Review: Totemo – My New Time Burglar - Macenstein

Review: Totemo – My New Time Burglar

Totemo iPhone

As odd as it may seem, not all iPhone games begin life on the iPhone. Game maker Hexage seems to have an “Android first” mentality that while seemingly a ludicrous waste of time from a business standpoint, at least lets them iron out most of their games bugs before porting to a “real” platform. One such game is their newly released Totemo, a sort of match 3 (or 4) puzzler that has become a true time burglar for me recently, so I decided to share my love/hate (but mainly love) relationship with the game.

Totemo iPhone

The idea behind the game is fairly simple, although I’ll do my best to confuse you. There are two modes of gameplay – the misnamed “Story” mode, and the addictive, timed “Survival” mode – but the rules are the same for both. Basically you start each level with a series of colorful, round spirits, and the idea is to clear the board, thus freeing them or saving their souls or something. The game is not really clear on this (more on this in the “Issues” section of the review) but basically your goal is to get rid of them. To do this, you need to connect rows of three contiguous spirits (either vertically or horizontally adjacent) by either clicking or dragging your finger across them. As the game progresses the levels get significantly more difficult, and extra gameplay rules are added as you travel through all six of Totemo’s lands and 68 levels.

Totemo iPhone

The first hurdle thrown at you is the star, which can be used to clear one spirit in addition to the traditional “match three” mechanics. Later, you are forced to deal with rows of 4 spirits. Then later still there is a new kind of star which can be used to clear two spirits, or one additional star. It’s interesting to see how your strategies must change for each new type of obstacle. Sometimes a puzzle’s solution will be glaringly obvious, other times I found myself repeating a level up to 30 times or so in order to pass. The good news is if you realize you made a mistake you can simply shake your iPhone/touch and reset the level and start over.

Totemo iPhone
Above: Totemo’s Survival mode

In “Survival” mode the idea is to see how many puzzles you can solve before time runs out. You start with 30 seconds on the clock and each puzzle you solve adds an additional 30 seconds to your time, with a maximum limit of four minutes. When you eventually lose (and you will) your score is submitted to the global Totemo leader board. I’m not usually a huge fan of “race against the clock” type games, but I am thoroughly addicted to Totemo’s “Survival” mode. I’m not sure whether I am actually good at the game or just not that many people are playing yet, but I have a pretty decent high score given I’ve only played a couple hours, so maybe once more of you pick up this title and the goal of ever achieving Top Ten status, let alone first place fades from my grasp, the game will lose some of its appeal, but as it stands I keep coming back for more, trying to top my best.

Totemo iPhone

Finally it is worth mentioning that the visuals and sound design of Totemo are very well done. The game is responsive and plays very smoothly – the colorful lighting effects as the spirits are selected and “exploded” are wonderful, and the somewhat creepy mood music combines to create a nice overall feel of quality to the game.


In general I love the game, however I did find quite a few annoyances that I might as well share in the hopes that an upcoming update rectifies them. In fact I have assurances from Hexage that the first of my gripes WILL be address in an upcoming update after I bitched about it on Twitter – namely that I really hate when a game has an action that causes the iPhone to vibrate, and this cannot be turned off. In the case of Totemo, if you fail to clear a level the iPhone will vibrate (obviously the iPod touch will not). This is extremely annoying to me as I do a lot of my gameplaying in bed at night while the Bride of Macenstein attempts to sleep, and the iPhone’s vibration is far from silent, and as I mentioned there are times when I have need to lose a level 30 times to beat it. In fact even when awake I don’t love this extra “tactile feedback” of the vibration, and I am glad to see it will become a setting in the “Options” screen soon. I had the same issue with Fieldrunners when it first launched, and they too eventually made vibration optional (although for the life of me I don’t know why they made it a system option instead of an in-game one. That is truly baffling, but don’t get me started on Fieldrunner’s preference placement… we’ll be here all day).

Totemo iPhone
Above: Is this annoying?

