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:
- Alien Fair Folk: The game has both sci-fi and fantasy elements because it's set in a magical world located on a different planet called Strata. While the characters and landscapes of the Lands Above look like they came out of a Medieval fantasy novel, some of the creatures from the lower worlds have a definite sci-fi vibe. In particular, this concerns the inhabitants of the Tenebrous who are either humanoids very reminiscent of The Greys or bizarre creatures like giant centipedes.
- 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.
- Alter Kocker: Veder, the old man sitting on the ledge in Chapter Two, talks and acts like this. He even says "Oy!" at one point.
- Ambidextrous Sprite: Averted. They made the effort so Torin's sprite only shows his pouch on one side.
- Barefoot Loon: Downplayed with Herman, the gatekeeper in the Lands Above, who goes around in open-toed sandals, presumably to illustrate his eccentricity. He obviously wears them by choice and not as a part of a guard's uniform, since the other guard (Zax, the gatekeeper of Crystal City) has regular shoes.
- 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, since as far as Torin knows, it's simply a prison where undesirable people are sent. In the end, the gambit doesn't work, as Torin is moral enough to free Lycentia from her collar and seek answers instead of revenge.
- Big Bad: Lycentia, the Evil Sorceress who kidnaps Torin's parents. Except she was trying to save Torin from his Evil Uncle Prince Pecand.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: In Chapter Five, Torin accidentally crashes into the Help menu at the top of the screen while crawling through a maintenance shaft and asks the player to click out of it so he can proceed. In another part, Torin is knocked unconscious after entering Escarpa. The user must have Boogle become a nurse, who then performs various first aid actions on him without success. This leads him to change the menu from Boogle actions to inventory in order to get the ammonia, which he uses to wake him. Torin then asks how he did it.
- Break the Cutie: Lycentia was initially a brave and kind-hearted young woman who risked her life to save baby Torin from Pecand. Instead of praise, she was falsely accused of murdering the King and Queen and exiled to the Null Void, an empty space at the core of Strata where she slowly grew into an evil sorceress.
- 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.
- Clothespin Nose Plug: One puzzle requires the hero to wear a clothespin as part of dealing with a pair of skunks.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Half of Strata's population, really. But special honors go to Herman, the gatekeeper in the Lands Above, who thinks nothing of spending ten years in "heavy traffic" and demands a meal based entirely on puns.
- Convection, Schmonvection: Asthenia's a cave world full of magma. It never bothers Torin at all unless he falls in. Which he can if you don't perform the puzzles well, of course.
- Creator Cameo:
- That's the head of Mark Seibert, composer of the game's soundtrack, on the body of the piano player in Chapter Two.
- Al Lowe himself can be seen trapped in one of the crystals in Lycentia's lair. He also makes a voice-only cameo reading you a secret death message in one of the game's Easter Eggs.
- 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 obviously fatally stupid choice at the very end of the game, the death message's voiceover will, instead of a simple reading of the text box, be a personal thanks from Al Lowe, who is pleased that someone else 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.
- Evil Prince: Pecand, Torin's uncle. He murdered his brother who was the King, as well as his wife, and attempted to murder their son (and his nephew) Torin who was next in line for the throne - all of this to become the King himself.
- Evil Sorcerer: Pecand again, the one who's really behind everything. He killed the King and Queen with the use of his magical powers, and intended to kill Torin.
- Evil Uncle: Yes, Pecand again. He was the King's brother and therefore Torin's uncle, and he wanted to kill his nephew in order to assume the throne.
- Fantastic Racism: The natives of the Lands Above banish their worst criminals to the Lands Below; as a result, they assume everyone down there is nasty. It's also shown that the people below have a similarly dim view, regarding the people above as "savages" for lacking advanced technology. Torin himself is pretty quick to overcome his bad impression and act polite towards the people below, while also patiently shrugging off the "savage" reference.
- 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.
- Flashback: Chapters 2, 3, and 4 begin with flashbacks to a guard reporting to Kurtzwell on the death of the king and queen and the disappearance of the prince, Lycentia's conviction and exile for the latter crime, and her bargain with Pecand to get back to the Lands Above, respectively. It's not immediately clear that the first of those scenes is a flashback, so it doubles as a Twisted Echo Cut.
- Freudian Excuse: Lycentia. The years she spent unjustly incarcerated in the Null Void (plus wearing a tight golden collar that would have choked her to death had she attempted to return to the Lands Above) took a toll on her, turning her from an idealistic young woman into an evil sorceress.
- 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.
- Gonk: A number of characters are homely in a funny, cartoonish way, most notably the people of Escarpa. This results in the princess Leenah, who looks like a normal person, being viewed as highly unusual by the other squat, homely Escarpans. However, even in the "normal" world above, even the guard is a Gonk character.
- 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.
- Have a Nice Death: Each death has unique text for it, as one would expect from Sierra. A certain death at the end involving the bagpipes even results in a personalized message from Al Lowe himself.
