Word games have always been a passion of mine. Looking at a group of letters and trying to form new words out of them can be fun and intellectually stimulating. So what if we took a word game and combined it with a platformer, another favorite genre of mine, which favors skill over brains?
Typoman does just that, and the idea was clever and unique enough to draw me in. A hero made up of jumbled letters who uses words to his advantage in order to overcome obstacles? Sounds great! But even the cleverest ideas need substance and polish to back them up, and after a while of playing Typoman, it became painfully obvious that it was rather lacking in both.
Typoman (Wii U)
Developer: Brainseed Factory
Publisher: Headup Games
Released: November 19, 2015
In Typoman, the player controls a small hero made out of the letters that spell the word “hero.” This little guy must navigate a treacherous landscape riddled with puzzles and traps, all of which are also made out of words and letters, in a quest to reclaim his lost arm.
It’s your basic puzzle-platformer, with the main draw being that all of the puzzles and platforms are composed of letters. Pits are filled with pointy As, ladders are built out of Hs stacked on top of each other, and traps are created around words like “gas” and “crush.” Meanwhile, enemies formed from the words “hate” and “evil” roam the land looking to put an end to the hero’s adventure.
In order to solve puzzles and bypass traps, the hero must rearrange letters to spell new words. See a raising platform that won’t move? Try to form the words “up” or “on” out of the letters nearby. Stuck in front of a flooded pit full of rainwater? Maybe the problem can be solved by adding another letter to the word “rain.” The first area of Typoman (what you see in the trailers and demo) is full of simple, clever puzzles such as these, easy enough to solve without help but fun enough to make me smile.
To make spelling easier, the Wii U GamePad can be used to quickly rearrange any nearby letters into new words, provided that the letters are all touching each other. The hero can also rearrange letters manually by picking up individual letters and pushing, pulling, or throwing them into place, but this takes a lot longer than using the GamePad.
As the game goes on, the puzzles start to become a lot more complex, but not always in a good way. By the third and final area, almost all of the puzzles involve a “letter dispenser” which provides the hero with nine or more different letters to choose from in order to form a solution. Not all of the letters from the dispenser are necessary, and sometimes a puzzle might require choosing the same letter multiple times. I found these puzzles to be a bit too unintuitive for my liking. Usually, the area would be set up in a way where I wasn’t exactly sure what the game even wanted me to do, what type of end-goal action I was looking for, so I ended up just sitting there staring at the letters on the screen for about twenty minutes trying different words that never did anything.
Typoman does provide a hint system for these difficult puzzles, which essentially tells the player which word will help them out through vague inspirational quotes. The puzzles become so difficult, though, that it’s really hard not to just give up and take the hints after standing around doing nothing for a long time. And even after the solutions were revealed to me, sometimes they still didn’t make much sense.
For these longer words puzzles, I would have liked for there to be multiple solutions. For example, one puzzle that had me stumped for a long while had a very simple (if illogical) four-letter-word solution to be created out of a possible eight letters. Other words such as “stairs” or “raise” seemed like they could have possibly helped, since the puzzle involved platforms of various heights and distances which needed to be connected, but they did nothing. Instead, each puzzle seems to be looking for one very specific word in order to perform a very specific action, and it’s the player’s job to try and figure out what exactly the game is looking for. The problem is, neither the word nor the action required is usually very obvious.
Puzzles aside, the platforming segments also needed a lot of work. Jumping is very sluggish, and the player is often required to time jumps at the very last possible moment in order to clear pits. On top of that, many of the traps have no warning at all until they have already been triggered, leading to a lot of trial-and-error gameplay. Deaths often felt like they weren’t my fault at all, since I usually had no way to know that death was imminent until it was too late (don’t even get me started on the final boss, by the way). Luckily, there are no lives and dying simply brings the player back to the beginning of the last puzzle, but it’s still frustrating since these types of things happen throughout the entire game.
On top of the confusing puzzles and poor platforming, Typoman also had long load times, a surprisingly short length, and a strangely serious, eerie atmosphere which I felt clashed with the otherwise quirky nature of the game. In the end, I was left wondering exactly what type of person Typoman was meant for. As someone who loves words and word games, it wasn’t very satisfying to try and figure out which exact words and letters I was expected to use. Getting creative never helped, and instead I usually had to resort to guessing blindly until something worked or simply relying on hints which was no fun at all. And for other people who aren’t great at word games or simply don’t enjoy them, I can see Typoman becoming very boring very quickly.
The beginning of Typoman showed promise, full of amusing and creative moments, something that anyone could enjoy. But unfortunately it wasn’t able to hold that momentum for very long and quickly devolved into tedium and confusion, and lots of standing around doing nothing.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]