Defeat a giant monster, make a girl eat its flesh, rinse, and repeat.
The opening moments of Pandora's Tower, the last of the fabled Operation Rainfall games to come to America, set the tone for the entire game. During a ceremony, monsters curse the teenage Elena and turn her into a beast. Shortly after her resulting rampage, the player character, a young man named Aeron, finds her. With the help of a disturbing merchant named Mavda, who carries what might be her dead (?) husband on her back, you try to break the curse.
The manner in which you break the curse is the premise of the entire game. By journeying through 13 towers filled with combat and puzzles, you defeat bosses that give you crucial pieces of Master Flesh that the vegetarian Elena must eat so she can avoid transforming into a disgusting beast permanently and eventually reverse the curse. Pandora's Tower features a lengthy backstory that explains the fabled curse, but for the most part, it is centered on Aeron being a dutiful hero, Elena being a whiny girl with a terrible fate, and Mavda being super creepy but often helpful. This is not a world-spanning quest; this is a personal story about a boy and a girl.
The towers are fun dungeons with enemies and environmental obstacles. Primarily, you fight and maneuver through them by using a magical chain, which has multiple uses. You can use the chain to bind enemies, making it easier for you to slash them with your sword, or use it to throw them around the room or remove vital items from their dead corpses. In other areas, usually bosses and puzzles, the chain is used in more depth, whether you're playing tug-of-war with a boss or tweaking the chain to unlock a door. Unfortunately, the 13 towers repeat themselves part way through, with the threadbare excuse of some representing the male god and others representing the opposite yet similar female god.
The unique towers have interesting art direction, but the execution of that is poor. Some parts, primarily the three main character models, look great, but the enemies and the world around you are muddled and rough. Throw in a lackluster frame rate and Pandora's Tower is more often unimpressive than remarkable.
Early on, you can usually complete towers in one go, but as you progress, you need to be smart about how you go through towers, as there is a constant time limit. Wait too long, and Elena turns into a beast forever and the game ends. You have to return at different junctures to feed her beast flesh, making her temporarily revert back to normal.
Your relationship with Elena is a crucial part of the game. If you give her gifts and talk to her, your relationship becomes stronger, which can lead to beneficial items and elongated tower time limits. If you constantly let her go deep into her beastly transformation, then your relationship with her worsens, negating those bonuses.
While the towers can often be nerve wracking, the Shadow of the Colossus-esque bosses are tense, entertaining affairs and a just reward for getting through each tower with time to spare. While the comparison to Team Ico's classic isn't quite on the nose (the bosses are less daunting and impressive), they are still fun struggles to slaughter increasingly powerful beings to save your love.
While I played the game primarily with the Classic Controller Pro, it seems more geared for the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. You aim the chain by using a cursor on the screen, which is better suited to the pointer instead of the second analog stick on the Classic Controller. Likewise, yanking out the flesh from enemies is done with a gratuitous flick on the Wii Remote. The Classic Controller is by no means bad (the only real drawback is that the cursor aiming is a bit clunky) but the Wii Remote and Nunchuk is definitely the way to go.
In some respects, Pandora's Tower shares similarities with Shadow of the Colossus, and while it doesn't ascend to the high barometer of that game, it is worthy of the comparison. Pandora's Tower's greatest triumph is its off-kilter story and premise, but the gameplay backing it up, which is a fusion of Zelda, Castlevania, and the aforementioned Colossus, is still strong. If you can put up with some technical limitations and have the stomach to see a crying vegetarian teenager eat grisly beast flesh, this parting Wii salvo is definitely worthwhile.