- Heel–Face Turn: Lycentia. After Torin releases the collar from her neck, her drive for revenge melts away, and she ends up finishing off Pecand by trapping him in one of her crystals and leaving him in the Null Void. She even returns to The Lands Above with Torin, although it's unclear what her life will be like in the future..
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Torin's performance at the Amphitheatre is so legendarily awful that it gets him exiled.
- Humanshifting: Boogle briefly turns into a human-looking nurse for comedic effect at one point.
- Hurricane of Puns: This exchange with the carpenter in Tenebrous about a musical saw player:Torin: Have you seen this saw player?
Carpenter: Naw. The only saw I saw is this saw I saw with.
Torin: (thinking) I think we all saw that one coming.
- Hybrid Monster: There's a croctopus (a hybrid between a crocodile and an octopus) swimming in the moat of the Crystal City.
- Knight of Cerebus: Pecand, the game's true Big Bad, is a genuinely vile Evil Uncle. He doesn't appear much in the game outside of cutscenes, but when he does things get serious, and unlike Lycentia, he's a truly evil character with zero redeeming qualities.
- Laugh Track: Most of the dialogue in the Bitternuts' house is accompanied by a laugh track. This is their unique quirk, appearing nowhere else in the game.
- 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.
- Lethal Lava Land: Asthenia in Chapter Four.
- 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...
- Meaningful Name: Each of the worlds under the Lands Above has a name reflecting an archaic word.
- Escarpa, a kingdom built into a giant cliff, is similar to the word "escarpment", which describes that kind of geography perfectly.
- Similarly, a pergola is an open-air garden or patio. Fittingly enough, Pergola in this game is a lush forest.
- The fourth world is named Asthenia, which essentially means "weakness". It doesn't fit as well as the others but it could refer to how abandoned it is, or to the asthenosphere (the uppermost section of the earth's mantle, i.e. where solid rock becomes magma).
- Finally, "tenebrous" means dark or obscure. The world of Tenebrous is in the center of Strata, cut off from the atmosphere, and contains the gravity-free space known as the Null Void.
- 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.
- Never Trust a Trailer: While the trailer does include animations from the finished game, some characters, particularly Pecand and Leenah, are notably different from their in-game counterparts. It also shows a different version of the scene with Torin in front of the guardhouse. In the trailer, the door is already open for some reason and Torin asks Boogle to turn into an axe, which he then uses to hit the crystal (after Boogle first turns into an "X"). In the game itself you use an actual axe to do this instead. Torin does ask Boogle to turn into a different kind of "axe" in the game proper, but it's for a throwaway gag and Boogle never adds this shape to his inventory.
- 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.
- Objectshifting: Boogle frequently turns into props and objects to aid Torin.
- Officer O'Hara: The police officer who arrests Torin twice in Tenebrous has an Irish accent and behaves like this trope.
- 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.
- Rubber Man: Besides turning into different objects, Boogle can stretch in a rubbery way.
- 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.
- Bags Bunny references everyone's favourite lagomorph from Warner Brothers cartoons.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Lycentia kidnaps Torin's adoptive parents out of revenge for being falsely condemned to the center of the planet for murdering Torin's parents. It's later revealed, though, that she's been manipulated by Pecand this whole time and is only luring Torin to him so she can be freed. The moment she realizes Torin has removed her collar, she immediately makes up with him, and she and Torin save each other's lives in the game's climax.
- Twisted Echo Cut: The segue from the end of chapter 1 to the beginning of chapter 2 has this. Chapter 1 ends with Torin and Boogle using the Phenocryst in the guardhouse to teleport away to Escarpa in the Lands Below. The cinematic at the beginning of chapter 2 begins with this exchange between a guard and Kurtzwell; it only becomes clear in the fourth line that this took place after the opening cinematic rather than after chapter 1:Guard: Sir, theynote were both in there.noteKurtzwell: And?Guard: They're... gone.noteKurtzwell: And the child?Guard: Missing.Kurtzwell: The child must be found! Immediately!
- 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.
- Unwinnable by Design: Sierra's favorite trope, completely averted. The game is carefully designed in such a way that it's impossible to get into a "dead end" situation. Even if Torin dies, there is a "Retry" option instead of the usual "Restore/Restart".
- Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: While most of the game is lighthearted and colorful, Pecand is a truly menacing figure and almost never played for laughs. Just look at this chilling speech that comes near the climax:Pecand: You should have died in your cradle that night, little nephew. After searching for you all these years you won't escape me now. I killed your parents. And now I'll kill you."
- Visible Odor: Twice in Escarpa.
- Pulling the tile out of one of the caves in Escarpa reveals a hole through which a brown cloud emerges. Torin quickly comments on the stench.
- Torin has to use a carpet to protect himself against the skunks' spray in another of the caves in Escarpa, after which the carpet has a green stain and emits green vapors.
- 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.)
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Since this was the first part of a canceled series, we don't see what happens after Leenah returns home to Escarpa or Lycentia's return to the Lands Above.
- World of Pun: The game features too many instances of wordplay to count, especially in Chapters One, Two, and Five. The meal preparation puzzle for Herman and the conversation with Veder are some notable examples.