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Typoman: Revised

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, WiiU, Xbox One
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Developer: Brainseed Factory
Release Date: Feb. 22, 2018

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Switch Review - 'Typoman: Revised'

by Andreas Salmen on April 19, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Typoman is a puzzle platformer, in which you slip into the role of an unusual HERO to find the last letter and restore hope in a merciless world.

The Nintendo Switch already has a handful of puzzle platforming titles, but some leave much to be desired. It's no small feat to develop a game that makes both aspects equally satisfying to form a cohesive, well-designed experience. Being original to stand apart from the crowd complicates matters further. Typoman is an interesting approach in that it nails originality but fails in being a great platformer with flawless puzzle design.

Typoman was originally released on Wii U in 2015 and PC in 2016, with Xbox One and PS4 following last year and a Switch version this February.  Developed by Brainseed Factory, Typoman tells the story of a world based on letters. From characters to environments, many objects in the world are made up of words or singular characters. Our protagonist, who is literally sculptured from the word "hero," is on the run in this darkly inked world. He's chased by creatures (aptly shaped out of "doom," "fear," "hate" and "lie"), and he tries to manipulate letters to master obstacles and puzzles so he can overcome the oppressive evil and replace it with good.

It may sound cheesy, but the way the game tells the story through its scenery, quotations, and short cut scenes creates an intense dystopian world based on language — without actually ever telling you anything. It's a show-don't-tell approach that works in Typoman's favor and may be its strongest asset in hooking the player throughout this journey.

The emphasis on language and letters translates directly into gameplay. We traverse the stages in a very traditional 2-D platformer style by jumping and holding onto ladders, ledges and ropes, and Typoman adds word puzzles into the mix that are reminiscent of Scrabble nights with the family. The puzzles entail overcoming a certain obstacle and collecting characters that you'll need to rearrange to manipulate the environment. Without spoiling too much of the puzzles, they may involve crafting specific words that can turn off a generator, dissipate a lake in your path, confront enemies, or block attacks.

It's a different way of puzzle-solving that isn't too far removed from the gameplay we've seen in Scribblenauts, with the limitation of a set amount of letters to choose from. Even with the limited range of characters, puzzles in Typoman can often be solved in multiple ways by creating different words to progress. If you're a completionist and crazy about your word-guessing games, this may be the perfect time-killing activity. Although the puzzles are set up and executed in creative and fun ways, they aren't without flaws.

Puzzles work the best if the player is able to deduce which elements in the environment can be manipulated or moved and come up with potential solutions. Throughout the story, there are areas where it isn't immediately apparent what we can interact with, causing us to blindly create words and hope that trial-and-error may give us a clue about the expected outcome. It's a minor flaw, but it ultimately separates good from great puzzle design. The amount of puzzles isn't too extensive, either, with the game only lasting about three hours, but players can stretch it another hour or so if they're keen on getting all in-game achievements and quotations.

Over the course of Typoman, the puzzles are weirdly spaced out. Simple solutions can be carried over to later puzzles and repeat themselves, while more creative solutions are rarely used again. What makes most puzzle platformers great is that they establish certain mechanics and continuously expand on them or discard and replace them once all of the creative mojo has been used up. Typoman is all over the place in that regard and could've used a more organized approach to puzzle design over the course of the adventure. The puzzle elements are fun but are lacking, which is a shame given the creative idea and solid execution.

Since Typoman is a puzzle-platformer, we have to talk about the platforming, which is the worst part of the game. If you were interested in the title for the platforming, you won't find much joy here. The controls are downright unresponsive at times, with the whole experience feeling floaty. I was intrigued by the story and gameplay, but unfortunately, I wanted to quit the game within the first half hour, when I realized that the puzzles weren't very complex, and the platforming took up more of the playtime. It wasn't a fun experience due to the poor execution of the platforming segments. The platforming recedes over time and the puzzles become more prominent, so you won't have to move around as much. However, it's a major red flag when a puzzle-platformer fails to deliver on its platforming premise.

The level design does its worst on some occasions. When standing on certain edges or at an angle, the character might slip (or float) downward. While it's annoying, it can be avoided, but the game sometimes places important levers or buttons on the edge of these spots, causing us to slide down instead. It's not dominant in the game, but it adds to the overall sense that the overall game design is lacking in many regards, especially when it comes to platforming.

Graphically, the game looks decent, with strong and good design choices and clever usage of its language-based themes. The game performs well, with occasional hitches in the frame rate that I cannot reasonably explain, but in both docked and handheld modes, there aren't any major issues with the frame rate and performance.

Overall, Typoman had an intriguing premise and managed to tell a decent story with great atmosphere, good visual design, and interesting puzzle mechanics. In the end, however, the title doesn't on many of the gameplay mechanics, with good but inconsistent puzzles and often awkward and awful platforming. Coupled with its short runtime, Typoman isn't bad, but it's certainly a long way from being as good as the idea and visuals behind it.

Score: 5.9/10

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