Developed as a result of a successful game jam, Totem Topple is a budget title that has now been released on the Wii U eShop. Budget is definitely the right word here. You can’t go into Totem Topple expecting the world.
It’s a very simple game with a very simple concept. A tower defence game where aim is to continually build a totem pole consisting of various head designs and defences. Unfortunately, lots of demon spirits are trying to take you down. Your goal is to build as many ‘head’ sections you can attach to your pole before you get completely overwhelmed by the nasties. There are no rounds, just surviving as long as you can.
The game possesses two modes to play in; Classic mode and Frantic mode, both of which offer very different experiences despite revolving around the same principle.
Classic mode is the slower paced and more strategic of the two. You are initially given some resources to start building your totem pole. Different appendages have differing costs and abilities. The attachments come in two different groups; heads and accessories.
Heads act as the spine of your pole and the things you add accessories to, which can go on either flank. Each head design has certain attributes that set it apart from the others, some have higher defences, some give an attack boost to your accessories.
Most things cost a hefty amount of resources and you will soon run out of those allocated at he beginning, although you can earn more by taking out the spirits with weapons you can equip.
While there is strategy to choosing what you spend resources on, you just can’t appreciate their effects. You don’t have enough time at all to think about what you need at that moment unless you pause the game (which is highly recommended). It doesn’t help that most of the items aren’t stylistically distinct from each other too. Sure there’s a deer, an eagle and so on, but at a quick glance it’s difficult identify which is which and that makes it more difficult to learn their traits.
I’m not going to lie, it’s bloody difficult. I’m not even sure if it’s the game or just me unable to work out a decent tactic, but it’s so difficult for me to last more than a minute or two, maybe even less. I really can’t see the strategy in it, because it doesn’t really allow the player enough time to see or feel the nuances of each item.
I think it would have been better if the game was designed with rounds rather just an endless swarms, even if it’s a lot more clichéd. If it gave you access to more heads/accessories the later you progressed, I think it would have been much less overwhelming and panicky at the start.
Thinking about it more, I guess it’s a doubled edged sword. The fact that it’s so arcade-y and over so quickly it has that ‘just one more go’ edge to it, which is probably the best thing it’s got going for it.
This is when we turn our attention to Frantic mode. It’s basically the same principle: build as many heads as you can before you’re destroyed. Unlike Classic mode where you have to use and collect resources, this mode allows you to use them unlimitedly. The twist to that however is it only gives you four random ones to choose from at a time.
The D-pad is assigned four random heads or attachments to each direction, you select which of the four suits you best and then the four are reshuffled to give you four more different ones. Your natural instinct would be to spam the hell out of it, just to get as much as you can from it, but that would be a mistake.
Totem Topple boasts a dynamic enemy difficulty that responds to how well you’re doing. Build too high, too quickly and you’ll feel the wrath of the spirits much sooner than you’d expect. I found the best tactic to be build the heads to a certain height first (as in before it’s way too much), then focus on defence. Then once the defences are down and the heads begin to fall, that’s when you should replenish them. That tactic got me to 53 heads, which personally, I think is pretty decent.
I enjoyed this mode more than Classic due to the lack of resource dependency. At least in Frantic mode you can keep doing something even after it’s all going wrong, where as in Classic you’re sat twiddling your thumbs. Hardly a cool way to go.
Aside from the gameplay, the graphics and sounds are what you’d expect from such a budget release. In fact, they’re fine compared to some other games with a much higher price tag. Everything is simple, animations are basic and there’s not too much polish overall, but it’s inoffensive.
Overall, there’s not too much else to say about Totem Topple. Its gameplay is seemingly a little flawed as there’s not much strategy at all, despite it being pushed as a feature. Frantic mode, however, shines in the fact it’s often over before it’s started, and it’s so quick to try again it has an addictive nature like mobile games such as Doodle Jump, Flappy Bird and all those endless runners. It’s priced accordingly for what it offers, an inoffensive quick 10-minute game here and there and that might keep you coming back for more.
- Frantic mode is addictive
- Well priced
- Not as much strategy as you would be lead to believe
- Attachments are visually indistinct
- Maybe a tad too merciless?