Totem Runner Review

I think it’s fair to say that most developers don’t generally look all that far beyond the likes of Super Mario and Sonic for inspiration when creating a platformer for iOS. Bucking this rather tiresome trend, Chillingo and Yagoda Productions’ Totem Runner (out now, $0.99) plucks its fantastical premise and the idea behind its core gameplay mechanic straight out of Navajo legend, while its stunning silhouette-style art direction takes cues from cave etchings and other tribal art.

A brief but stirring animated intro sets Totem Runner’s plot in motion. Here’s the dealio: An ancient evil has risen and cast a once lush and vibrant tropical world under its vile, corrupting shadow. Players take control of a mystical warrior as he journeys throughout this blighted land, magically rejuvenating its flora and slaying droves of ferocious monsters and other enemies that stand in his way. It’s an incredibly perilous undertaking, so thankfully our hero isn’t just some garden-variety tribal warrior; he’s actually a powerful “skin-walker” who can morph into various different animal forms at will!

As the titular runner automatically sprints through stages, the player’s task is two-fold: First, earn points by leaving a trail of freshly sprouted greenery in your wake while in human form; second, employ your shape-shifting abilities to circumvent various pitfalls and destroy your foes. Controls are pretty straightforward; tap and hold a virtual button on the left-hand side of the screen to sprinkle magic seeds and jab action keys on the right to transform into either an eagle that can soar over gaping chasms or a rampaging warthog, capable of smashing through obstacles and eviscerating enemies with its powerful tusks. Last, but by no means least, you can turn yourself into an invincible dragon-like phantom whenever you gather up enough of the glowing gems you find scattered around levels.

Totem Runner does start out at a relatively laid-back pace — allowing you plenty of time to get to grips with the controls and shape-shifting mechanic — but as you progress through the game, level designs get a heck of a lot more complex and Yagoda expertly crank up the intensity by throwing surprises like crumbling platforms, intricate death traps and ever more formidable enemies into the mix. Of course, it’s temping to simply breeze through problematic areas in “beast mode,” so the developers have included the proviso that you must remain in your more vulnerable human form for as much of the time as possible in order to achieve a high-score, which in turn unlocks additional level sets.

This sharply rising difficulty curve, coupled with the fact you need to earn a lot of points in one chapter before you move onto the next, makes for a fiendishly tricky game that takes a lot of patience and perseverance to progress through. Now, I personally relished the challenge, but can see how it may run the risk of alienating more “casual” players who pick up Totem Runner expecting it to be a less taxing, endless runner-type affair. With that in mind, perhaps the inclusion of an “easy mode” might be an idea? All in all, though, Totem Runner comes highly recommended; it’s visually stunning, action-packed and boasts plenty of interesting content for gamers (who aren’t averse to a challenge) to sink their teeth into.

iFanzine Verdict: Totem Runner’s wildly imaginative and uber-stylish presentation may be the main draw, but this auto-scrolling platformer is no slouch when it comes to delivering exciting and challenging gameplay either.