There are literally thousands of flash games about bull riding and fighting, but bulls, aside from the notoriously terrible Top Hand Rodeo, have never really been front and centre through any sort of dedicated game development. Perhaps this is because bull fighting itself is a highly contentious topic as some people believe it to be a quintessential expression of culture while others consider it a vile blood sport.
Whatever the objective reality is, there is undoubtedly an, albeit small, untapped market that exists for this sub-genre. Enter Reco Technology’s Toro with its true to the spectacle portrayal of bull fighting minus the blood and gore. This simulator, across 24 career events alongside a few additional game modes, seeks to educate and entertain players through the majesty of the matador’s craft. However, due to the gameplay lacking a clear direction, the title consisting of unengaging game modes and it featuring a poor presentation, the innovative, clever and sometimes enjoyable rhythm based gameplay within this unique intellectual property (IP) is ultimately not enough to justify Toro’s somewhat lofty price tag.
Each of the aforementioned career events, with the exception of the training missions, follow the same structure as players progress through both historical and present day bullrings while preforming in increasingly impressive arenas for ever growing crowds. The gameplay itself begins with a three minute round where players, using any combination of their four self-selected stylish passes that all require different timings to be executed safely, need to taunt and outmaneuver that location’s particular bull. Once completed, players enter the Banderilla Stage which consists of a far too easily accomplished quick time event (QTE) that leads into the final three minute round.
This last round, the Death Stage, has players, now using a different cape and passes, wear down the bull even more and then subsequently end the event with an abrupt and mostly off-screen QTE death of the bull. Players additionally, throughout the entire event, have to manage the bull’s rage meter which, when filled, causes an odd, but appealing visual transition to a different point of view to occur as the bull desperately attempts to gore the player through yet another set of QTEs. Mastering the game and its simple controls is not difficult in any way and thus a player’s skill is shown in being able to complete the assigned challenges while simultaneously entertaining the fickle crowd by using the various passes in quick combos as an enraged bull charges at the player at an ever increasingly pace.
Without a proper story each event, despite there being a Fame Level System tying everything together and dispensing the plethora of unlockables as players progress through the approximately six hour career mode, feels disconnected to one another. Sure you level up your fame and unlock new customization options for your created character, bullrings, passes, concept art and subsequently are able to perform in larger arenas, but each event almost feels exactly the same with the only difference being that players can now receive a higher score due to unlocking a more impressive move. This issue of direction plagues career from the onset as even the instructions given in the training levels are ambiguous as “get to a safe distance” wants you to move closer to the bull rather than away from it.
Even the various moves players unlock, despite featuring a description of its history and use, lack instructions as to when, positionally, it can be used successfully resulting in players having to endure unnecessarily frustrating trial and error gameplay just to figure out what they unlocked before even thinking about how to best utilize it in combos and the like. All of this is not to say that Toro is terrible, but rather that it can be an incredibly disengaging experience despite some fun moves and a decent combo system alongside some well-made rhythm mechanics.
Unfortunately the other available game modes only stand to further exacerbate the issue of Toro having a lack of an engaging purpose and direction as joining the career mode is a wonderfully customizable, but uninviting quick game option, a mostly unnecessary training mode and two extremely poor minigames. The better of the two is the twenty-five second long Bull Runner Throw where players, as the bull, gore a ragdolled matador consequently launching him 60 or 70 metres away.
The other minigame is the nauseating Obstacle Course complete with a shaking screen as players run through an endless set of identical corridors by pressing a single random face button to break through each door until they don’t. There is also a gallery in which to explore unlockables and it provides some interesting information about the various bullrings included in the game, but due to inconsistent paragraph spacing across the various entries along with a prominent background emblem on all the text panels, some of the descriptions are nearly illegible. Although it is not really a major issue, it combined with the aforementioned repetitiveness, poor game modes, occasional hit detection issues and a glitched achievement all make it even harder for gamers to be able to fully embrace this title.
And all he wanted to do was stand there and watch the grass grow.
Unsurprisingly, the game disappoints graphically on several levels as well. Obviously the designers wanted to present a truthful depiction of bull fighting without the blood and gore, but ended up with an awkward not quite ragdoll like collapsing of the matador whenever he gets “gored” by the bull. Furthermore, although the game features a decent skyline, stylish cape animations, a clean onscreen interphase and noticeably well done shadow effects, the rest of the area feels off, especially when it comes to the crowd. Essentially by having a few 3D sprites intermixed with a sea of 2D characters, the crowd comes across as creepy making the starting levels, where only a few onlookers are present, a more believable and enjoyable environment than any of the hugely populated later levels.
The audio is even worse as despite solid menu music, the in-game sound is inconsistent and off-putting as the crowd doesn’t even applaud believably with sound levels jumping to the extreme and back again with no chatter or real buildup occurring either way. Even filling the audience approval meter feels underwhelming and leaves players to learn to enjoy the comical half grunt taunt of their character, the galloping feet of the bull and the weird thud that a gored matador makes as he collapses on the ground consequently making this one of those few games that is arguably easier to engage with when the sound is muted.
Ultimately, Toro is a game that could have been a whole lot more than it is, but what makes moments of it enjoyable is far too often underemphasized and overshadowed by a lack of direction, unengaging game modes and a poor presentation. It is an original IP where some fun can be found, but the asking price for what it is is as disconnected from reality as this game is from itself.