This is a slightly controversial opinion, depending on one's values, but I personally believe that video game fans have never had it as good as we have it now. Particular genres have ebbed to an extent, as they tend to in this hobby, but I feel like the overall spread of the market is broader and deeper than it's ever been. As the big companies have focused more and more on creating big, expensive productions that dazzle with their beauty and scope, indies have rushed in and filled just about every possible gap you could think of. On top of that, the popularity of deep discount sales across most digital platforms means that not only do we have more choices than ever before, but they're a lot cheaper than ever, to boot. It's truly a buyer's market.
As great as that is for us, it leaves a game like The Day of the Totems [$0.99] in a hard place. It's a puzzle-platformer, which is basically at this point the indie first person shooter. The main idea is that you have to assemble your totem piece by piece before making your way to the exit. You have to do this in a particular order since you won't be able to clear certain barriers if you're too tall. This usually translates out to pushing around the other pieces so that you can assemble just before the exit. It's an interesting enough concept, but on its own, it's probably not going to attract a lot of attention. Unfortunately, beyond that, Totems hasn't got many new ideas, instead opting to get by on a couple of well-tested mechanics from other games and some decent level designs.
The game spans 36 levels, and while there are a few that will leave you scratching your head for a few minutes, it's not an especially difficult game. The old childhood strategy of starting from the exit and working your way backwards will serve you very well here. The stages are broken up into three different sections corresponding with the time of the day, and as you play through, a few new mechanics will be introduced to try to liven things up. The main problem is that we've seen these things so many times before, they don't really add substantially to the game's difficulty. At this point, we all know most of the tricks a level designer can pull off with portals and gravity flips. Near the end of the game, in a last gasp of creativity, it introduces surfaces that disappear depending on how many units your totem is comprised of. More ideas like this, introduced earlier, would have gone a long way.
The controls are handled by virtual buttons, but I'm not a fan of how the left and right arrows that move you around are placed on the screen, and there are no options for moving them. Still, this isn't exactly a high intensity game, so the controls work out well enough. The character's jump has a nice, reliable feeling to it, and his movements aren't overly slippery, both of which are extremely important in the type of game where a wrong move can put you back to the start of the level. You can easily put yourself in an unwinnable position in this game, but there's a handy button to restart the stage, so it's never terribly painful if you do make a mistake.
The presentation is pretty good for what it is. The totem characters are cute without crossing the line into obnoxious, and the overall graphic design is quite pleasing and bright. The game has a bit of a humorous bent to it, but this only shows up in the story set-up and the description in the App Store. The sound design is pretty laid-back. Most of the time, there isn't any music, so you're just solving puzzles with nothing but the sound effects to keep you company. Occasionally, a piece will drift in and out, and it's sort of slow and soothing.
Right from its opening cut-scene, The Day of the Totems plants its tongue firmly in its cheek. Don't take this too seriously, it cautions you, and I think it's an attitude that can help you enjoy this game a little bit more. It's not a revolution, or even an evolution, of the puzzle-platform genre that is so prolific these days. It's quite short on new ideas, and there are only a couple of twists that cause the final stages to differ much from the early ones. It is nevertheless a pleasant little romp, well-suited for a lazy afternoon. Its relatively low difficulty makes it a good fit for people who are new to the genre, and the art style's broad appeal helps in that capacity. Veterans will likely want to give this a pass and devote their attention elsewhere, however.
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