A moody puzzle platformer with a literary twist.
Puzzle platformers have been at the forefront of the rise of indie games. Braid helped usher in this new era in 2008, while Limbo and Inside from Playdead elevated the genre further, not to mention the likes of Unravel, The Swapper and other countless imitators.
Typoman from Brainseed Factory is yet another, but despite its trite name it has a clever trick up its sleeve. It might be another visually striking, eerie platform game, but its central conceit is wordplay.
Our hero is, well, a hero: he’s made up of the letters H E R O. That extends to the world, which is devised from letters. Levers are built from the letter L; platforms and elevators are built with those words; and enemies are made from FEAR, DOOM and EVIL.
This is environmental storytelling at its most literal. Puzzles require you to read the landscape for clues on how to proceed or how to avoid traps, and enemy letters give you hints on how to defeat them. Take the O from the word MOVE and join it with an N to turn ON a switch. A platform that seems ROBUST will fall and turn to RUST. And an enemy wants to GORGE on you, so feed it a D until it’s GORGED.
Typoman frequently will have you squealing with delight at how clever you feel – this is a game which requires you to think as much as testing your dexterity and skill. Not all the puzzles are elegantly designed and it’s sometimes possible to get trapped, but with frequent checkpoints a quick hit of the retry button is no hardship.
Gradually the puzzles become more complex, where machines offering a variety of letters allow you to make up words from anagrams to give you certain powers: TILT a platform, EVADE attacks, or STOP a machine. There’s a degree of creativity to this and although it’s not quite a fully robust literary system, experimenting with words does lead to unexpected results – FUN gives the hero a smiley face, OLD puts a fuzzy filter over the visuals, and RAVE creates a light show.
Hidden throughout the world are quotations that make up the game’s narrative and are stored in your journal. It’s disappointing that the story is somewhat hidden, even though the quotations aren’t difficult to find, but it is light and poetic as it describes the hero’s journey. In this beautiful, bleak, desolate world that crumbles and creaks around you, the hero is the embodiment of all that is good. The elegiac soundtrack mourns the destruction of the land, fallen letters perhaps the corpses of heroes past, and only you can become a beacon of hope.
There are moments of frustration as the puzzles are often solved through repetitive trial and error, and as with its inspiration, Typoman is a brief experience. But these head-scratchers are always satisfying to solve – having a dictionary to hand is your greatest weapon. By the end, you’ll feel like a Countdown champion.