Growing up, Bioshock played a pivotal role in shaping my taste in video games. It goes without saying that a game that advertises itself as “Bioshock meets Willy Wonka” would get me and many others hyped. Well, ladies and gentlemen, Twisted Tower is gunning to be just that game, and after getting to see some gameplay, I’m excited. The dark atmosphere, haunting story, and visceral combat with devious enemies has won me over.
The year is 1922, and you play as Tiny Martin, an 18-year-old who’s looking to impress his high school sweetheart, Charlotte. Luckily enough, Tiny found one of 13 velvet tickets that grant access to the Twisted Tower, a dangerous game show run by the ominous toy maker, Mister Twister. If you can make it to the top of the tower, then you win millions of dollars. However, there’s plenty of deranged employees at Mr. Twister’s beckon call. It also happens to be Charlotte’s favorite show, which in my eyes is a bit of a red flag, but hey, to each their own.
The very start of the game has you dropped off by boat on a foggy island, the Twisted Tower looming as massive sections of the building turn like clockwork. The opening introduces you to levers, your main means of manipulating the tower. As you ascend, the levers grant you more control; you’ll be able to move stairs, open doors, and even shift entire rooms. The camera will pan to what has been changed, a nice touch. After you pull your first lever, you can enter the tower, and the game show begins.
The levels are divided into floors, each of which has its own theme. The main floor is inspired by the hotels at Disney Parks. However, it’s not nearly as comforting as Disney. Millionaires in masquerades are betting on which contestants will survive, cameras are scattered about to record your performance, and unnerving posters read, “We’re watching you.”
The enemies match the theme of each level, so for the first level, you’re fighting hotel employees with knives and creepy masks. They remind me of Bioshock’s splicers but they’re somehow even more deranged. I chalk it up to the borderline feral noises they make as they attack. You will also run into a metric ton of spiders as if to imply the hotel is run down. If you have arachnophobia, then brace yourself. There’s also my favorite enemy: the horrific Teletubby-esque humanoids with bone-white faces, sunken black eyes seeping blood, and long black claws. Did I mention they have firearms? Because they have firearms. I won’t soon forget the image of one standing alone in the dark, just staring with it’s snaggletooth grin.
The Willy Wonka and Bioshock influences become apparent as you play, in the place of a jovial chocolatier or an endeavoring entrepreneur, it’s a deranged toy maker. Instead of a horrifying underwater allegory for anarcho-capitalism, it’s some guy trying to impress his high school sweetheart.
The core gameplay loop involves solving puzzles and killing enemies in order to obtain a keycard which you use to ascend via elevator to the next level. Putting barrels on pressure plates and pressing color-coded buttons that must be activated in the right order are two types of puzzles I saw. There are also various choices to make as you proceed through the tower. Special doors in sets of two mean you can only go down one path as the other permanently locks you out. You have to replay the game to go through the other door. Some places might even have doors behind doors. This way, if you watch a streamer or friend play Twisted Tower, then you can still have your own experience. There are 15 floors total, one of which is the lobby, which you will return to after every chapter (3 floors) to gain new abilities.
The Devs at Atmos didn’t believe that procedural generation would work for this game; they want you to be able to memorize the tower. However, before you speedrunners out there get too excited, there are places with walls that change, so some hallways will be different between playthroughs to spice things up.
The combat is in an early state, but it still looks and sounds satisfying. This is where the homage to early 2000s shooters comes into play. Jack had his wrench and Gordon had his crowbar. Well, Tiny has his own signature melee weapon, a Twisted Tower branded axe. Your choices for attack are a simple swing or a charged swing. You also unlock guns as you progress. Combat with enemies is a downright visceral experience on account of the gore and ragdoll physics. Finishing off an enemy only to have chunks of them fly in different directions with a sloshy wet noise is genuinely disgusting in the best possible way. Throughout the tower, there will be concession stands to resupply on health and ammo, funded generously by the enemies whom you’ve slayed and looted. The Disney theme is once again present here, with the healing items being theme park foods like ice cream.
While the combat is nice, the dev’s main focus is on the atmosphere and story, allowing the player to soak in the details of the fantastic tower. Players can pick up the towels, throw the bottles, and pop the balloons. If it’s in the environment, there’s a good chance you can directly interact with it. Developer Thomas Brush said he wanted such fine detail because he loves cutting the grass in Hollow Knight. Of course, there are also some pretty grand setpieces like a massive shifting stairway, with plenty of art deco of course. They even incorporate real 1920s music that’s in the public domain. Overall, they’re going for a 1920s, storm clouds overhead kind of vibe, and they’re nailing it.
The story is also quite intriguing, and although Tiny is a silent protagonist, Mr. Twister does enough talking for both of them. The further you progress, the more you notice the cameras tracking you. You’re ALWAYS being watched, and Mr. Twister seems damn near omniscient given all he knows about you. He’ll pray on Tiny’s wants and fears with his near-limitless knowledge. It’s eerie to hear him go from cheering to jeering throughout the game. I’m quite excited for this game’s release, and to learn more about this world. Why is the gameshow socially acceptable? What’s so dangerous about the ninth floor? What happened to the other contestants?
It’s pretty clear that the devs at Atmos Games have a solid game philosophy locked in. With gorey combat, an intriguing story, and a palpable 1920s atmosphere that pays close attention to detail, I honestly can’t wait to unravel the secrets of the tower, Mr. Twister, and Tiny Martin. Twisted Tower will be out in 2024.