Equal parts puzzler and platformer, Typoman is a fresh addition to Nintendo’s "Nindie" program. The entire game is centered on one very unique gimmick: the ability to use words and letters to manipulate the environment. Charmingly enough, even the protagonist is made of letters that form the word "hero."
Thanks to this innovative gameplay mechanic, the puzzles in the game have never felt more original. For instance, say you're walking trough a corridor filled with toxic gas that will kill you after a few seconds of exposure. Well, just search for the available letters to spell the word “gasp” and you will be able to take a quick breath, effectively stopping you from dying. All of this, coupled with clever touches like bridges made from the word “solid” that will fall apart to spell the word “old” as you cross them, create a very memorable gameplay mechanic.
When compared to the demo that was a part of the Nindies@home event, there are actually a few very helpful improvements to the gameplay. Most notably is how they integrated the GamePad. One of the most frustrating parts of the demo was getting the different letters in the correct order to spell the word that was needed to solve the puzzle. This is no longer an issue in the final game, as the GamePad can now be used as a letter scrambler. If you are standing beside a bunch of random letters in a horizontal line (doesn’t work for stacked letters) you can press the X button, which brings up the Scrambler. From there you can use the stylus to move letters around and spell out the necessary word on the GamePad. No more chucking letters everywhere and hoping they land correctly.
Another of the new GamePad mechanics may seem like a minor one - until you start progressing through the story and find out that it is not so minor. Every so often you will come across a puzzle that has billboard with a bunch of letters on it standing on top of a mechanism. If you stand in front of the billboard, the letters that it contains will appear on the GamePad screen. From here you can press each letter and the mechanism that the billboard sits on will begin spitting out the letters you selected. These letters can then be used to solve the puzzle.
Also, here’s a pro-strat for these letter makers, free of charge. The mechanism will spit out the letters in the order that you press them. Therefore, if you spell the desired word backwards, the letters will pop out of the machine in the correct order.
The final way that the GamePad is utilized proves very useful, but it can tone down the difficulty quite a bit. Whenever you approach a puzzle a question mark will appear on the screen. If you tap it, the question mark disappears to make room for a hint that will help you out with a current puzzle. The hints may seem dark and cryptic, but in actuality they blatantly contain the word you need to finish the puzzle. If you want to go for maximum challenge then I suggest you don’t look at the hints.
I do have to admit that using the GamePad had a tendency to feel a bit odd at first. I felt like the constant need to look down disrupted the game’s pacing a bit. Things got a little better once I realized how useful the scrambler mechanic is, but I still didn’t like how often I had to look down in order to complete a puzzle.
Another important part of Typoman's gameplay is the platforming, and I have to say that it's pretty spot-on. It can sometimes be unforgiving, requiring precise timing and movement in order to clear a section, but it never feels too unfair. Some of the most memorable moments in the game were when I had to platform and then quickly build a word before platforming again in order to make it through a gas-filed passage or defeat an enemy.
On a completely different note, the setting boasts a very dark and foreboding atmosphere. I definitely felt like Limbo had a lot of influence on the game. This mainly stemmed from the fact that almost everything you interact with in the foreground, including letters and enemies, are not much more than black silhouettes. Typoman, however, has the rather charming gimmick of letters being used as part of the scenery. For instance, ladders are made out of “H’s” and spikes are made from the letter ”A.” Not only that, but the background, which showcases a decaying, post-apocalyptic world, is also full of letters tossed about in disarray.
I highly recommend taking your time to look at and enjoy the scenery. The art is very well done, and the minimalistic, ambient music really helps to solidify a sense of hopelessness within the game. One of my favorite parts about playing the game was looking for clever ways that the developers used words and letters as I adventured through the crumbling caves and forgotten factories.
There’s also another reason that I feel you should take your time to enjoy the art, and that is because the game feels very short. The main story unfolds over three chapters and a prologue, totaling roughly three or so hours of gameplay depending on how quickly you work out the puzzles. There is also no extra content outside of the main story line, which severely limits replay value.
I’ll do my best to keep spoilers about the story to a minimum, but I figured I’d insert a spoiler warning just in case. I found the story itself to be rather uninteresting. I felt like the writers tried to force an emotional story line into the game, and it ended up just coming out kind of silly and unnecessary. In my opinion the most emotional aspect of the game was watching as the hero wandered alone through a world that is falling apart.
The story also doesn’t do a very good job of answering questions. You never find out why the antagonist is trying to kill the hero or even really why the hero is trying to achieve his goal. There’s also a mysterious ally that comes to the hero’s aid, but she is seemingly killed off before she is fully fleshed out.
The Verdict: Fresh, Puzzling Fun
Fortunately the story is not where the main focus of the game lies. Instead, the game focuses on testing your wits and flexing your vocabulary in order to solve puzzles and progress through the chapters. Although I did feel a slight bit of dissatisfaction when I finished the game due to its short length and lack of depth, I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’d definitely recommend the game to puzzle and platformer fans, as the way words and letters are utilized adds a very fresh and original twist to both genres.
Typoman is now available for download on Nintendo eShop for Wii U.