Totomi iPhone, iPod Touch Review

If there’s one thing the world can do without, it’s another falling-block puzzle game on a hand-held device. If there’s anything the iPhone needs less of, it’s hastily ported flash games that saturate the app store leaving the truly brilliant gems to drown at the bottom of what is rapidly becoming a cesspool of thoughtless 30 second time-wasters. We should think ourselves lucky then, that Totomi is neither of the above.

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Wandering through an unnamed mystical land that has seemingly dried up as a result of the rain god packing himself off to the Bahamas for a holiday, Totomi – a boy dressed as a cat for no discernible reason – learns that the remaining gods have decided to attend a pool party instead of watering the land in the rain god’s absence. Totomi must therefore build a tower of animals in order to ascend to the clouds and get the gods to stop messing around. Yes I know, baffling! But this quirky tale has little to do with the actual game, other than to invoke some idiotic grinning and to provide an explanation (and a bizarre one at that) as to why you’ll spend your time with Totomi, frantically piling an array of animals on top of one another.

Despite appearing to be a simple block-stacking game, Totomi is more about micromanagement than anything else. Using a finger to drag an animal from what is labeled ‘the production line’, and placing it in one of three columns sets the foundation for one of three types of totem combo. Consisting of ‘Baby’, ‘Friend’, and ‘Food’ these three types of combinations have certain requirements to be fulfilled before being put into motion. A baby combo is the result of stacking two or more of the same animal (that is how babies are made after all), a friend combo being that of stacking two animals regarded as being friends, and a food combo is the placement of a predator on top of its prey. As long as the pattern is continued then the combo increases, and only when an animal that is not part of the combo is placed on the pile, will the combo cease. The animal blocks contained in that particular column will then be added to the overall totem height, and more importantly the score.

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Having three columns at your disposal is essential, because animals fall from the production line at random, and must therefore be organised to allow for the maximum possible totem combo height. Factor in an array of different effects caused by things such as poisonous foods and animals that can knock other animals from the stack, and Totomi quickly becomes an incredibly strategic game of tactical placement and decision making. If it’s sounding complicated, that’s because it is, and keep in mind that this is all set against the clock, with the time limit only being extended with the successful addition of a combo to the overall totem height.

The amount of thought required by Totomi can come as quite a shock at first, given the delightful Katamari-esque introduction, coupled with game’s brightly coloured visual charm. Luckily, developer Rovio have included a neat little story mode, that eases new players in with objective based levels. These can include anything, from adding so many combos to the total totem height, to knocking out a certain number of a particular species with a specific animal. As levels progress so do the number of animals that are in play, and with each new animal unlocked, a Top Trump-like card is added to the game’s ‘card collection’ section, detailing the animal’s relationship to the other creatures in the game. Although it’s possible to learn how each animal relates to one another through trial and error during play, the addition of these cards allows for a much more in depth understanding, as well as shedding light on some of the more questionable animal interactions; who’d have thought that owls eat cats?

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The story mode is quite short however, and although it wraps up the opening dialogue in an equally obscure way, there’s not a lot of replay value in the mission based levels. There are a few other challenges to play with, such as creating a stack of animals that are in no way part of any sort of combo, but the bulk of the game following these is in the arcade marathon mode, a constant fight to reach the new high score. In no way is this a particularly bad thing – mastering Totomi is an art in itself – and providing you’re one of those people who can’t help but strive for that one more point, then it’ll last you until you go mad from overly considering the implications of a bear befriending a tree stump.

Although Totomi began its life as an online flash game, the transition to iPhone is almost seamless. It fits the device perfectly, with the touch interface being an ample replacement for the mouse. Occasionally it can be difficult to see where animals are being placed when there are fingers in the way, but it’s not the sort of issue that can really spoil the game. Likewise, the presentation is simple, but bursting with character, creating a distinct style of its own. There are times when the game screen can become confusing due to the number of events occurring simultaneously, but the chaos that ensues adds a comedic value rather than causing any great hindrance to the proceedings.

totomi-3Totomi requires some serious concentration, and anybody looking for a simplistic Tetris clone to pass the time may as well overt their eyes now. It’s relentlessly hard to master, limited to only a handful of game modes, but provides a deceptively complex puzzle experience. It looks lovely and doesn’t shoehorn in that bloody accelerometer. An enjoyable if not difficult puzzler that’s hindered only by a shortage of non-arcade game modes, at £2.99 Totomi is a bit of a bargain.

7 out of 10
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