Toribash is a very silly game. It is also an abstraction of the fighting genre, and somewhat satirical in its high-brow violence and presentation. It can be a bit unsettling when you realize just how comfortably aggressive the game is, but it only takes one match to realize that this somewhat-disturbing level of physical harm is not only abstracted quite beautifully, but it’s also completely ridiculous. It is also one of those games that you never know if you’ve gotten good at, because every time you think you’re getting there, someone else does something cooler-looking and more effective.
The brief tutorial—entitled Fight School—points you in the proper direction before tipping its hat and sauntering off. You manage the movements of the Toris from joint to joint, each of which can extend, contract, relax and hold rigid. What effects these have are displayed via a ghost that enacts what will happen as you make changes. With a basic grasp of how to make your bulbous little man flail about in some semblance of attack, creative ways of doing so start creeping into your head.
The depth of control presented with such simplicity prevents the learning curve from being too insurmountable, even though the unorthodox controls may still remain a barrier for the less resolute. The damage and scoring systems are physics-based, so if you land a solid hit, it’s not uncommon to damage yourself as well, sometimes even breaking off a limb in the impact. Plus, points! The more force you put on more important parts of the opponent’s body, the more points you get. And everyone knows points are good. You want lots of them. A solid kick in the head will launch your score into the tens of thousands immediately. Decapitations and dismemberments are worth even more. It’s uncommon that the scoring system ever actually comes into play. But hey, points.
The single-player is a limited endeavor, simply pitting you against an inanimate enemy for practice or experimentation. Despite the fact that you can control the movements of both Toris, it’s often more enjoyable to simply see what sorts of atrocities you can commit upon the undirected player. In a rather humorous twist on dismemberment, you retain full control over the limbs which have been removed. With the jaw-dropping amount of modifications included, one can find an almost unending source of violent shenanigans. Everything from Jousting to Buster Sword fights on top of buildings is included, and it’s not hard to make your own. There’s an automatic replay-saving function that gives you the option of saving a record of the fight afterward, which is quite handy. The highly stylized visuals make the “blood,” whatever color it may be, stand out on the unending hospital-white floor and sky.
However, the true beauty of Toribash lies in its multiplayer. Upon peeking into the multiplayer server lists, one is greeted by a few dozen servers with initially incomprehensible descriptions and room names, varied rules and mods. Traditional martial arts are the most common, such as Aikido, Judo, and Sambo servers.
The servers are organized so that only two of the players are engaging at once, with the rest spectating. When you join the server, you’re placed at the bottom of the queue to wait while the combatants above you are pitted against each other. Winner stays, loser goes to the end of the line. The tension thickens as you observe the movements of the two current fighters, waiting and watching as you rise in the queue, trying to glean what you can about the different fighters’ tricks, techniques and opening moves. Then you’re finally thrust out into the ring. You extend and contract your joints as quickly as possible, setting up your initial attack. The timer ticks until the moves are executed, your ghost enacting your future movements. The other fighter stands stoically. Staring at you blankly in a vague simulacrum of life, arms outstretched from the shoulders. It waits for its puppeteer to deliver it to victory or defeat.
Suddenly, the two marionettes spring to life, flailing toward one another with terrible intent—arms grasping to rend the opponent before they can do the same. Then, with equal abruptness, everything is frozen once more. The grim timer reappears. Tick, tick, tick. It smirks at you, knowing you’ll never
get everything perfect in time. You inspect the scene, doing your best to prevent your fighter from hitting the mat, trying to keep all his limbs intact. Then the timer hits zero again. The fighters contort and twist, dodging and attacking at once. From among the grunts and inexplicable whooshes comes a terrible ripping sound. One of the bodies goes limp, all of the joints relaxing—including the one that has just been torn off. Either by impact or by simply being wrenched off by your opponent, you’re down one arm.
Your Tori triumphantly finishes the segment, your opponent’s leg firmly in his grasp. Now you are presented with a choice. Since even dismembered joints hitting the mat counts as a loss, you could simply hurl the leg at the ground, or out of the ring, and take the victory. Or, you could hit him in the face with his own bloody leg. This sort of thing goes on until one of you loses or a certain number of turns have gone by. If neither of you have lost by rules, it’s a measure of score.
After the match, the entire thing is replayed at full speed, and it looks absurd. The low levels of gravity and oft-indistinguishable fighters make for a horrible writhing mass of blood and headbutting. It looks ridiculous. After a couple replays, the next match starts.
In the end, Toribash is a game that takes a good bit of getting used to. However, when you accidentally win a match by throwing your own arm at somebody, then you realize that it doesn’t matter how hard it is to learn, because creativity and quick thinking is more important than skill and experience, and that panic and desperation can cause hilarity, and sometimes even victory.