I’ve long been a fan of strategy games, but the more engrossed I become in mobile gaming, the less I have the desire to play a game where one “round” or “mission” takes a half hour or longer. Thankfully, some mobile developers understand that, resulting in strategy games like Totems ($2.99). They may be simple in mechanics and short on play time for an individual match, but they still provide a sufficient mental challenge and sense of accomplishment when you win. In the case of Totems, I also like the whole tribal animal theme.
The goal of Totems is simple: score as many points as possible. While this usually translates to conquering the most land, it doesn't always, depending on the number of players in the game. To take over a piece of land, you simply drag one of the animal totems from your hand at the bottom of the screen to your desired section of land. The land will change to your color, as will any adjacent lands with the same totem. The more lands in the same grouping you own, the higher your score becomes. Once each game, you are allowed to “swap” your hand, discarding all the totems you have left and getting new ones from the remaining selection. At any point during the game you can click the skull in the lower left side of the screen to see what totems are still either in your opponents’ hands or in the pile left to play. Unfortunately, you don’t know which is which, but it can still help you plan your next move.
There are a total of four maps to choose from. The first map allows only two players, while the other three give you as many as four slots for you and your opponents. The first map has three different totems, the second has four, and each map after that adds two more totem types. Each map after the first also has barriers, which can block you in certain areas from taking over another territory even if you set a totem next to another of the same type. There are five different computer opponents to choose from, each with its own ELO rating, which is a measure of how well the opponent plays. You have an ELO rating as well, which goes up and down depending on whether you win or lose a match.
In addition to playing against the computer, there are several multiplayer options including the option to play with your friends or connect with random players over a local (WiFi or Bluetooth) Internet connection. If you select the “Play With Friends” option, you can have as many players as the map supports. When you play local, you can fill extra slots with AI opponents if you don’t have enough real players. Surprisingly there is no hot seat mode, which I would rarely use anyway, but seems like it would work well with this game. Game Center provides Leaderboards to keep track of the ELO ratings, and it also offers 16 achievements for you to earn. It would be nice to see some more maps eventually, but otherwise there is certainly plenty to do in Totems.
I really like the visual style in Totems. There’s nothing overly detailed about the design, but it’s clean and sharp and the interface looks pretty slick. There’s a cool layer of clouds drifting past in the background, and it is fun to watch your color sweep across the land as you take over multiple territories. Each animal makes a unique noise when you place it on the board, and the other audio elements are a mixture of ambient sounds and an occasional burst of music. I think I’d like a more consistent soundtrack, but overall the aesthetics work really well.
There’s nothing overly deep about Totems, which is what makes it work so well on a mobile platform. Matches are fairly quick and the fact that the tide can turn in an instant makes for some tense moments. The game looks stylish and sounds good, and there are enough options to keep things feeling fresh for quite some time. This is no Axis & Allies or even chess for that matter, but in some ways it can be just as satisfying.
Overall Score: 9/10