The term 'indie' has been abused over the past 18 months or so. Originally intended for the exclusive use of moustache twiddling hipsters, this was a word used to describe the most independent of endeavours – preferably those programmed by a middle-aged man clad in a Reebok tracksuit, working from the corner of his Mum's kitchen. These days, however, the descriptor has a darker connotation: a digital game that doesn't have a billion dollar budget or an unkempt protagonist with a pistol in his right hand.
We're being facetious, but it's partially true: Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, a title funded by Sony and ushered to market by God of War developer Santa Monica, is considered 'indie' these days. And the same is accurate for titles such as RIME, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and even the upcoming Unravel. But while many of these titles may carry the spirit of what we consider independent, they're not consistent with the true meaning of the term. TorqueL – you saw this one coming, didn't you? – is.
Developed by a team that only its members have heard of, this physics-based puzzle platformer from Japan exudes indie; from its practically non-existent art through to its poorly translated Trophy summaries, everything about this game screams shoe-string budget. But that's not its defining feature; it's not trying to look cheap and cheerful in the hope of earning a spot of screen cred from people in tweed jackets. Instead, this is a game trying to be the best that it can with the resources that it has – and we like that about it.
That said, it's not an especially exciting experience – even if it does have the best intentions. You play as one of the abovementioned hipsters locked inside a box, where all hipsters belong. The cube can be rolled from left-to-right, but in order to overcome obstacles, you'll need to push one of the DualShock 4's famous face buttons, prompting a platform to protrude out of the box. Doing this gives you height, and by pushing multiple buttons at once you can create makeshift bridges and more. You'll need to be a contortionist, of course, but that's sort of the point.
The first few levels – or chambers – are fairly easy to navigate, but the difficulty soon spikes with the inclusion of hazardous red blocks and waterfalls which pull your box all over the place. The objective is simply to get to the exit in each arena, although some do have multiple escapes which alter your route through the title's 50 levels. You're constantly working against a timer, so there's incentive to practice your cube controlling skills and get quicker – but that's honestly all that there is to the title. There's beauty in brevity, they say.
But beauty is also in the eye of the beholder – and we're not convinced that there's a whole lot of splendour to see here. We can get past the rudimentary presentation – which has the colour palette of an 8-bit era release – but the gameplay is something of a one-trick pony. Moreover, rolling the cube makes it difficult to determine which button you should be pressing to expand the size of your square – even if it is colour coded as part of a fruitless attempt to make things easier to wrap your head around.
The other problem is that, despite being a game where you'll die with more frequency than a family of rodents trying to infiltrate a rat poison manufacturing facility, it takes a long time to retry. We've timed this, and you're looking at approximately a 4.76 second delay between each run, which may sound miniscule, but is beyond frustrating when you're on your 52nd attempt. The music – which responds to your movements like an old record on a turntable – at least eases the irritation of waiting to re-attempt a level, but the title would still benefit from swifter restarts.
As alluded earlier, there are multiple routes that you can employ, with the end goal clearly being to add replay value to the experience. But the core loop is just not good enough to encourage that, and once you've slogged through to the credits once, you'll have probably had enough. This wouldn't be so bad if the title carried a cheap and cheerful price point, but it's a little too steep for what you get – especially in Europe, where it appears to be struck by the non-American tax that is so prevalent in this day and age.
There's an endearing independent spirit to TorqueL which will make you want to see it succeed, but the title turns out to be a bit of a one-trick pony with a handful of frustrations to boot. A quick restart button and a better control scheme could have improved the game dramatically, while a fairer price point would have made it easier to recommend.