A world, and a game, formed with letters on an inky page. That’s the concept of Typoman, an inventive platformer from German studio Brainseed Factory. It’s more than just a piece of visual design too, the letters that make up Typoman’s world are crucial elements of gameplay, as players use the letters to interact with the world around them. I got a chance to play the game for a good 15 minutes at this year’s gamescom and while I was left gasping for more, it didn’t take long to realise that this could be something special. Truly original ideas are hard to come by in this industry, but Typoman feels like something genuinely new.
The game follows an anonymous protagonist who starts out life as the ‘O’ in the word ‘Go’, an opening puzzle in of itself, as I found myself hitting the A button over and over in an attempt to launch the game. Turns out all I had to do was pull on the right stick to get the ‘o’ rolling across the dark and murky level - even from the off, the use of words and letters to influence gameplay feels strange and unfamiliar, but in a pleasant, satisfying way. The ‘O’ then rolls over a stray ‘E’, picking it up in the process and hopping along using the ‘E’ like a spring. The word ‘Hurry’ promptly appears up ahead from which our protagonist nabs the letter ‘H’, using it as a pair of legs with which he can run and jump in typical platformer fashion. Later finding the letter ‘R’ on the ground, and using it as an arm, the letters come together to form the central character of this journey, ‘HERO’.
That’s just one, very small, example of how the letters in the game form the world and in turn inform the player. There are some simple examples of this in practice outside of our Hero - the word ‘Platform’, for instance, forms just that - a platform on which Hero is raised and lowered at points during a level. A more intuitive example could be found later in the level I played: in order to activate one of the aforementioned platforms I had to activate a nearby power switch that conveniently contained the letter ‘N’. So I grabbed an ‘O’ from earlier in the level and rolled it in front of the switch, turning it ‘ON’ and powering up the platform.
It gets even better. At another point in the same level I came across the word ‘PART’ lying on the ground with the word ‘DROPS’ lingering on a platform towards the top of the screen. As I made my way towards ‘PART’ it suddenly snapped up in the air and slapped down on top of my Hero, revealing the word ‘TRAP’ (the word had reversed while killing me). A tad shocked I studied the environment for a little while until I noticed that the ‘S’ on the end of ‘DROPS’ moved every time the trap slapped down on the ground. So I forced the trap to snap shut a couple of times until the ‘S’ dropped to the floor. I then moved the ‘S’ in front of the ‘TRAP’, at which point a strap appeared from the ‘S’, caging the trap and preventing it from killing me.
OK just one more example! Another puzzle introduced water to the game, as well as a nifty little death animation when the ink Hero jumps into it. Above the impassable pool of water is a raincloud with the word ‘RAIN’ written inside of it. Next to it are a series of letters hanging from the ceiling, the final letter - the one closest to the word ‘RAIN’ - is a ‘D’. So I had to jump across the swinging letters and place the ‘D’ in front of ‘RAIN’, draining the pool and allowing my Hero to pass. The level I played was filled to the brim with these puzzles. They’re smart yet hilariously literal and figuring them out is even more satisfying than in your standard puzzle platformer.
On top of the brilliant puzzles the game also sports fantastic visual design. All dark silhouettes and stark blacks, the game looks incredible in action. The idea is that the world has been drawn or painted on paper, and this style only helps to develop the wonderful uniquity of Typoman. No details were revealed on how story will be implemented, but the developers are sure that the game will follow a similar narrative pattern to Limbo - that of purposeful ambiguity from the off. I’m not sure how well a story will actually fit within the game, but I dare say that it’s not really needed. Just provide plenty of thoughtful word-based puzzles and I’ll be happy.
Typoman is still in its early stages. The level I played is as much as Headup is willing to reveal right now and no details at all were given on a release date - I’m assuming this is because the core components of the game are still being developed. Right now, the game comes across as more of an idea than a full title - a taste of what could be. Given the right amount of time and commitment, however, Typoman could be a real hit. I’ve never seen a game with such interesting, clever puzzle mechanics. The real test for Brainseed will be to maintain the quality of puzzles in the trial level throughout the rest of the game. I sure hope they can, because Typoman is a bold new direction for platformers, and an ingenious concept.