NS Review – Typoman (Wii U)

I tend to enjoy puzzle-platformers with a dark atmosphere. There’s something enticing about having a cute and innocent character traverse a dangerous world with terrifying monsters, solving puzzles while a melancholy soundtrack plays soothingly in the distance. It’s a formula that’s proved successful for many games. Typoman suits the specifications for such a game to a tee, complete with death awaiting round every turn. This time, the danger is literally spelled out for you.

Typoman’s sinister environment is packed with letters that you can pick up and move around, and each puzzle requires you to create a words that will affect the world around you. The most basic example is putting the letters ‘O’ and ‘N’ together to make ‘ON’, which will activate a nearby switch. As the game goes on, these word solutions grow longer and become more difficult to solve, with the correct answer often being very obscure in the later segments.

The letters also make up certain parts of the world, and this can be important to the player; a bridge spelling ‘ROBUST’ can suddenly become ‘RUST’ and begin to collapse as the character runs over it. Most of the death pits are full of spiky capital ‘A’s, which carry a lovely double-meaning as I could imagine the protagonist screaming “AAAAAAA” as they were impaled.

The word solutions only get harder from here.

This happened quite frequently too as the platforming did get somewhat clunky at times, with very little room for error being given on a lot of the jumps. This was at its most problematic during the enemy battles that required me to move quickly while forming words. Some action segments became trial-and-error practices until I could nail it without fault. Thankfully these times were few and far between, and the spawn points were numerous enough for it to be forgiven. The game even spawned me ahead of where I died a couple of times, which was very thoughtful of it.

Solving Typoman’s puzzles is helped by simple controls that make it easy to move letters around. The Gamepad can also be used to completely re-arrange a group of letters. Other uses of the Gamepad include selecting which letters will be generated by machines, and giving the player a clue for what word needs to be created. This can be taken further with another click as the Gamepad will highlight the specific word you need to make. This means you can bypass figuring out what word is required, and it’s nice to have that there if you get stuck. I’d recommend spending at least a little bit of time on a puzzle without the hints, not least because the game is quite short; I was able to get through the game with a friend in less than three hours. While it is a short game, I feel that it didn’t have much else to offer once I was done. It explores its concepts and has a satisfying conclusion.

There’s a very loose narrative with a few visually-pleasing cutscenes to support it

The puzzle hints themselves are given through what is the only text-based narrative in the game, and there isn’t much to go by in terms of story and why anything in this world is how it is. This isn’t essential for every story though, and the game is themed around emotions. Words like ‘FEAR’ and ‘EVIL’ are the very obvious enemies, and ‘HOPE’ and ‘FAITH’ are the powers that the player needs. There is a storyline with a sense of progression that culminates in an intense climax, and that’s all that’s required. It’s a charming narrative that some players may relate to and take something from.

Narrative aside, the game takes the character through some eerily pretty locations. The backgrounds to each area are perfectly suited. From a factory junkyard to a tech-filled laboratory deep underground, there’s an overarching sense of dread every step of the way. For what few enemies there are to encounter, their designs are imaginative and sometimes terrifying. I particularly liked the beast with a long, extremely sharp tail. Another highlight is the species that is only pacified when it is fed certain letter – one that gave us an immature giggle once we’d figured it out. There are a few cutscenes that show off the game’s visuals to a smoother extent, and the gorgeous art is only hindered by very occasional drops in frame rate during play. The soundtrack complements the game as it should, remaining low-key and dissonant save for the very few action sequences. It all made for an engaging journey through the world, even if it was only a short visit.

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 19.46.12

Not exactly somewhere you want to be.

In fact the game’s short length may have been helped by having more word possibilities, and I was disappointed by the lack of ambition in this area. Each puzzle has one solution, with only the specific words being required. It would have been nice to have more than one way of getting round some of the challenges, or even to include hidden areas and rewards for creating different words. Maybe the player character could be mercilessly crushed after spelling out a rude word, by the very word that they created. That last suggestion may be a bit crude, but little touches such as this are what the game needs. What does increase the game’s length is the load times. While not unbearable they are surprisingly long, hanging around for a good 15-20 seconds. At the very least they don’t appear often, only for when you first load up the game and when it transitions to another of its few environments.

As it stands though, Typoman is a unique game that provides plenty of challenge, whether that be through tricky platforming sequences or perplexing wordplay. If you can forgive its minor faults with long load times, awkward platforming sections and a relatively short experience with no room to deviate, then the refreshing ideas and alluring visuals will ensure it’s enjoyable. Just try not to fall into the screaming pit of spiky ‘A’s.

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