December 3, 2015 11:10 AM | John Bridgman
The humble platformer. One of the oldest and most commonly experienced genres in video gaming, it is well-cherished and very thoroughly explored ground. With plenty of history to learn from and iterate on, it's no wonder this genre is still going strong. It provides opportunities to create engaging gameplay both by evoking nostalgia and by expanding on new ideas in the genre. Such a unique take on the puzzle variety of platformer is Typomanby Brainseed Factory, recently released on the WiiU eShop.
You control HERO, as the game carefully and cleverly spells out for you in the prologue - quite literally spelling in fact, as their body is made up of those letters as you proceed through this tutorial level. You're introduced quickly to the basic mechanics of moving and jumping as you collect the letters to spell HERO, and then you get to the most important and unique mechanic of the game, which is that of manipulating letters and words as objects to solve puzzles.
The world of Typoman is a world of letters, in fact. It's rather bleak and sombre, but it remains visually interesting, especially as you get more involved in the game and start to recognize some of the cues the game gives you and the more peculiar ways the game uses letters as its environmental pieces and obstacles. For instance, ladders are made of a succession of Hs. Though it does mean that at times you aren't sure if a letter is an obstacle or part of the background, such as the sharp As that you see throughout the levels which I soon discovered were sometimes spikes.
You can pull, push, grab, pick up, and throw loose letters you find through the levels, and that's where the mechanic starts to get its most interesting. When you bunch letters together to form a word, they can have an effect. For instance, you can often activate a switch by combining O and N to spell ON, or lower a ladder by spelling DOWN. Luckily, you don't have to actually position the letters through the pushing and pulling mechanics, as once you have the letters you want grouped together, you can use the WiiU Gamepad to rearrange the spelling. It saves a lot of time and frustration.
The letter mechanic goes farther still, as things like moving platforms will be composed of letters that describe their sort of movement. If SPAN suddenly becomes SNAP, you know that its motion will be sudden so you need to move quickly. These touches do make the game more interesting, even if it isn't always used in the best ways. Having poisonous gas emitting from the word GAS is a good visual clue, but gives no indication of how to handle the obstacle beyond that.
There is, however, a hint system in the game, as you can tap a question mark on the gamepad to get a hint about the current obstacle you're facing. These are not unlike riddles, relying on wordplay to give you hints, though they are generally fairly simple. This was a nice touch and I think helped the aesthetics of the game world go along with the aesthetics of play and I generally appreciated it, even if sometimes the hints weren't quite useful.
As for the actual platforming, the controls are not spectacular. HERO moves slowly, and that may put some people off. The length of jumps can be hard to gauge sometimes, and the dark visuals can leave platforms a little difficult to distinguish from other elements. However, the game generally doesn't rely on quick reflexes or executing skillful jumps, so it is, at least, serviceable.
Typoman is, when removed from its world and aesthetic, a fairly straightforward platformer. However, its look, feel, and mechanics absolutely make the game a more pleasant experience. It embraces what it wants to be and do, and in doing so, makes something that's engaging and consistently enjoyable. I think fans of puzzle-platformers are going to have a good time with this if they're willing to forgive its slower times, and if the aesthetic is at all appealing to you then you should also give it some consideration.