Typoman Review – Switch eShop

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Would you say that you like the solutions in your games spelled out for you? In that case, Typoman is here to punish you for your careless use of language. This side-scrolling platform-puzzler spells things out for you alright. Its protagonist, antagonists, and essential level furniture are all quite literally made up of the letters that spell out what they are.

Our hero has an ‘H’ in place of a set of legs, an ‘E’ instead of a torso, an ‘R’ for an arm and an ‘O’ for a head. Implacable insectoid pursuers spell out ‘DOOM,’ while that raisable platform over there rests on the word ‘PLATFORM’. If Typoman’s typographic world is a little on the nose, however, then its puzzles are far cleverer in their use of the English language. Occasionally too much so, in fact.

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While Typoman largely controls like a typical 2D platformer (it’s particularly reminiscent of Limbo in look and feel), it’s completely devoid of direct combat. Rather, progress is about negotiating isolated set-piece situations by physically shuffling around letters to form words that will bring the silhouetted world around you to life.

It might be as simple as spelling out the world ‘DOWN’ to drop a ladder, or you might need to swing the letter ‘D’ into the suspended word ‘RAIN’ in order to drain a deep pool. We don’t want to provide too many more examples here, because the vast majority of Typoman’s appeal hinges on its creative use of language. To describe the cleverness of the game’s puzzles is to spoil them.

Perhaps it’s our pampered modern gaming sensibilities, but occasionally Typoman’s conundrums are a little too vague for their own good. We find ourselves completely stumped on one early teaser that sees us repeatedly choking on gas. It turned out we aren’t yet fully on the game’s wavelength, nor fully appreciative of its powerful word-forming system. It’s tempting to suggest that this was an issue with the game’s pacing, signposting and even its use of language rather than our own powers of comprehension. It certainly wasn’t the last time we’re stumped by it.

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We do appreciate the way that letters and words in Typoman don’t simply exist in an abstract menu – though you can indeed interact with them in this way if you wish through the game’s Wordscrambler menu, accessible through the Y button. But these are also physical objects that can be hefted and thrown around the levels, making the puzzles physical in nature as well as linguistic.

It’s a shame the game’s controls aren’t that little bit sharper and more responsive. You’ll frequently find yourself under some kind of time constraint, whether from the aforementioned gas or a chasing monster, so it’s frustrating when Hero doesn’t latch onto a lever or drop a letter in exactly the right place to quickly form an activation word. The contact areas between your character and the surfaces they interact with seem a little woolly.

The mechanics of play are just never quite fluid or reliable enough. Typoman’s number of punishing scenarios doesn’t help with these tangles, giving many sections a trial-and-error setup that spoils the poignant, lyrical tone Brainseed Factory is going for here. Those with strong memories may recall that this is the second outing for Typoman on a Nintendo platform, with the game initially landing as a Wii U exclusive a little over two years ago. This revised edition provides some minor design and graphical enhancements, but it also takes away the Wii U version’s neat touchscreen control options – even in handheld mode. 

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All in all, Typoman remains a game with a brilliant core idea and some frequently flawed execution. When it works, it’s one of the freshest platform puzzlers you’ll play on Switch, and those shining moments are just about frequent enough to warrant a cautious recommendation for those of a particularly wordy disposition.

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