Puzzle games have been wildly popular in the casual gaming market, a fact that has inevitably, for better or worse, resulted in a saturation of the genre on the AppStore. Because of this, it's a wonder that Totemo [App Store] can still inject a great deal of life and charm into the genre.
The basic premise behind Totemo is somewhat similar to block removal games like Mental Blocks [App Store] and the countless other games where you're removing pieces from the game board. Each level in Totemo, of which there are over 60, poses a different arrangement of "spirits", which you must release into the nethers by binding them to the totem ever present on the left of the screen.
Each spirit you select will light up one part of the Totem with a fully lit totem removing them from the playing field. Spirits can only be removed by selecting those in the same row or column, and so the unique twist lies with finding the correct order for discarding your spirits and clearing the level of them entirely- a feat that gets surprisingly challenging by about level 20. Without perfect execution, you will find yourself with only one or two spirits remaining, unable to bind them completely to the Totem and thus encouraged to renew your attempt.
The source of this encouragement is an endearing totemic spirit guide who walks you through the gameplay features at the beginning of the Story Mode and gradually narrates the tale as you progress through the levels. His charm is an embodiment of the excellent presentation and overall feeling of Totemo. Each level is gorgeously crafted, with different animated backdrops for each chapter of the story and lively matching objects that are introduced to ramp up the challenge.
Extra touches such as how the eyes of valid spirits focus on the player when another is selected, and how a level can be instantly restarted by shaking the device, really show off the care that has gone into Totemo's development. Together with an interesting if quirky selection of tribal and electronic tunes to accompany each level, Totemo sports a great deal of polish for a puzzle game.
For those who are finished with the Story mode, there is also a Survival mode that has you breeze through the levels as quickly as you can on a timer, additional time being added on completion of a level. The competitive types will be pleased to note that a comprehensive online leaderboard records your scores in Survival mode, sortable by Daily, Weekly and All time scores.
Here is a teaser video released by the developer that doesn't show any gameplay, but will give you a good idea of the atmosphere to expect in the game:
For $0.99, it is hard not to justify a look into Totemo at least, particularly if you consider yourself a puzzle fan. There is even something there for the action puzzler, with Survival mode getting quite frenetic as you race against the clock. Visit the discussion thread for more opinions about the game.
App Store Link: Totemo, $0.99