While watching Mrs. Doubtfire in the theater with his daughter, Al noticed that the laughter coming from the audience came in two pitches, the children laughing at the slapstick, and the parents laughing at the more adult-oriented jokes kids wouldn't get. This gave him the idea to create a more family-friendly game with humor suitable for both younger and older players, and thus Torin's Passage was born.
The plot centers around Torin, the son of farmers living on the planet of Strata, which is comprised of different nested worlds, each one inside the other. Torin lives on the surface of Strata, but when his parents are kidnapped by the sorceress Lycentia, Torin must journey to the "Lands Below" in order to rescue them.
Torin's quest takes him deeper and deeper into Strata, through a series of bizarre worlds, until he uncovers the truth about his family and about his story.
The game provides examples of the following tropes:
- All of the Other Reindeer: The princess of the world Escarpa is well-known for her hideous deformities, which attracted a lot of teasing in her youth. However, by human standards, she's incredibly hot.
- Batman Gambit: Part of Pecand's scheme to convince Torin to go after Lycentia was mentioning that she had been banished to the Lands Below, exploiting Torin's Fantastic Racism.
- Big Bad: Lycentia, the Evil Sorceress who kidnaps Torin's parents. Except she was trying to save Torin from his Evil Uncle Prince Pecand.
- The Brute: Dreep, Lycentia's pet/minion. He's a big blue furry ogre with nothing on his mind but loyalty and appetite.
- Captain Ersatz: Bags Bunny.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Half of Strata's population, really. But special honors go to the gatekeeper in the Lands Above, who thinks nothing of spending ten years in "heavy traffic" and demands a meal based entirely on puns.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Torin vs. Pecand. Right until the latter stops trying to outfight an athletic guy a third his age, and opts for something trickier.
- Damned by Faint Praise: Everyone Torin asks to describe the daughter of King Rupert tells him uneasily that "she's... got a great personality."
- Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Due to the game's family-oriented nature, this game is much less punishing on death compared to other Sierra games — while you are able to die in this game, once you click "Oops" on the resulting prompt window, the game will rewind you right back to before you messed up.
- Disney Villain Death: After Lycentia casts her green-crystal-trap spell on Pecand, he falls into the Null Void.
- Dom Com: Parodied in the Bitternuts, a family of squat grayscale people Torin meets in Escarpa. Canned laughter punctuates their every sentence, but they don't seem to mind.
- Do Not Spoil This Ending: The Easter Egg at the end asks you not to spoil its nature — just to tease your friends by telling them, "Why, I got a personal message from Al Lowe at the end. Didn't you?"
- Easter Egg
- If you make a certain fatally stupid choice at the very end of the game, instead of a proper death message, you hear a personal message from Al Lowe, who is pleased to see that someone shares his sense of humor.
- By standing in front of the stage curtains of the Tenebrous theater, you will hear various songs from other Sierra games being performed, including Girl in the Tower, Cell Block Love, Leisure Suit Larry's theme, Consumite Furore, and The Ballad of Freddy Pharkas.
- Fantastic Racism: The natives of the Lands Above (including Torin, at first) have an extremely poor opinion of natives of the Lands Below. Torin gets better when he actually visits the Lands Below and meets the natives.
- Felony Misdemeanor: Step on a daisy in Tenebrous, and you're looking at five to ten. Justified in that, while Torin is from the lush Lands Above, Tenebrous lies inside a magma-spouting death planet four layers down. So flora are understandably prized.
- Get into Jail Free: Torin's gambit to get into the Null Void was basically this. He knew that that was where Lycentia was, and that he would be sent there too if he violated his probation in Tenebrous.
- Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress: When Torin is crawling through the air vent above Tenebrous proper.
- Guide Dang It!: There's an in-game hint system, but the hints aren't always that useful.
- When you have to find that damn wrench, the in-game hint mentions that there's a gleaming object somewhere on the screen. That's it. No suggestion as to where on the screen, naturally. Oh, and the "screen" in question is really an area about three times as wide as a typical room. To make matters worse, the gleam isn't the only moving object in view - splashing lava and popping bubbles can easily draw the player's eye away from the target.
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Torin's performance at the Amphitheatre is so legendarily awful that it gets him exiled.
- Lame Rhyme Dodge: The Queen of the Escarpa, Di, often quips sarcastically and harshly to her husband Rupert. Each time, the king assumes he has misheard his wife and asks her to speak up (this time with his full attention on her), to which she almost always replies in a softer and more supportive manner in a manner that rhymes with her previous quip. He instantly believes her every time.King Rupert: Di, my dear? Why don't you give this boy (Torin) a piece of your jewelry? That way, Leena (their missing daughter whom they wish Torin to find) will know that he represents us?
Queen Di: (Sullen voice) Oh brother, aren't you right in his pocket?
King Rupert: What was that?
Queen Di: (Chipper supportive voice) I said, "Tell her, mother send her this locket."
