Studying graphic design means that I work with typography (letterforms) a lot. So, when I encountered Typoman – a Wii U exclusive – at EGX 2015, it really stood out for me. In this 2D puzzle platformer, Brainseed Factory have taken a unique premise and turned it into one of the most original offerings on the Wii U.
The premise of Typoman is relatively simple. Beginning with the Prologue – an introductory section where you construct your character out of type – you find your way to a mysterious guardian-like character who tries to give you your last piece of type. This is when things go a bit awry, though, and you then have to traverse typographic puzzles, platforming and action sequences to defeat the evil in this world and get the last piece of Typoman.
As the name suggests, Typoman is all about type. The world itself is even partly made from type, with ladders constructed from lots of stacked H forms and A spikes killing you at the bottom of pits. The small details are really effective, too, like the paper aesthetic of the background which gives the impression of a crafted world. Most of the game is dominated by dark colours that stand out on said background, and the contrast gives the game a striking look. The soundtrack is also superb, and adds a really ominous ambience.
The real highlight of the game is how type is used for puzzles – you will often be presented with a supply of certain letters which must then be arranged into words that help you progress. It starts off slow, with basic word puzzles, but it soon develops into multi-layered problems. Often, the main issue is getting the letters needed to construct another word – for example, obtaining the letter F to combine with L, I and F to create the word LIFT for a platform.
These puzzles are often ingenious, but occasionally infuriating. While the solution was always logical in the end, the difficulty does shoot up at some points. This is because some little details of puzzles aren’t displayed well enough, which can lead to unnecessary time wasted as you search for a solution which should be pretty clear. Wise implementations of the Wii U GamePad help a lot here, as there is an optional staggered hint system. One tap of the screen gets you a clue with the needed word in it, and another tap highlights that word for you. In a game with quite sophisticated puzzles, this helps you to keep moving forward – crucially, you aren’t penalised for using the hint system either.
As well as this, the Wii U GamePad gets some extra use through the Scrambler. Typoman can throw type around one letter at a time, but it is – being a partially constructed typography man – rather clumsy. This is where the Scrambler comes in; one push of the X button near multiple letters lets you rearrange them on the touch screen. This is incredibly useful, especially in some of the more frantic aforementioned action moments. Yes, there is much more than just slow-paced, thoughtful puzzles in Typoman.
Indeed, interspersed action scenes do well at breaking up the puzzling. Monstrous creatures made from words like DOOM try to stop Typoman, and other than the aforementioned guardian, all you have on your side is wordplay; words such as HOPE ward off the creatures. These action sections add to the world of the game, but are similar to the other puzzles in that they have a very uneven difficulty curve. Some are natural to get through quickly, others take multiple retries (un-skippable cutscenes don’t help). When the action focuses on typography, that is when it shines, as you get the original ideas coming through (like swinging on suspended letters that complete words as you swing – brilliant). The action scenes involving enemies often feel like boss battles, especially at the end of the game. These sequences give a massive boost to the story of Typoman, despite their gameplay deficiencies.
Even though Typoman is a very short game – after the Prologue, there are 3 Chapters which can be gotten through in a few hours (with no extra modes) – it doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed. This story has a concise intro, a satisfying ending, and just enough gameplay substance in between. All of this is done with no speech, which is clever in a game which is all about type and reading. Despite the lack of actual talking, Typoman is charming as a character and you root for him more and more as you play through the game (Typoman for Super Smash Bros.!); he is presented as an underdog of sorts, as all he can really do is move letters around. Then again, you can do a lot with letters, as Typoman proves.
Typoman has gameplay flaws, and every so often suffers a performance issue or two (A glitch where Typoman gets stuck on a letter did strike, and there was some framerate issues every now and then). While these problems cannot be overlooked, the general uniqueness of Typomanshines through. It has a fantastic premise, and Typoman shines the brightest when it uses the focus on typography for clever puzzles and action sequences. Add to this a really well-executed narrative and striking aesthetic (not to mention a fantastic soundtrack), and Typoman becomes a standout game on the Wii U eShop that is well worth checking out.