Perhaps somewhat criminally, I wasn’t aware of Typoman until very recently. A Wii U exclusive indie platformer, it’s a game where words not only make up the majority of the visual style, but are integral to the gameplay. The short-form nature of Typoman may not appeal to some, but what it does offer is a distinctive style and clever word puzzles that blend in with the theme.
Typoman’s aesthetic can be best described as oppressive, taking inspiration from the likes of LIMBO with its darker tones. Each environment is decaying in some way, sometimes literally spelling it out as platforms crumble from “robust” to “bust”. There’s a sombre soundtrack that occasionally plays, but the game’s tendency toward ambient noise adds to the despotic feel, making this tale depressing and hopeless.
While very minimalist in its presentation, the game does a fine job of telling a simple story. Our “hero” begins merely as a discarded letter, who slowly builds itself up to become an anthropomorphic collection of letters, being guided by a celestial being to rise up against the dark world they inhabit. This no frills approach suits the style of the game well, rightfully focussing on the gameplay.
Every important object and character is depicted with words. It’s incredibly abstract as a result, yet it somehow feels like second nature to navigate and it’s here that Typoman is innovative and refreshing. Using the words to solve puzzles is an idea that I’m actually surprised hasn’t been done in this way before, with clues given if you should ask for them on the screen of the Wii U Gamepad.
If you were forced to just pick up and throw the letters to form the correct word, then Typoman would plod along at a snail’s pace. Thankfully this isn’t the case, and the Wii U Gamepad’s scrambler lets you swap letters to form new words instead. It’s simple to use and a godsend during certain sequences.
What’s especially invigorating with these puzzles is that there are, at times, multiple ways to solve them when you’re presented with words to generate, that interact with objects in the world. You could opt to slow down the crusher or stop it entirely, for example. Enemies can be dealt with using words to protect you or to change them into other words. This approach allows players to tackle the problem using their own logic or degree of challenge.
I wish the same could be said for the platforming. There were times where I knew what to do, but the game would require some very precise movements. You are able to manipulate switches and climb ladders, all of which are standard platforming practices, but it’s how precise you need to be when landing that can lead to untimely deaths.
Things unravel almost as quickly as the environments themselves, with one particular section involving a fire chasing the Hero over precarious pits being more infuriating and finicky than any platformer I’ve played in the last few years. At only three chapters prefixed with a short prologue, Typoman is extremely short at around three hours, but the difficulty spike towards the end is too abrupt.
Typoman’s appeal boils down to whether or not you’re willing to invest in shorter games that are content light, yet have genuinely interesting ideas that are beyond what’s come before. By using words as an aesthetic and gameplay device, it writes its own reasons for why it is unique. My only wishes were that the platforming was tighter and that it had a few more levels. Typoman is over far too quickly for my liking, but this is high praise for what it did in its short time.