and the especially quiet Kevin. Kevin looks around himself and flashes a joyless grin, ready to unload upon the unsuspecting developers.

“You know what I see when I look at TOKOYO? I see an absolute dog of a game in a pretty dress,” Kevin sneers, masking his actual appreciation with a veneer of contempt so that he continues to appear in control. “You’ve got this great artwork and fantastic soundtrack, and for what? So you can go hopping about on a bunch of random platforms, getting shot at by sprites and traps, and then just dying because you missed a single jump? Sure, you can get upgrade equipment to make the game go longer, make your jumps better, and you can restore your health every ten floors or so (plus optionally increase your HP or decrease your magic cooldown), but so what? Pixel Art games are a dime a dozen, and I could walk into any game jam in downtown Los Angeles and play sixteen of them right now. Plus, your title stinks! TOKOYO. It tells me nothing about the replay value!”

“Also, why on God’s green earth is this a loading screen???”

//commentout lets out a single word. “Perpetuity.”

The silence in the Tank is palpable. Kevin has heard a key word in his lifestylings, and the mood suddenly changes.

Perpetuity?” Kevin breathes.

//commentout nods. “The full title of my game is TOKOYO: Tower of Perpetuity. As in continuing forever. Like a royalty. The game builds a new tower every day, and every day we grow it better, more complex, more interesting. We have added so many powerup items since Early Access, and the different approach from the characters means a single use skill has different play styles. Kukuri the fox spirit shoots homing missiles that do low damage but strike anywhere. Shippo’s fire has a long reach but only shoots out in front of her. And everyone has to figure out which powerups work best for them, because the powers stack as you collect, and an additional 3 seconds of invincibility versus four seconds makes all the difference the higher up you get.”

Kevin sits quietly, digesting what he has heard. “Well, that certainly makes things different, now doesn’t it? As you know, I had quite a success in selling software to children, it’s how I built my empire. And now I’m entering into a new realm, Wonderful Gaming, where we can work together with my other projects to make the best gaming possible. Wicked Good Cupcakes is somehow involved, I promise you that. So here’s what I want. You’ve got a Tower of Perpetuity? I want a deal of Perpetuity. I’ll give you the $9.99 Early Access price or $11.99 full release price, but I want a penny from each copy sold forever. I also want three percent of the company, just to keep my interest. We’ll blow this up on social media.”

Oh, and I guess sometimes it turns on a Gameboy filter. Be ready for that.

//commentout doesn’t even give it a second thought. “No. That’s insane. This is an indie game and I’m literally just trying to get it out to the masses. Even at only a penny a copy, that’s a penny less than I can give to my development team, who has worked so hard for over two years, a game we began in the pandemic. I’m sorry, Mr. Wonderful, but I must decline.”

“Good for you!” barks Mark, always happy to see another Shark fail. “You stuck to your guns, and that’s the kind of hustle we like to see out of developers. //commentout, I think you’re just here too early. The game is solid, gameplay is great, the character backstories are hilarious and help to add to the insanity of it all. But you’re missing that wow factor, that moment where players want to dive back in again and again. You need some kind of upgrade system so players feel like they’re making progress through skill and not just luck. I think if you can create permanent upgrades, even minor ones, or at least bring the character creator to the Switch, then players are going to love it even more. I look forward to that day, I’ll definitely buy a copy, but, for now, I’m out.”

//commentout thanks the Sharks and walks out to a good natured chorus of “Good luck!” and “You’re dead to me!” They pause in the backroom away from the Sharks but still speaking to the cameras. “In the end, we stuck to our beliefs and kept the game solid,” //commentout says to no one in particular. “We could have benefited from the social media bump, but the only Perpetuity for TOKOYO should be the gameplay, not paying the man who sold the Reader Rabbit series. In a few years, they’ll see the glorious empire of TOKOYO, and they’ll regret their decision to pass.” //commentout pauses. “Okay, probably not, but it’s a damn good game, and I hope everyone plays it.”

Graphics: 8.0

Well crafted chunky pixels feel excellent in the level design, plus the splash screen artwork is an excellent breakup between runs.

Gameplay: 6.5

While the handling is solid, the execution is very straightforward, and the simplified approach means understanding very quickly. Too quickly.

Sound: 9.0

Simply gorgeous chiptune, well spread with different tracks for different floors to make a total scope of ambience and atmosphere.

Fun Factor: 7.0

Will hook you and keep you for a couple hours, but then you gradually lose steam without some variation to the approach. It becomes a once-a-day game.

Final Verdict: 7.5

TOKOYO: Tower of Perpetuity is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of TOKOYO: Tower of Perpetuity was provided by the publisher.