Overall Score 69%
After reviewing a series of games each demanding lots of playing time, it's a welcome break to be confronted with a simple puzzler. TOTEM doesn't have a storyline or a plot, just a theme. It doesn't have upgrades or quests, just one basic aim - smashing totem poles to pieces!
Each level of TOTEM features one or more totem poles, consisting of a plinth with a stack of totems on top. More totems regularly drop down onto the poles, getting faster as you progress through the levels. You can move a totem up or down a pole or, if it is higher than its neighbour, you can move the topmost totem onto the next pole along. If a totem lands on an empty plinth it cracks it - three such landings will destroy the plinth and that totem pole completely. Clear totems by grouping matching totems together. If the totems reach the top of the screen, you lose a life.
This is a very simple game to get into, which is good - TOTEM is still under development and as I write this is still lacking instructions. New features appear gradually - such as the unstable totems that randomly morph into different shapes, or the frozen ones that first need to be matched to clear the ice on them. Match several totems at once and you score bonus points, as well as gaining treasures or useful axes to destroy awkwardly placed totems. Controls can be by keyboard or mouse and useful tips include using the right mouse button to drop the next batch of totems down rather than wait.
I had a fair amount of trouble getting this one to run - the Vista laptop refused to even install TOTEM completely and the desktop machine (running XP) refused to play it, bemoaning a missing file. It appears that installing DirectX 9.0c and ensuring you have the .NET v2 framework installed should help - but don't worry. If you still can't get TOTEM to work, you can merely wait until the online, Silverlight version is completed. That should play happily in your web browser.
So what does it feel like? The graphics are simple, clear and cartoon, with different totems easy to distinguish both by colour and by style. I previously stated that there was no sound - this has actually been traced to a technical fault on my computer and I can only apologise. Sound IS present - and quite loud! - with a range of crunches as totems land and are demolished. Music tracks are varied as well, changing as levels increase in difficulty (from one to two totem poles, for instance, or with new types of totem). I particularly liked the rock track from around level four or five!
So far the biggest thing going against the playability is the lack of instructions - but, given how quickly I figured the game out, I think it's safe to say that the finished article will be very simple to get into. There are three difficulty settings to choose from and TOTEM also grows more challenging as you progress. I did, however, manage to complete TOTEM in one go on Easy mode and, coupled with the generosity of extra lives, this causes me to doubt whether there's a vast amount of staying power in the game.
A few oddities (technical problems aside) also appeared, such as sometimes, instead of clearing two matching totems or breaking two totems from ice, a falling totem simply "replaced" the one it landed on. I occasionally slipped a little with the mouse, moving the wrong totem or in the wrong direction, though this was generally down to time pressure. I am confident that TOTEM will have any hiccups weeded out in due course.
Keywords: totem review, fervent interactive reviews, fervent interactive games, totem scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.