Topatoi: Pillar of the Skies is the second part of a three-part story for the Topatoi series on PlayStation 3, once again being developed by Boolat Games and debuting first on the European PSN store. It's a really solid follow-up to the first game, The Great Tree Story, and finally reduces the handholding to a minimum. Pillar of the Skies allows you to play around with the various abilities you developed over the course of the first entry, and you can run loose in each level without encountering too many new mechanics. It is a little combat-heavy when compared to the first game, but overall, my general feeling is that Pillar of the Skies is a better experience than The Great Tree Story.
First and foremost, I don't suggest jumping into the Topatoi series with this entry. It's definitely a good idea to try out The Great Tree Story first before making your way through this game. While I feel that the prior title is a slower experience, Pillar of the Skies doesn't explain much about the Topatoi series' physics-based mechanics, so if you jump into this expansion without any prior play experience, you'll probably end up feeling a little frustrated. I don't think it's so complex that you won't pick up on it eventually, but there are a couple of puzzles and situations that would be far easier to solve if you've played the original title first. With that said, you have the option of playing this title without having finished even one level of the original Topatoi, so if you want to jump right into Pillar of the Skies for some reason, there's nothing to stop you from doing so.
Story-wise, this picks up right after the end of The Great Tree Story, with Raph still in pursuit of Blackwing, who kidnapped Raph's girlfriend in the first title. At the same time, he's still looking for parts to fix their damaged flying machine, and you'll occasionally get little updates from the old man with whom you flew at the beginning. The story takes a backseat here for the most part, and while the plot hasn't really been the driving point of the game, it would be nice to learn a little more about the world that you're visiting. There are a few encounters with various natives, but the enemies don't switch up from the Dismantlers that you faced in the first game, so there's nothing particularly new there, either.
When it comes to gameplay, though, Pillar of the Skies definitely trumps anything I saw in The Great Tree Story. With the training wheels off, it's nice to see the puzzles get consistently more complex and involved, with some real head-scratching segments that required precise timing and jumps to complete. Another great thing is that the game has been patched since The Great Tree Story, so there's a new control mode that introduces a casual control setup. This means that you no longer need to tap the R2 button to speed up the whirligig, and the speed is all regulated automatically. I suppose you'd get a little more control out of the old scheme, especially during enemy encounters, but I thought that this was great and alleviated much of the frustration with the controls. You take a hit when it comes to the scoring; you receive a larger multiplier if you play with the standard controls instead of the casual one, so if you're looking to propel yourself up the leaderboards, then you shouldn't utilize this feature.
As I mentioned earlier, combat has a bigger focus in Pillar of the Skies than it did in The Great Tree Story, and I'm not entirely convinced that this is a great thing. The combat in the Topatoi series is pretty basic: You basically ram up against your opponent in an effort to send him careening off of cliff or platform. That's really all there is to the fighting, and your opponent will do little more than bump into you as well. The enemies look the same but appear in different colors to indicate whether they're going to be a little tougher to knock off. Either way, they all operate on the same dumb-as-rocks AI system, so they're really easy to trick if you can get the timing down right. It's even easier when they toss multiple enemies at you at once, which Pillar of the Skies tends to do often. At that point, the Dismantlers become their own worst enemy and tend to knock into each other or push each other out of the way in order to blindly make their way toward you. You can use this to your advantage, and the tight spaces also lend you a hand by allowing you to bump off enemies easily or hop on them and let gravity do the rest of the work for you. As a result, combat is more nuisance than fun; it's a simple distraction that gets in the way of all the jumping, navigating and platforming that the rest of the game offers.
There's not much to mention with the graphics and sound, as Pillar of the Skies hasn't seen any real overhaul in either area. The visuals change up a bit simply because the setting is different, with far more machines and mechanical things going on, so you'll see more platforms to push and pull out of your way, boxes to carry around, switches to hit, etc. It's a different view from the lush, green scenery provided by The Great Tree Story, but the quality of the texture work and animation remain the same. Similarly, the music is pretty nice but rather simple and forgettable. The cute animal language that the characters share is still intact, and just as before, I get a bit of a Klonoa vibe from the game, which is certainly a good thing.
As I mentioned, Pillar of the Skies still uses online leaderboards to compare your score against other players. The challenge levels also make a return, with new ones becoming unlocked with every story level that you complete. Just like before, you can collect hidden stars and blue fuel globs in story levels, so the scoring mechanics haven't changed much aside from the addition of the score multiplier, which is based on your control method. The game will still take you three to four hours to complete on your first run, but once again, a lot more gameplay time is available if you decide to collect all of the stars and globs, or if you try to best the leaderboard scores.
If you enjoyed the first game in the Topatoi series, you should definitely pick up Pillar of the Skies. It's a great follow-up that really lets the physics and gameplay mechanics shine through. You're finally able to play around with the different abilities and encounter some unique, challenging puzzles. I wish they had kept the number of combat instances to a minimum; the game relies a little too heavily on a system that's not particularly fun in the first place, but that is only one flaw in an otherwise enjoyable experience. I am still genuinely excited to play the final chapter in the series when it's available.
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