Indie

Totem Elements Review – Low Man on the Totem Pole

As a long time fan of puzzle games, you learn how to pick up on a good puzzle game pretty quickly.  With champions like Tetris and Bejeweled holding the crown in the genre, it can be pretty hard for newcomers to put up a good fight.  Is Totem Elements the latest “blockbuster” to keep you addicted long into the wee hours of the night?


One can usually tell a solid puzzle game by a variety of characteristics—the mechanics should be easy to immediately pick up and understand, gameplay pace should be accommodating of both speedier and slower players, and every good round should start off feeling like it could be the one where the player feels like they could absolutely own, just to name a few.  Totem Elements unfortunately falls a little short of meeting many of these qualities.

Totem Elements is a drop and match puzzle game in the style of the classic Columns.  A row of different colored blocks fall from the top of the screen with the touch of a simple press in the upper left hand corner.  Upon landing, should the blocks line up and match with one or two more of the same color, the pieces explode in a bright blast and even have potential to set off adjacent combinations of blocks.

It is a puzzle game where sometimes blocks explode and there are bright colors.

It is a puzzle game where sometimes blocks explode and there are bright colors.

Like many traditional puzzle games that are about clearing the screen or achieving high combos, this game has players trying to pull off chains at the bottom of the playfield where three platforms slowly deteriorate with each blast until they ultimately crumble into pieces.  Once these platforms are gone, a game is won and players are able to move on to the next round.

The execution itself is actually rather creative and fresh given the repetitive nature of puzzle games in the era of mobile gaming.  Unfortunately, the actual puzzle mechanics of Totem Elements are just barely clear enough to make for a confusing and often frustrating time.  Even after playing for a few rounds, I never quite got the hang of what exactly sets blocks off.  Smaller chains than I expected would often explode or I simply just didn’t know the most efficient way to work to the bottom of the screen.  This is especially exasperating when playing in the game’s Casual Mode, which offers set puzzles to be cleared in a minimum number of moves.

Additionally, that progression in the game itself is mandated by how well you actually play.  If you want more stages in Casual Mode, you’d better either play one perfect game after another or basically have the money to cough up for single-use potions which help give you a few extra buffer moves.

Hope you're good enough at the game to earn stars, because you're gonna need them.  A lot of them.

Hope you’re good enough at the game to earn stars, because you’re gonna need them. A lot of them.

There is also an additional Arcade Mode which simply challenges players to rush against the clock to clear the screen of the platforms.  If Casual Mode puts up enough of a confusing playthrough, don’t expect Arcade Mode to fare any better with its more heated requirements.

It really is a shame that the game comes off as so dry.  For a puzzle game, there are some neat ideas in there, especially as elements such as frozen blocks requiring multiple hits start showing up in Casual Mode.  The gameplay is just a little too lacking and there’s nothing aesthetically intriguing to keep players wanting more. A lack of catchy music and faux Pop-Cap style graphics are just barely stylish enough to keep in turn with the totemic motif of the game.  If you really don’t think that actually makes a difference, I dare you to go play Peggle for just a few minutes and see just how the overblown victory fanfare makes every victory feel like a big one.  It definitely helps.

If you’re in the market for a portable puzzle game, there are many better selections than Totem Elements.  For some, the Casual Mode might be enough to justify giving the game a try, but honestly, even just the randomized falling of the blocks makes it feel like the odds are definitely stacked in the game’s favor.  Pass this one up and just hold your breath for the next big mobile phenomenon.

Final Breakdown

[+Touching and sliding controls work well enough][+Very colorful][+Interesting spin on traditional puzzle model][-A little confusing to pick up][-Progress is hindered by pay-to-play model][-Not very engaging overall]

Poor Review Score

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