Totem Topple Review - Screenshot 1 of 4

In Totem Topple you have to drop heads down on top of a totem pole while weird spiny things idly float into it as they try to knock it down. It's hard to know what these spiny things' problems are, but they will never give up, only giving way to more persistent, different coloured spiny things until they eventually take you down. Each animal head you place on the pole has different effect so, in theory, clever head placement would help you reach new heights. Totem Topple's myriad problems make it hard to create any kind of strategy or enjoy the game on any level, though.

Your totem pole is under constant attack in Totem Topple, so you'd best do some research on defenses. Each head does something different, and it's in getting these abilities to work together that you'll keep getting higher. Owl heads are resistant to damage but weaken any attacking attachments put on them. Deer heads give bonus health to all nearby heads. Eagle heads give a damage and rate-of-fire bonus. They all have their uses, so it's up to you to choose which ones you need the most. Just watch the resource cost of what each head requires to place, as you have to kill enemies to earn those back.

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Unfortunately, however, most of the stats don't seem to mean anything. A head with a high defense dies in one impact from basic enemies just the same as every other head in the game. Having a higher rate of fire is almost imperceptible, as is the increase in damage. The heads all claim to have different abilities, but all seem to behave exactly the same save for minor, minor differences. This makes it pretty much pointless to bother learning what any of them do since, largely, they all do nothing.

The heads all look similar from a distance, too - even from just as far away as the Wii U GamePad. It's very difficult to tell them apart in the game's art style, but you can pause the game and tap on their symbols to see what they do. Not that they actually do much of anything at all, but if they did it would be very difficult to tell them apart regardless. Most tower defense games require some memorization of what items do, but use the art style to help the player remember - Totem Topple doesn't, but since there is no actual difference in how the heads act it's not much of an issue.

None of these heads can attack, though. For that you need to attach a beak to an existing head. Beaks can be attached to the left or right side, and will continually fire in that direction (hopefully with some damage boosts from smart head placement). If something wanders into its path it will take damage. This should have made the heads' boosts all the more important, but as this mechanic isn't effective in practice you're just going to place as many beaks on either side as you can and hope for the best. There's no strategy save for hoping the enemies run into your arrows, so you put as many arrows in their way as you can.

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This game can also get downright frustrating with its hit detection. Most enemies require a very precise hit to take down, and when you have no real control over the rate of fire that's a recipe for aggravation. It's just hard to see this ball-like enemy float down through a hail of arrows, watching as each shot flies right through its tiny hitbox. If the hitbox had been too big the game may have been too easy, but seeing shots fail to do any damage when they clearly travel through the enemy sprite makes the game rather irritating.

Another problem is that you can only attach beaks (and wings, which actually boost defense since they eat a hit) on heads from top to bottom. There is no option to choose which head to add these items to, it just pops onto whichever side is free and closest to the top. So, if something on the bottom is about to get clobbered, unless you have the resources to place a beak or wing on every single head down to the one that's in trouble you're going to take a hit. This streamlines the game so that you eventually learn just to let some of your old heads go, but it defeats some of the purpose in not being able to protect every level of your structure at will.

The enemies and defense itself aren't especially appealing. Many of the enemies are just colour variants on the same weird circle with sticks attached to it, and they all just idly float down on either side of the totem pole. There are no lanes or routes to really watch which, again, streamlines the game, but also means it can get a little dull. All you're really expected to do is set up as many turrets as you can on either side of the pole and hope the enemies get caught in the shots. You do your best to create an alleyway with a high rate of fire and that's it. For someone looking for a short diversion, this works quite well; you really only need to watch the two sides and choose from a handful of heads in order to best take your enemies down. If you want a little more depth to your enemies and strategies, you won't find that here.

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If you find you're doing well and wish to challenge yourself further, the game has Frantic Mode. This mode gets rid of resource costs for head and beak/wing placement, instead giving you a roulette wheel of which things you can place. This is a much faster-paced game than the basic mode, as you no longer have to wait for your pole to down a bunch of enemies to get enough resources to build something. There aren't that many heads and defenses to choose from, either, so you can usually build something decent quickly.


It's very hard to imagine someone being all that invested in building up this tower and fighting off the ugly enemies for long, though. The gameplay pretends to be deep, but the heads' effects are imperceptible. You can miss an enemy you watched yourself hit, and those same enemies have no visual impact, looking like odd symbols just floating your way. The rest of the game's art is muddled to the point of being impossible to make out on the screen (except for a nice sunset); the music - a single track - gets repetitive quickly. There's just very little to keep someone playing Totem Topple. There's no strategy, no depth and no appeal.