Totemo iPhone
Above: How about now?

Totemo iPhone
Above: No? Well, try tap through these 68 times and come back to me.

The second issue I have is more minor, but still annoying. When playing “Story” mode, you are guided through the levels by a floating Tiki-head spirit who initially provides you a tutorial during the first few levels of gameplay, but becomes increasingly useless and annoying as the game wears on. At the start of each levels he says (via speech bubbles) about 3-4 inane, useless things. The majority of these are non sequiturs that have nothing to do with the game, and you need to tap through them EVERY TIME you start a level, even if you have previously beaten that level. What I find interesting about them is that they seem like the kind of things I FEEL like I am SUPPOSED to think are funny and charming, but they fall flat for me. So there is a chance you will love them and I am missing something, but some of them I think are 5 bubbles long, and having to tap through them each time got old quick. Oddly, I had the same problem with the game Buka, also a Haxage game (but far inferior), and I did not know that the company made both until the Tiki head began making occasionally references to Buka. As long as Hexage is adding to the options screen, let’s add a toggle to the Tiki God’s jargon.

Totemo iPhone
Above: Level 68. Don’t expect much.

Finally, my biggest issue with the game is the fact that the “Story” mode is a complete sham. What little bit of a story that the Tiki head lays out for you – namely the mission to free all his trapped spirit friends – basically comes to nothing. I eventually beat all 68 levels and expected to be rewarded with some sort of visual of the freed spirits happily celebrating, or the Tiki at least saying “thanks!”. Even if the Tiki appeared and said one of his lame trademarked non sequiturs that would have been something, but when you beat the last level, nothing happens. It’s a very surreal WTF? moment that if intentional, is stupid, and if merely an oversight, then is something that needs fixing.

Totemo iPhone
Above: Number 16 with a bullet, baby! Watch your back Bloodrush, you are now my nemesis.

I know it maybe sounds like I am bashing the game a bit here, but I’m honestly not. I just want Totemo to be all it can be. So with that in mind, I will use this as an opportunity to point out a bug I discovered while playing “Survival” mode, if the developers are reading this. I had just gotten my highest score ever, something around 37,000, and I guess the iPhone lost its internet connection while the game was playing because it was unable to send my score to the servers the way it normally does. Unfortunately, the game did not know what to do and it just hung on the “nightime sky” screen – no “cannot connect to server” error message or anything – and my score was lost forever. I hoped the game stored scores locally and would sync with the server the next time I played, but alas, it still says I am around 32,500 or so. So note to Hexage, fix that. Do whatever Flight Control does when it doesn’t have a connection.

Totemo iPhone
Above: Once you’ve beaten a level in Story Mode you can come back to it at any time, but I doubt you will. Move over to Survival Mode.


While I certainly have a few issues with Totemo, none of them is enough to sour my love of the game. While the lack of an ending in “Story” mode is pathetic, the journey was far more important than the destination. While “Story” mode has basically ZERO re-playability, I’m almost clinically addicted to the timed “Survival” mode, and have certainly gotten my 99¢ worth out of the game and then some. If you are a fan of brain puzzlers with a unique look and feel, and an extremely annoying tour guide, then run, don’t walk (metaphorically) to the app store and pick up Totemo (app store 99¢) now.

4 Responses to “Review: Totemo – My New Time Burglar”
  1. Mike Meyer says:

    “android first” development – or marketing, if you’re big enough to do parallel development – makes business sense because it starts income flowing sooner, since you don’t have to wait for apple to approve your app. If your app plays with things Apple deems unaccpetable (see Locale, for instance) then “android first” may be the only option.

  2. kuzya says:

    strangly for you – too long post .. i’m not used to it 🙂

  3. Patrick says:

    “most of their games bugs” should be:
    “most of their games’ bugs”.

  4. nexfraxinus says:

    Well I certainly like it .. now matter if it was like a secret ad or not 😉

    Thanks for the info!

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