The PlayStation store has been host to a huge variety of games from the insanely bizarre to the sublimely subtle. Aiming at many different demographics is important to keep the money coming in and for the smaller developers it’s the ideal place to cut your teeth and try out fresh ideas. Since 2001 Boolat have been making mostly mobile only games and Topatoi marks their very original first venture onto the PS3.
Topatoi is a platform puzzler in which you play Raph, a character that seems like he’s been plucked right out of the Jak and Daxter universe of long eared trendy bystanders. Accompanying Raph is a Professor and a nondescript female companion. Their journey to wherever it is that they’re going falls foul to that wonderful plot device, the ‘pulling the wrong leaver’ trick, which sends them crashing down to an unexplored land that, simply put, is one big giant tree.
Once they recover their wits the girl is swiftly plucked away by the game’s villain Blackwing (I know), which seems to have no effect on the other characters at all. The Tree is home to some odd creatures and their attempts to stop the baddies results in the many puzzles and traps you have to endure – this is as much story as you need to know, as it feels very much like a minor after thought. So thin is this plot that you could easily cut cheese with it.
The basic gameplay is all based around the Professor’s invention, the ‘Gyroscopic Exploration Multidimensional Multiterrain Apparatus’ or GEMMA. It’s effectively a giant spinning top you can ride in. The levels are very linear which is to be expected when the whole story mode wraps itself around the trunk of the great tree.
As the game progresses you gain abilities that fall into three categories. Push, pull and jump are assigned to the face buttons and a double tap results in an enhanced interpretation of the move once unlocked. A super push and a super pull either blast objects away or suck them towards respectively and double jump does exactly what it says on the tin.
Other elements are drip fed into the game including a fuel system and various puzzle concepts based around your abilities. The fuel concept adds a lot of depth to the scoring of the game, which is uploaded onto a global leaderboard. Whilst it’s optional to collect all of it, running out of fuel will see you restating the level from scratch and it also translates into more points.
Falling, which is the only other way to fail in this game, will put you back to one of the frequent checkpoints. It’s something you’ll be doing a lot of, as there are certain elements of the controls that don’t quite run as smoothly as they should. Using the L2 and R2 buttons speeds up or slows down your actions. It uses more fuel when fully pumped up so high scores require a bit of fuel management but when playing through for fun, it only causes frustration.
After every super move a small gauge is needed to refill which can also require a bit of temper management as it takes just that little bit too long, stopping you from recovering from that misguided jump. There’s also a bit of clipping and strange surface recognition that can often result in a cheap death or five. The enemies, who seem to be using the same strange mode of transportation as you, are nothing more than a minor distraction with AI set to barge the most effective defence is dodging and barging back. Thankfully there’s not too many of them.
After the seven levels in the story mode you’ll find yourself reasonably comfortable behind the controls but it’s only when you venture into the arcade mode that you get the idea that this is a concept with potential. Free from the trappings of plot and cutesy bright colours, the Arcade mode gives the developers much more room to stretch their legs. And it does the game wonders.
Going down a similar route to Mirror’s Edge, the challenges are a test of skill and speed. Requiring patience for some really tricky levels, it feels like this is a game that would have been better off left abstract and faceless. Games like Echochrome and Marble Madness let the gameplay do the talking and Topatoi would have done well to take note.
The split screen mode has the feeling of being hastily implemented and won’t distract for more than a few attempts of each of the five variants. Including an air hockey clone, two race levels and a couple of knock off arenas the bugs will seem greatly amplified in a competitive capacity. Whilst it bumps up the overall package, you’ll wonder why the effort was spent here when other, more important aspects of the game required a bit more time in the oven.
At first glance it seems that this game is one that’s aimed at the younger audience. From the bright colours to the simple puzzles that never leave you scratching your head for more than a microsecond you will feel inclined to file it under ‘one for the kiddies.’ But you’ll find that behind the bad animation and dodgy plot is a game that has sound ideas at its core.
The deep scoring system and the longevity of the arcade mode would help ease the pain of the tacked on plot but the feeling of movement and laggy response to inputs mean that it’s more of the same frustrations. It’s unfortunate that Boolat felt the need for an explanation to the mechanics as it only makes the experience feel shallower than it is. If you have the ability to look past the story and the bugs you might find yourself enjoying the concept alone. It’s certainly original, I’ll give them that.
Addendum: In the review we stated that Boolat has been responsible for mostly mobile games. We have since been informed by the developers that they are also engaged in developing mainstream and casual games for PC. The company has a developer team with eight years of experience in creating games of various genres, such as real-time strategy, arcade racing, quests, adventures and casual games. After releasing our PC projects the company came to a decision to move to console development, becoming one of the first East European developer and publisher for PlayStation Network. We apologise for any inconvenience this omission might have caused.