Let's pretend you have a casual sim game like Virtual Villagers, Westward, or My Tribe. Now, instead of focusing on village management, you shift things in a real-time strategy direction, similar to Breaking the Tower or Warcraft. But let's not fuss over gathering resources, just allow the player to build, unlocking units as he or she plays. Now, to keep things interesting, scatter a handful of objects across each island and encourage the player to search for them, hidden object-style. Did we leave anything out? Oh, yeah, inject some Fun Molecules and wrap the whole thing in an irresistible coat of Addictive Sauce +4. What do we have? Totem Tribe, your latest cross-genre addiction.
Totem Tribe manages to pull together some of the best elements from a number of popular casual games and create something twice as engaging without upping the complexity. Gone are resource managing, complex building/unit requirements, and villagers who act while you're away, but in are over 20 islands to explore, friendly and not-so-friendly characters to encounter, mini-quests to earn spells, and unlockable artifacts that grant your tribe special abilities.
Legends say Tetala Island, home to the peaceful Hawk Tribe, was once marked by a glowing sparkle that came from the sky. A mighty relic called the Tear of Heaven, rumored to grant unimaginable wisdom and enlightenment to its possessor, soon descended. As the young chieftain Aruku, you must lead the Hawk Tribe to prosperity as you explore the lands in search of totems that unlock the secrets of the Tear of Heaven.
Totem Tribe does a fantastic job walking you through the basic gameplay elements without holding your hand too much. The first level introduces huts, workers, how to build structures, and giving orders to active units such as scouts. Subsequent stages give you a few more units/buildings to manage, all presented at a pace that keeps your attention without overwhelming you with things to do.
The game is divided into scenarios that take place on different islands. Each scenario brings something new into the mix via a series of small missions, each tied directly into the story line. For example, one island is infested with crows, but your fighters can't attack enemies in the air. A little exploration reveals a hermit who knows of a run-down workshop hidden in the forest. If you find the missing pieces of the building and repair it, the hermit promises to teach your tribe archery, a skill perfectly suited for ridding the trees of those pesky birds.
Missions are always different but usually include optional side-quests you can undertake while waiting for your workers to build. Some islands, for example, have hostile tribes that will attack your village, while others are more peaceful and require you to seek and find certain items, build special structures, repair derelict buildings, and so on. Missions are surprisingly varied and keep you entertained as well as challenged for the duration of the game.
Analysis: Another surprise simulation-based genre bender, Totem Tribe hits the sweet spot between game types and delivers something truly special. I was shocked at how addicting it is, as both the story and gameplay work together to draw you in to this marvelous new world.
The game's blurb text promises hidden object gameplay, which seems out of place in a strategy title, but I was pleased at how Enkord handled the situation. Gems are scattered throughout the islands, some are fairly obvious while others blend in with the background. There are also treasure bonuses to be found, several of which are really difficult to locate. Completing certain missions also requires you to find items obscured by the foreground, but I was never stumped for more than a minute or two in these situations.
Although the game is structured in a nice, simple way, I found myself craving a few control shortcuts that would have made the experience a little smoother. For example, moving around the map is accomplished by "pinching" the terrain and sliding the ground in the direction you want to look. When you're trying to build a building, however, you can't pinch without first de-selecting the building, forcing you to go back into the menu screen and choose the building again. Sliding the cursor to the edge of the screen would have been a nice shortcut to scrolling while placing buildings, and even though the [arrow] keys scroll, the incremental movement they provide is not as convenient as just moving the mouse.
Great design from top to bottom, Totem Tribe will draw you in with a familiar premise and keep you playing with its new take on some old ideas.