360, Xbox One


For a game con­ceived by two broth­ers, it seems fit­ting that Totem should have two playable pro­tag­o­nists. Bo and As­ger Strandby, lead de­signer and game di­rec­tor re­spec­tively, started toy­ing with the idea of their puzzle plat­former while putting the fin­ish­ing touches to Max: The Curse Of Brother­hood. Weary of bug fix­ing and ea­ger to start some­thing new, Totem gave them a cre­ative out­let. But it wasn’t un­til they showed the game to an ine­bri­ated Ole Teglb­jærg, one of Press Play’s stu­dio di­rec­tors, at a work party that it took on life as a full-time project.

“I was pretty ex­cited about it,” Teglb­jærg tells us, “but I hon­estly didn’t re­mem­ber a lot of de­tails from it when I woke up the next morn­ing! I asked for a build to take home so I could spend more time with it. And then it be­came clear to me that, in its sim­plic­ity, [ Totem] had some­thing spe­cial to of­fer.”

Teglb­jærg shared the game with Press Play’s two other di­rec­tors, Mikkel Thorsted and Rune Dittmer, and all agreed that it war­ranted a proof of con­cept. The Strand­bys were given a small team to de­velop their pro­to­type and now the game is wend­ing its way to Xbox One and 360.

Set on a trop­i­cal is­land, your goal is to re­cover the pieces of a totem pole that once stood in your vil­lage. Shat­tered by a Dark Shaman, who killed the mon­u­ment’s White Shaman guardian in the process, the pieces are now scat­tered. You re­trieve them by ne­go­ti­at­ing the per­ilous ob­sta­cle cour­ses that make up each level, en­sur­ing that both of your totemic charges sur­vive.

In the early stages each char­ac­ter has its own path­way, oc­cu­py­ing ei­ther the top or the bot­tom of the screen, but later on these paths over­lap and con­verge. As both char­ac­ters re­spond to your in­puts, you’ll have to make use of the en­vi­ron­ment – tem­po­rar­ily block­ing one’s progress us­ing a wall, for ex­am­ple – in or­der to line them up for jumps or to op­er­ate switches si­mul­ta­ne­ously. When they’re on the same plane the pair can stand on each other’s shoul­ders, al­low­ing you to com­bine their stan­dard dou­ble jumps for greater reach, or keep one out of the deadly colour-coded Spirit Zones.

These pur­ple and green zones (or red and blue in co-op – see ‘Twotem’) form the back­drop to many of the puz­zles, and only the char­ac­ter of match­ing colour can pass through them. You can swap the two char­ac­ters’ po­si­tions with a but­ton press, and the game de­lights in set­ting up pat­terns and then sec­ond-guess­ing your in­stinct, re­sult­ing in a death that will ini­tially have you cast­ing for some­one to blame be­fore con­clud­ing that it’s your fault (think Limbo’s pres­sure-pla­te­op­er­ated crush­ers). A cou­ple of fall­ing se­quences re­quire ex­tremely quick think­ing as we plum­met through al­ter­nat­ing pat­terns. Your re­ac­tions will be tested else­where, too, with Press Play achiev­ing a pleas­ing bal­ance be­tween puzzle solv­ing and twitch plat­form­ing. The cam­paign is split into three worlds, each in­tro­duc­ing its own spe­cial power. The first of these, and the only one re­vealed so far, is Grav­ity, which com­bines the ba­sic swap­ping me­chanic with in­verted forces of at­trac­tion. Ini­tially this is used just to switch sur­faces, but we’re soon hav­ing to time but­ton presses care­fully in or­der to stay in the air and float through deadly sec­tions.

Pick­ups dot­ted about each stage de­cide your fi­nal score, and how many you col­lect will de­cide whether the totem piece you win at the end is an unin­spir­ing block of wood, or a colourful face sport­ing ac­cou­trements such as sun­glasses or a peace pipe. You can, of course, go back and re­play any level to im­prove your prize.

Totem is still in an early state, but the well-weighted plat­form­ing al­ready feels sat­is­fy­ing and sub­stan­tial, and new ideas and abil­i­ties are of­fered up at a fair lick. If Press Play can main­tain this mo­men­tum with­out un­der­min­ing the pu­rity of the core idea, the odds will be stacked in Totem’s favour.

The game ini­tially re­minded us of ZooKeeper, but in play Totem crafts its own look

Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft De­vel­oper Press Play For­mat 360, Xbox One Ori­gin Den­mark Re­lease Oc­to­ber

Ole Teglb­jærg, stu­dio di­rec­tor at Press Play

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