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Review: Totems in Dreamland

Mandrill VR’s Totems in Dreamland sets itself apart on the Gear VR at launch by being the only platform videogame available on the format. While the likes of James’ Legacy has benefited from a demo version previously and the ill-fated mobile title in Playful Corp.’s Lucky’s Tale series looked promising, at present there is no competition for Totems in Dreamland. Even if there was however, it would surely find it difficult to outdo Mandrill VR’s efforts to adapt the traditional gameplay formula to virtual reality (VR).

Totems in Dreamland plays from an unusual viewpoint for a platform videogame, resting uneasily somewhere between top-down and isometric. The pathways the player must guide young XiaoShan across are rendered in full 3D and don’t exist on a flat plane. They circle throughout the player’s vision, commanding them to look up and down, left and right (but thankfully not in the full 360 degree spectrum). XiaoShan moves automatically as commanded by a sightline emitted from the centre of the player’s vision, with the objective of each level to bring the youngster to the exit point.

Totems in Dreamland screenshot

This starts off relatively easily of course, walking along solid pathways before gaps, enemies, weapons and switch puzzles are introduced. It’s not long before the player is commanding pathways to fall out from underneath the enemies, dodging spinning spiked balls and launching double-jump attacks into the centre of a bustle of foes to take out several at once. Totems in Dreamland is remarkably well designed in its ability to inform the player of the necessary tasks they must perform with very limited input options.

Able to use either a bluetooth control pad or the Gear VR’s built-in touchpad, Totems in Dreamland uses only a small selection of inputs. Tap for a single jump, double tap for a double jump; tap to shoot when standing on a weapon tile, swipe to exit the weapon. The knowledge required to play Totems in Dreamland is decidedly low, but that certainly doesn’t mean its designs aren’t challenging later in the videogame.

Each level grants the player with three attempts to see it through to completion. These can be lost via impacts with deadly obstacles, falling off a pathway into the abyss below (which can only be done when pushed by an enemy or misjudging a jump; XiaoShan will not simply walk off a ledge when the player is directing him) or being assaulted by an enemy. At the end of a level the player is granted a star rating depending on how many lives they have remaining, inciting a small amount of replay value for perfectionists.

Totems in Dreamland screenshot

The aesthetic of Totems in Dreamland is never less than charming. Colourful in its palette and lively in its animation, Mandrill VR have made an attractive representation of a deadly dreamscape that doesn’t show it’s darker side until later in the videogame. Occasionally it stretches the player’s willingness to spin through a wide spectrum of their neck’s turning ability a little too far, but aside from this minor issue it’s hard to fault any aspect of Totems in Dreamland‘s gameplay or visual design.

The Gear VR has some wonderful, inspired titles already available despite it not just being a new format, but the first of an almost entirely new medium. Totems in Dreamland joins the ranks of the best the system currently has to offer despite being attached to one of the most well worn genres in videogame history. Mandrill VR have made something special in Totems in Dreamland, and VRFocus has high hopes to see what the team can deliver next on the format.

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