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August 2022

To the Top, Mammoth!

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: IsTom Games
Developer: IsTom Games
Release Date: Feb. 24, 2022


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Switch Review - 'To the Top, Mammoth!'

by Cody Medellin on July 8, 2022 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

In To the Top, Mammoth!, the most esteemed (and adorable) tower climbers gather to challenge each other. Join them and earn your place on the scoreboard!

Games don't usually get a name change when moving to other platforms. Unless the original title ran afoul of a legal dispute or the new platform's decency guidelines, developers tend to value name recognition, as it builds on familiarity and built-in audiences that loved the title on one platform and are willing to tell other people about it once it arrives on a new system. There are times when a name change is a good thing, such as when the original title is so bland and near forgettable. This is the case with To The Top, Mammoth!, otherwise known as Blocky Castle: Tower Climb on mobile devices.

The game contains no narrative whatsoever, but it does have three different modes. Time Trial has you trying to get through each of the 100 levels as quickly as you can. Race has you doing the same thing on a subset of those levels, but against specific rival animals. Versus mode is pretty much like Race mode, except your rival is randomized. There is no direct multiplayer, and even though the game states that it uses ghost data from real players, that isn't something that can be easily verified.

No matter which mode you pick, the core gameplay loop is similar to the classic game Castelian. The mammoth starts at the bottom of the tower, and its job is to make it to the top to get fired off by a cannon so it can reach the next tower, where the action starts anew. There are various traps on the tower, like swinging spikes that appear from the floors and walls and cauldrons that drip acid from above. Some enemies also hang from above, just like bats. The only thing you can do is move and jump, and while you have no offensive abilities of your own, you can grab power-ups throughout the level to protect you from hits or make you move a little faster. There's a vending machine where you get one of three random power-ups, and there are also coins to collect that let you buy the chance to have different power-ups appear on the field. The coins can also be used to get different characters, and while there are no other differences between them except for aesthetics, the large roster of characters to unlock is enough to keep you busy for a while if you're a completionist.

Considering the reverence of Castelian, the core conceit can still be enjoyable, but the actual experience is vastly different. Even though your respawn time is instantaneous and the levels aren't very long, having to restart at the beginning after every death can quickly get annoying because the levels feel long. This is most likely due to the abundance of enemies and traps, which can make every stage feel pretty crowded. This may be acceptable when you reach the later stages, but when the first level throws this much at you and it takes newcomers several tries before they can pass it, this doesn't encourage people to stick around for 99 more levels.

Power-ups are helpful, but the only way you'll get an explanation about what any of them do is by looking at them from the world map. That lack of explanation also applies to the speed meter, as it takes several tries through a few levels before you realize that filling the meter by going fast leads to the power-ups being obtainable.

Other gameplay decisions feel haphazard. Instead of letting you navigate the menus with the analog stick, a good portion of the options are accessed via button presses. That can work in some cases, but when the iconography is so small that you think they're decorations, it can lead you to believe that the only way to go through menus is through the Nintendo Switch's touch-screen. Time Trial mode has leaderboards, but you'll only see them appear after you beat the level. Having that sort of delay is enough for anyone to believe that the leaderboards only exist for a few levels. The appeal for Race mode is unlocking new characters that you can't buy, but it's discouraging to discover that the only way to do that is to beat the same level three times without any layout changes. Also, if you want to reset your progress, make sure to reboot the title, as any new progress made after that in the same session will not count.

The presentation is decent, provided you aren't looking for too much from the title. The music is pleasant enough but nothing that'll keep you entranced for long. The sound effects are perfunctory, but you won't be that annoyed by the death sounds as you'll be hearing them often. The graphics are bright and colorful, but there are a few moments when some of the traps blend in too well with the background, so enemies appear out of nowhere. Everything is kept at a high enough frame rate, and the voxel characters are cute enough, but it is obvious that it was done to chase the Minecraft aesthetic based on how two of the skins you unlock are replicas of Minecraft blocks.

In the end, to The Top, Mammoth! is a mobile game that's found itself awkwardly ported over to the Switch. The core gameplay loop is enjoyable enough for some quick gameplay sessions, but starting things off with some devious level design doesn't endear it to the target audience. Several design decisions, from the menus to the vagueness applied to power-ups, don't help the game's cause, and the obvious padding in a few areas and some pretty big bugs leaves much to be desired. The more tactile controls make this better than the mobile iteration, but on a system that already offers a plethora of quick pick-up-and-play experiences, it's difficult to recommend this title.

Score: 3.5/10

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