PAX Prime 2014 Impressions: Project Totem

Still in Alpha, Project Totem by Press Play was debuted at PAX to a resounding sigh of relief at its revitalizing style of game play. Far different from the more popular gritty shooters or action genres, this game is a simple yet complex puzzle game hearkening back to the success of Braid a few years back. While it does not have a release date, the beta is designated to open up spring of 2015.

Project Totem presents itself as a deceptively simple puzzle game. You control two totems of different colors and have to move them both safely to the other side of the screen. Unfortunately, this is where the simplicity stops and the true mental gymnastics begin. The totems themselves mirror one another so if you push left, they both go left no matter what. They also both jump at the same time. Anyone with any flash game or phone game experience knows how complex just these two mechanics can get within a matter of 10 levels but Press Play was not content to keep the gameplay limited to the basics.

After the easy first levels, you are then introduced to countless other mechanics, sometimes within much later levels. While the levels available at PAX certainly don’t show everything, they definitely run gamers through anti-gravity, switching colors, stacking totems and even finding a way to maneuver colored goo. Some levels even give your totems wings, making the X button change its purpose ever so slightly. As it stands, even this wide array of strategy does not even encompass half of everything Project Totem will ask of its players, making the eventual release of this game even more exciting.

While these mechanics may seem like the game itself will be nigh impossible to complete, those that want added challenges or who don’t like playing alone can find their fix in the multiplayer option, a revolutionary addition that always ups a good challenge. Instead of two totems, there are now four, two for each player. To minimize confusion, color swapping does not exist, and to make challenges less stressful, there are no speed puzzles. Because of this, the game then turns more into a communication challenge than a skill-based puzzle system, but this does not mean it completely drops any sense of frustration during harder parts.

At its core, Project Totem is designed to be a simple, clean platformer devoid of anything more than the knowledge to move and jump. While the levels are complex, clearing them is based around precision and timing more so than the all too often used physics engines. Its release at PAX did not reveal any strong sense of a story, focusing more on gameplay in both single and multiplayer. Both work seamlessly, and if this is only a piece of what the developer is promising, then this release is sure to wow once it reaches the masses. Sadly, it is only going to be a Microsoft release for both the Xbox One and 360, but should it do well, there is always the chance for expansion.

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