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Project Totem

A Hands-On Look At Press Play’s Newly Unveiled Game, Project Totem

Press Play is best known for its puzzle/platformers Max and the Magic Marker and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, but the studio is letting Max take a breather to experiment with its latest platformer, Project Totem. We had hands-on time with Project Totem at GDC and got a glimpse into how it will test our focus and twitch skills.

Project Totem started out as just a creative outlet for brothers Asger and Bo Strandby while they were working on Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. The two were having fun with the small prototype and so they decided show it off at a party, just to see people's thoughts and reactions. As soon as others saw it, they wanted to see more and as Asger and Bo continued work on the game, they realized it needed to be their next project.

Your goal is simple: A totem pole has been destroyed and you must put all the pieces back together by visiting three different worlds, complete with both single-player and local co-op campaigns. Project Totem takes inspiration from classic platformers, but lets you control two totems at once with a single input. That means if one totem jumps, they both do, and the same goes for any other movement.

In our hands-on time, the levels progressed quickly, first testing our reflexes, then adding gravity and ice obstacles to the equation. One thing remained consistent: Levels challenge your ability to stay focused and react quickly. During each level, color barriers exist, and you must match the totem color to them. For instance, you can't go through any green areas with a purple totem and vice versa. With a tap of a button, you can swap your totems positions on the top and bottom platforms.

At first you're merely shifting the totems around, but it quickly becomes a frantic mind game. The speed escalates, giving your brain mere moments to make the right swap as you track both totems as the colors change. In one level, both totems were dropped down a sea of alternating colors. I tripped up more than once; it's easy to get distracted when you have two different totems and colors changing at different intervals. Plus, it's easy to swap so fast that you miscalculate your next move due to the frenzy. 

Enemies and collectibles also litter the map. You can't jump on enemies Mario-style and must instead avoid making contact with them. Also, the collector in you will find it hard to resist bigger challenges to grab all the aqua pickups. The amount of pickups you collect and your death count determine how flashy your totem will be. For instance, objects like sunglasses and wings are awarded for higher scores.

Navigating the campaign by yourself isn't the only option; there's also a unique co-op campaign. Because you must coordinate your actions with another player, Press Play opted for couch co-op. The experience is somewhat different from playing solo, because you're not responsible for both totems. However, it still adheres to the same rules: Matching the right colors with the totems is still required. A lot of the puzzles I encountered required me to time my jumps with my partner to succeed and using my partner as a height boost to reach ledges and items.

Project Totem kept me engaged during my hands-on time; the way it challenged me to get past some of the color barriers made me determined to get to the end of the levels. Additionally, playing in front of a group is bound to get laughs and cheers as you try to keep your focus through tough obstacles. Trust me: Trying to make a hard jump or make sure you're landing your totems on the right color is hard enough, but then you get a new element like ice and things get even trickier.

 Project Totem is coming to both Xbox One and 360. Press Play is targeting fall for launch.

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