King Rupert: Oh yes. Good idea!
- Layered World: The entire planet of Strata is a series of Russian-doll like worlds.
- Le Parkour: Dorky as he is, Torin has some pretty amazing acrobatic skills. He can swing, leap and shimmy his way past just about anything. Emphasized on the central tree in the Lands Above.
- Lilliputians: The Pergolans, inhabitants of the third layer down of Strata.
- Light and Mirrors Puzzle: To open the portal out of Asthenia. The door switch is a perforated stone tablet filled with laser-bending crystal shards, which must be rearranged to light up a magic gem.
- Listing the Forms of Degenerates: The guardsman warns Torin that "the Lands Below are full of nutsos. Malcontents. Psychos! Politicians."
- Love at First Sight: Most of the adventure on Pergola is focused on Torin and Leenah falling for each other like bricks.
- Manipulative Editing: Third to last puzzle in the game. Luckily, the recording in question is stored on a crystal shard (like everything else in the game), which accidentally gets smashed into fragments. So you don't need to think too hard about what you can make with it.
- Magically Binding Contract: Lycentia cannot return to the Lands Above, lest the magical collar around her neck choke her to death, which it almost does anyway. All that weight she put on during her exile probably doesn't help...
- Miscarriage of Justice: Lycentia was trying to save Torin from Pecand, and is wrongfully accused of murdering the royal couple. The judge couldn't find enough evidence to convict her of murder, but he had quite enough to convict her of kidnapping Torin and banish her to the Lands Below in the backstory.
- Moon Logic: Many of the puzzles in the game are unfairly difficult and require backwards logic to solve.
- Moses in the Bulrushes: Torin is oblivious that the farmers who raised him aren't his real parents.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Boogle. We don't really know what he is, except that he can shapeshift and that he's a lot less destructible than Torin.
- Overly Long Scream: Torin, when he falls down into Tenebrous. He has to take a couple of breaths to keep going.
- And in two possible deaths in which he falls a long distance, he does a similar Overly Long Scream, but punctuated by collisions.
- Parental Bonus: See Shout-Out; Al Lowe intentionally filled the game with tons of references only the adults would get to keep them entertained. In addition to that, there's plenty of other jokes that kids might not immediately catch onto, like the fact that the center of the Earth is called the "Null Void".
- Pixel Hunt: There is a maze leading to a machine that cannot be activated without a wrench. The wrench is located back in the maze, on a completely different path. It's also invisible, except for a gleam every several seconds that's only a few pixels in size. So you won't even know the general location without a lucky glance.
- One world also opens with you revealing the control panel to a door. Said panel has a button on it that isn't made obvious at all and its hotspot is downright microscopic. You'd be forgiven for having to be told by the hint system that it was there.
- In a later puzzle, you have to climb a slippery slope by clicking on the safe spots. The grass tells you if you're hovering over the right spot, but it's still very easy to miss the safe areas. The worst part would be the audio clues. Apparently, grass can't play Hot and Cold, so it just pipes out various incredibly irritating forms of "yes" or "no".Grass: Noooo. No way! Somewhere else... Not here! Negatory. Okay!! Noooo...
- Power Crystal: Almost everything in the various worlds of Strata is powered or activated by crystals. Most notable are the Phenocrysts, colossal gems that serve as magic portals between the layers of Strata.
- Reverse Psychology: Pecand uses this to convince Torin to go after Lycentia.
- Rule of Funny: Apparently one of Boogle's abilities.Torin: Boogle! You mean this whole time, you could've walked right out on that bog?
Torin: "Only when it's funny", huh? I'll "only when it's funny" you!
- Scenery Porn: Some of the environments in this game are absolutely gorgeous, and it owes a lot to the art direction.
- Shout-Out: In a typical form of Parental Bonus, the game is littered with all sorts of pop culture references most kids would miss:
- Yes, that is Sailor Saturn of Sailor Moon at the end portion of the game.
- You probably recognized Darth Vader and Yoda of Star Wars without our help.
- Even the autoplay window on the old CD versions got in on the fun, asking the player "How about a nice game of Torin's Passage?" in its prompt window.
- After solving a long string of puzzles involving a deadly bog, Torin leaves his bag on it and wonders how he's going to retrieve it. After Boogle simply walks on the bog to get it, he questions why he didn't do that earlier, and translates Boogle's response to "what do you mean 'only when it was funny?'"
- At one point in the game, you run across a pair of skunks who are named Sam & Max.
- Talking to Himself: Torin and Boogle are voiced by the same actor.
- The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Leenah looks nothing like her birth parents, which made her a bit of a social pariah growing up. It's implied that the queen had an affair with someone from the Lands Above.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: The primary ability of Torin's buddy Boogle, who can mimic objects and people he's seen before.
- Weirdness Censor: The first thing Torin's dad does after being released from his magical Crystal Prison is demand that Torin finish his chores. (May be justified by him being unconscious.)