These kinds of reviews are always the least fun to write. A game that’s good is always enjoyable to write about when you can fondly remember your time with a game and gush about its quality; a game that’s bad is always fun to tear apart. But a game that’s bad, not through a lack of trying is never fun to review because it puts you in a weird place where you have to tear it apart, but you can see where genuine quality could have existed. And that’s Troll and I—yet another game with a lot of good ideas, but terrible execution.
The first place Troll and I slips up is its story. It’s your basic 80’s movie premise: there’s a Troll hanging out in the mountains of Scandinavia, there are some bad guys who want it for reasons, while at the same time evil beings known as the “Ahky” are emerging from the earth, also for reasons. Players take control of Otto, a young boy who lives in a small farming community who gets caught up in an adventure when the bad guys destroy his town and he is rescued by the titular Troll.
There’s nothing wrong with the story, per say, but it’s so poorly told in almost every facet. The cinematics lack any production value, and are often janky and impetuous which isn’t helped by every cut scene maintaining gameplay graphics like some low-quality PS2 game. Even the initial reveal of the Troll is totally unceremonious with no build-up or intrigue to him as a character or even a being. Voice acting is stiff and blandly delivered with almost everyone sounding completely bored with what their reading. Troll and I had the chance to emulate the fun and wonder of some of the better “boy and his monster” movies of the 80’s and it fumbles at every turn.
Gameplay is equally poor. While playing as Otto, the game attempts to take on survival elements as he must forage for food and materials using a combination of stealth and strategy to face the Ahky and human threats. But everything about this gameplay pales in comparison to every better example the game is trying to emulate. Attempting to track animals or enemies requires players to sit and hold X for five seconds EVERY TIME, and even then it tries for a “Witcher Sense” aesthetic turning everything monochrome to reveal key information except things like forgeable items or tracks are also highlighted white, which makes them impossible to see in any kind of foliage. Stealth is also completely pointless since no ranged weapon takes out an Ahky in one hit so cover is always blown almost immediately, and CQC is a complete joke of button mashing and dodging into enemy attacks.
Playing as the Troll fairs only a bit better as controlling a giant who can punch enemies into a pile of goo is pretty satisfying, but it’s ruined by partner management that Game Overs whenever one character goes down, and painfully obvious “puzzle” sections that usually revolve around Otto not being able to clear a gap and the Troll providing some kind of platform. But playing as the Troll almost always takes a backseat to Otto as so much of the game is built around tedious and painfully obviously laid-out, Uncharted-style platforming and “sneaking” through smaller areas. It really never feels like these two are working together in any meaningful way.
Troll and I also sports local co-op, but I can’t imagine anyone would want to play it or even enjoy it, as whoever is controlling the Troll will spend the majority of their time waiting for whomever is playing as Otto to run/sneak around the level.
If tedious game designs weren’t bad enough, Troll and I is pretty ugly too. Character models never exceed past PS2 level graphics. The Troll himself looking odd and ridiculous with his Troll-Doll face and Sasquatch body. The bigger Ahky look like the Orcs from Lord of the Rings while the smaller ones somehow look even more stupid than the goblins from Troll 2. Environments are bland and the draw distance is pathetic; players should get used to watching the grass grow as they walk towards it. The choice of a “realistic” aesthetic doesn’t suit the fantasy elements of the game, had they gone with a style akin to The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker, it would have added much to the fantasy tones this game is trying to achieve.
The biggest thing Troll and I suffers from is an overall lack of presentation. There are so many small things that reduce the game’s quality, like how close the camera stays fixed to the characters, or how characters automatically move to wherever they’re facing; the way the crosshairs sway with Otto’s movement while aiming for no good reason, the recycling of voice and sound clips during jumping or climbing smack of a game that is trying to be Uncharted, The Witcher 3, Army of Two, and Far Cry and failing at every turn.
It breaks my heart, it really does, to bring the hammer down so hard on Troll and I, because you can see where a lot of good ideas are buried under terrible game design. I wish I could be more kind to this game, considering it’s an indie title with big ambition, but considering Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out only a few weeks ago, and how similar Troll and I is trying to be to those games, there’s really no excusing it.