There’s a certain look and feel that Super Nintendo games had that gets me like no other games do. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly, but I think it was a combination of soft-edged sprites and synth woodwind soundtrack that gave a lot of titles a deep, otherworldly feel. TowerClimb somehow manages to evoke that same sense of depth and wonder while relentlessly murdering me again and again in the most delightful ways.
Part of the unique feel of TowerClimb comes from the mysterious, parable-like setup for the game. There are immense stone towers, people keep trying to climb them, and no one knows what’s at the top. You control a never-ending series of unfortunates who challenge the tower, mantling up through floor after deadly floor. It plays a lot like a reverse Spelunky, with your character able to run, jump, scale walls, and crawl along ceilings in search of the exit high above. In place of treasure are tools like crates and springs, and golden berries that can be traded for potions that let you double-jump, break blocks, and teleport.
You’re going to need every move and tool at your disposal, though, because the levels in TowerClimb are bizarre and merciless. Sometimes you’ll enter a level and it’ll start filling with lava. Sometimes everything will be coated in acid. Sometimes carnivorous worms burst from the walls. And sometimes there are pleasant, floaty dandelion-things to ride… straight into the jaws of a bloodthirsty hound. Even if the level gimmick isn’t out for your hide, the random generation might very well give you an improbable network of tricky jumps to the exit, far worse than anything you may have encountered in the likes of Spelunky. I’m not kidding about the challenge here, and if not for all the neat things to find and entertaining ways to die, it might not be worth overcoming.
But there is indeed a lot to discover in the tower, and the pixellated graphics make experimentation essential to figuring out what you’re encountering. Enemies may get the best of you the first time you meet them, in part because they can be very unpredictable but mainly because you might not know what they are at first. You’ll run into all manner of plants and animals, NPCs, chests, shortcuts, and more among the randomly-generated floors. Navigating is always challenging given some of the layouts, but your control over your character is very precise and allows for masterful moves once you fully grok the mantling.
It’s hard and you’re going to die a ton, but TowerClimb makes it look so good you’ll hardly mind. The graphics remind me very much of the old SNES Lemmings port, with chunky detail and silky-smooth animations and bizarre, impossible terrains. Sound design is also excellent, with some very detailed effects and a soundtrack reminiscent of ancient titles like Soul Blazer and Super Metroid in parts. The unexpected nostalgia rush definitely colors my view but make no mistake, TowerClimb is a tight, challenging roguelike platformer with plenty of wonders to offer.