Written by Scott Varnham
They always say the mark of a great video game is that if you die, you feel that it’s your own fault and that maybe next time, you’ll do better. That’s part of why the Mario games are so beloved by millions. Every gamer has stories about that one level that they finally managed to conquer with a bit of muscle memory and finger dexterity. In Typoman, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the deaths feel entirely down to the game and it’s frustrating as hell.
It is, in principle, not a very complex game. You play a hero made out of thick black letters, which spell ‘hero’ in an ‘amusing’ bit of wordplay (don’t make us put wordplay in quotes too). You’re running away from a demon with minions made out of the word ‘evil’ or ‘hate’. This isn’t exactly Citizen Kane. The central mechanic is that you combine letters together into words that have an effect on the world around you. For example, combining the letters ‘O’ and ‘N’ creates ‘ON’, which works on anything that can be powered nearby. Sounds simple enough and once you see the idea in action a few times, you’ll pick it up quickly. It’s not a game that holds your hand throughout, though. The words you have to assemble on the ‘scrambler’ function of the gamepad get less obvious very quickly, which makes you feel smart when you work it out. Fortunately, if you need them, indirect and then direct hints can be found by tapping the question mark on the touch screen. That and the scrambler are pretty much the only things the gamepad is used for.
But the sticking point is that even when you know what you’re doing, actually achieving it can be its own world of pain. The gameplay features a lot of trial and error, which would be fine if there was any way to anticipate the dangers beforehand and at least make a token effort to avoid them.This isn’t helped by the fact that the controls are very fiddly. Thank god the game doesn’t have a life counter.
That wouldn’t be so bad if the scrambler function actually worked properly. This is a fundamental problem as it’s pretty much the game’s core mechanic. Sometimes you’ll be trying to combine and rearrange three or four letters in a hurry, which should be quite simple. Nobody’s asking you to duplicate Eric Gill's An Essay On Typography here. This makes it especially annoying when some of the letters that you need don’t show up (or the scrambler function just doesn’t pop up when you need it). One that happened to us was that we were trying to make ‘TILT’ but could only scramble two letters at a time, which led to our death on several occasions. Even worse was the time when the letters on screen were replaced by entirely different letters on the gamepad.
Part of why this grates so much is that the game could have been so good. The main concept is innovative for sure, and the graphics are sure to appeal to the kind of people that use typewriters because it just feels more real, man. It’s got that whole ‘evil is spindly’ look going for it, which is pretty neat. You can even play it if you’re colour-blind, as pretty much everything is black and white. No awkward colour-coding issues here. The sound design is top-notch, too. Everything sounds just as it should and the music works to create a genuinely creepy atmosphere, especially in the miniboss sections.
We had high hopes for this. We’re writerly types, we like things about writing and words so naturally this would appeal to us. But creepy sounds and admittedly pretty sweet graphics do not a good game make. The fact that the game’s main mechanic is so flawed combined with the game itself being buggy in places means that we just can’t recommend it. We really wanted to like this game but it’s about as much fun as Microsoft Word.
Colour blind issues - No
Review Code - Yes