Toodee and Topdee sounds like the output of a rapid innovation brainstorm under game-jam pressure: “What if side-on, but also top-down?” Probably sort of true, as developer dietzribi conjured the game's earliest form for Ludum Dare 41 in 2018. It’s a throwaway idea that they were absolutely right not to throw away. This fully fledged game keeps surprising and challenging for several hours, with charismatic presentation and a genuine sense of humour.

So, what if side-on but also top-down? It works like this: Toodee lives in a side-on 2D platforming world, and Topdee lives in a top-down 2D puzzley adventure sort of a world. As a result of some self-deprecatingly hand-wavey yet entertainingly animated video game codswallop, the two worlds are smashed together like two gaming tropes in a game design parody tweet. Single screen playfields are traversed with nice tight jumps by Toodee, until pressing 'Y' tilts the view a little and suddenly Topdee’s walking on what was the wall. Toodee is meanwhile faded out, fixed in place and invulnerable until the switch back, allowing Topdee to shuffle blocks to become platforms, interfere with enemy attack behaviour, and get stuck on top-down obstacles where Toodee will need to return the favour, until both meet on the level’s exit portal.

Levels are divided into worlds, each world introducing new items, enemies and concepts, then training the player to use them. The difficulty curve is perfectly judged, with no dumbing down just because a new idea’s come along. Well-designed bosses cap off each world. The puzzles are an impressive Jenga tower of creatively repurposed ideas. Perhaps we were too cynical in expecting less, but it’s true that few puzzle games can get as far without fizzling out.

There’s a thinking/doing balance to be struck in a puzzle platformer. The working out of the solution is a massive part of the fun of the game, so once it’s worked out, you don’t want to be slogging through the actual execution just to get to the next puzzle. Toodee and Topdee does well for the most part, but it definitely has an action side to it, meaning the execution of your solution is as much a part of the game as the lateral thinking. It’s critical, then, that the action parts are satisfying, and they only sort of are. Toodee’s movement is accurate, flowing and readable, with straightforward and unequivocal physics that don’t get old. Topdee, though, is a drag. It’s unnecessarily tricky to judge position due to the tilt of the playfield, and a single slip-up in a dynamic solution can mean a total reset. To the game’s credit, the levels are short, so there’s a natural limit to how a big a problem that can be, but optional time-based tests lean into the pressured put-one-foot-wrong territory where the game is weakest. And although they’re optional, there’s substantial content to unlock, so be prepared to grind the duller parts if you love the rest of it.

Overall, Toodee and Topdee is fantastically imaginative puzzle game with exceptional variety wrung out of its core conceit. It struggles most when it asks for dynamic execution of puzzle solutions, but even then it’s pretty decent. This side-on / top-down puzzler is one that other games should look up to.