Review by TheSpelunker
The ancient Babylonians built a tower to reach God himself. Then filled it with neat time-wasting puzzles.
Somehow I don't quite think Nebuchadnezzar the Second had this '86 Famicom game in mind when he ordered the Tower of Babel's construction, but I suppose he would enjoy it anyhow. Tower of Babel (ToB) is a mind-bendingly long and challenging Japanese puzzle game. In it you control a sprite almost as pimpish as Castlequest's (he doesn't have the pink going on, but still has a feather in his hat,) and need to build stairways out of blocks to reach the level exit, which hangs somewhere in mid-air. Along the way monsters will sometimes try to stop you, and you also have a move limit to contend with, though it can be replenished. ToB is probably only finishable by puzzle-solving vets, but it can be fun at intervals for people who just like to think.
Blocks are composed of three "grid" squares. One forms the base of the block, and the other two squares extend horizontally and vertically, forming the shape of a shortened capital "L" with symmetry. Blocks can face either left or right, and if aligned diagonally by your character, in mid-air, with another block facing in the same direction, can stack. In other words, if you try to form what looks like a staircase with blocks, it will -become- a staircase. But there are stipulations. Your player cannot lift blocks which have others blocks on top of them (diagonally connected stairway blocks don't count, and you can actually collapse stairways by lifting the only grounded block,) and many blocks are on entirely different levels than you start on. The game itself takes place in a side-view which scrolls vertically, and there are often multiple tiers with blocks on them. Your character will frequently have to climb vines, or even build accessory block stairways, to reach these tiers. Trouble is, any blocks he finds up there can only be *dropped* to a lower level. If he tries to carry a block from any height greater than one "grid" square, he gets squashed by the momentum of the block landing on his head. He'll get to keep his provocative feather cap if this happens, but unfortunately he'll have to give up one of three lives.
Another way he can die is by fully expending his move limit. This is called energy in the ROM translation. It decreases by one point every time a block is lifted, and when it reaches zero, it's over. But there are various energy vases which appear, and these restore energy by one point when collected. In levels where extensive energy is necessary, vases often appear on timed cycles. Otherwise they're revealed underneath certain blocks when you lift them up. This all has the neat effect of encouraging forethought over trial and error, as most levels won't force you to collect vases if you don't lift unnecessary blocks in the first place. And the waiting around for vases does get tedious.
But the game doesn't always allow idling either. Of course you can always pause to plot your strategy, but if you find yourself waiting around for vases to replenish your energy, chances are you're on a level where there aren't any monsters, or where you've already trapped or killed the monsters. Because monsters can kill you very very quickly. There are bats which bounce around erratically, golems which patrol ledges and hurl blocks off the side, and most disconcertingly witches who descend from the sky with umbrellas. Your best bet with the first two is to kill them by dropping a block on their heads, but witches require a bit more work. You can kill them, yes, but they come back--sort-of like the Wicked Witch of the West, except without the annoying theme song (although ToB has an annoying theme song of its own.) Your best bet is to trap them, which can be done easily enough with the right set-up--simply two blocks spaced apart with the stair-side facing away from each other.
But however simple all of this may sound, it is, however, not. ToB quickly puts you in a cerebral tailspin with some of its masterfully deceptive puzzles. What initially seems to be the solution to a level may be a red herring, or conversely you may overlook an easy solution that originally seemed too brazen to be real. I've fallen prey to both, and the time does add up. This is why I guess the game is only solvable by grizzled puzzler veterans. Solving puzzles takes raw time and thought, and with a two-sided 64-floor tower, that's a lot time and thought. Bungling about won't get you too far. However, I suppose that, on another level, players just wanting to pop in and pop out with a quick brain-crunch could find ToB enjoyable in a pinch. There's even a password for every level of the tower, which will allow you to come back to it whenever you want.
All in all, the strategy seems wholesome at every juncture. As far as I got--three quarters up the first side of the tower, and I saw a demo for the second side--I found there was a reason for having so many puzzles, because the creators really do have a lot of neat ideas to throw around. It's also cool how you're introduced to various strategies at intervals--i.e. late in the game, you have to lift the block connecting a pile of jumbled blocks to a ledge, and replace it just in time to save the blocks you really want from falling (I've mentioned how blocks form stairways,) or earlier you need to build towers of blocks to land on from a higher platform. But more importantly, the introduction of new solutions is methodical and not haphazard, which might even seem surprisingly clean for a game this large. As always there's the thought that maybe some of these puzzles could've been compacted into something more succinct and accessible to newbies, but unless you're the type of person who goes nuts if he or she doesn't solve a game, this probably won't bother you. ToB can easily be picked up or put down. The only thing holding it back is perhaps a relative lack of variation.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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