The Tone Rebellion

As surreal a strategy game as you can get.

It’s just as hard to dismiss as it is to enjoy The Tone Rebellion considering the amount of depth behind it. Like Tolkien, the designers conceptualized not just a story, but an entire fantasy world with its own rules and principles.

1As the manual describes, the essence of life is Tone. Everything in the game derives directly or indirectly from this cosmic libation. Players begin on a planetary fragment, constructing the necessary buildings and stockpiling resources. Littered on these landscapes are pools of Tone (think of them as ingrown Tone ales). These pools are tapped by the various available devices for construction, magic, or the creation of crystal Tone. An excess of Tone eventually outputs floaters, who do manual labor and can be converted into fighters and wizards.

Obtaining a key for each (here’s a tricky one) bridge opens up new planet fragments to explore and colonize. Surreal backdrops give each newly discovered landscape a unique theme. Menu screens and information panels offer a polished look, with all the basic functions – once they’re deciphered – readily available. The Tone Rebellion shines as an unparalleled artistic achievement. The musical score and ambient background chords hit the bulls-eye, creating a perfect mood from the orbital harmonics. Only Star Control 2 did a better job making the science fiction setting feel downright creepy.

Folks who play on the easiest mode will miss some of the elements that render this game without a quantifiable genre to attach it to. A tide counter ebbs and flows, cyclically modifying the strength of each race. All four races control vastly different spell types. The game dictates an unusual conservation edict whereby the need to manage, not just spit out, resources governs success or failure.

4Unlike other strategy games, expansion only occurs horizontally. Opening up new sections of landscape requires the construction of Tone Spreaders near the edge of the current view screen. Enemy beasts tend to hover just beyond the visible portion of the map, pelting your creatures and wreaking havoc on your constructions. Floaters don’t give enough information about their current activity when clicked on. Buildings of the same type offer no clues about their whereabouts; rather, they have a colored dot above their icon. This makes telling remote buildings and floaters apart a nightmare.

To sum up, The Tone Rebellion is bizarre to the extreme, yet oddly charming at the same time. Play it for five minutes and you’ll hate it. Comb through the manual and commit to it for five hours and you might grow to enjoy its company.

System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win95

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