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Nov 18, 2011

Beware the Epoch of the Comet!

Totem Tribe
Game Category: Casual - RTS, Hidden Object
Developer / Distributor: Enkord Ltd.
Release Date: 14 Jan 2009
Rating: ESRB - Not Rated

Totem Tribe is a real interesting take on the casual strategy genre. The game comes from Enkord Ltd. and is unique in the sense that it introduces the concepts of a real time strategy game to casual players, while mating the idea for a hidden object game in a most unique and elegant manner.

The game has you assuming the role of a svelte lady by the name of Aruku. And by the way, this lady happens to be the chieftain of the Hawk Tribe, so don't go away thinking that you are taking on the role of some pansy damsel in distress.

You will be guiding Aruku through 23 islands that bring you exciting strategy game play in a casual style quest. Will you be the one to bring the tribe out of the ominous Epoch of the Comet, and into one of happiness, prosperity, glory and success for her tribe?

Come join the Totem Tribe today - you'll get to complete many challenging quests, vanquish strange evil monsters, build huge cities, and discover lots of treasure along the way!

Welcome to Totem Tribe
Game Play
After watching a nice little background story about the onset of the Epoch of the Comet, you will find yourself starting off the game on Tetala Island, home to the Hawk Tribe. This is also where you will be exposed to the tutorial where you get to learn most of the basic concepts in this game.

Totem Tribe is actually a simplified version of a full fledged real time strategy game like say Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 or Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth. The key difference is that you don't have to purposely select a specific building and then click on a build unit button; units will be built automatically for you in this game. Isn't it great - this makes the game readily appealing to the casual player.

You'll learn about new buildings when the time is right
Let me give you an idea of what you will learn and accomplish on your very first mission. You will notice in the bottom right corner a space for three buttons. For now, you see a huge green "hammer-and-bricks" button (see screenshot above). Clicking on it will open the building menu. The building menu holds an image of a Hut and 18 question marks; these question marks are plans for other building types like a scout lodge, a barracks, a tower, a hunter camp, an archery range, a witch doctor shack, a smithy, and so on. 

Some buildings can only be built if you have fulfilled the pre-requisites. Take for example the hunter camp, you must have a scout lodge to build one. You'll be introduced to the rest of the building types as you play through the rest of the game, so I'll let you uncover them by yourself.

See that red flag on the mushroom?
With time, all your fighters will converge on it
Most buildings will generate a unit over time; the maximum a building will field is 3 units. I use the word "most" here because there are buildings like the tower and research buildings that will not generate any units for you.

Let's take a look again at the Hut that was mentioned earlier. This building will generate for you 3 workers. After a hut is built, it will automatically start to train a worker for you. A short while later, the new worker materializes and walks over to join your original 3 workers. The hut will continue to train two more workers before it stops production. It will only resume production if one of these 3 new workers gets killed. The bottom line is - if you need more workers, build more huts. 

Scout lodges will net you scouts who are useful for uncovering the black fog of war that is obscuring your view of the entire map. Similarly, barracks will get you capable fighters, hunter camps will train for you hunters, the archery range will help promote archers, and the witch doctor shack gives you... witch doctors!

Fight nasty monsters
To send out your army of fighters, hunters, archers, witch doctors, and so on, you only need to click on the red cross swords button. Similarly, to deploy your scouts, there is a brown coloured eye button that you should click.

Clicking on either button places a flag of that button on the map. In the case of the red flag, all your troops will march inexorably towards it. If they encounter any enemies along the way, they will start engaging them in a fight to the death. As for the brown flag, you will see your speedy little scouts start shuffling towards it - this makes for a really quick way to uncover the fog of war.

Read all stone markers you find
Dotted all over the 23 islands are hints found in the form of stone markers. Don't miss any of these as they may contain an important tip to help you find an object. Hmm... this is the perfect lead-in for me to describe  the quest system in the game.

There are many quests in Totem Tribe - at least 120 to be more precise. Some of these involve taking out tribal enemies or monsters (like mushroom men or flitting black shades), while others require you to find a number of objects. These objects are shown in the centre right side of the screen. In the example shown below, you are supposed to find a number of magical pebbles hidden on the map. If only it were that easy!

This quest is simple enough... now where can they be?
The developers have made the hidden object part of the game the most challenging part of the entire game. Since you will not always be fighting enemies, you have a lot of time in the game to wander all over the map and find cleverly hidden objects. Some of these hidden objects may be quest items (like a rare root), a jewel, a coin, or some valuable artifact. Jewels are usually in plain sight, but the other objects are not so easy to find.

What the developers have done is to take static objects like trees, rocks, mountains, or buildings, and then hidden these objects behind them. Unless you have eagle eyes, you are going to have an extremely tough time finding some of them. In fact, without reading hints from the stone markers, you won't even know that a quest item on a certain island is actually hidden inside a burnt out campfire.

I need 25 sea shells to complete my quest.
There's one in the screenshot above... can you find it?
The graphics in Totem Tribe is really something: the 2D artwork featuring Aruku and tribesmen are very nicely drawn and painted. The artwork makes me feel makes me feel very alive, like I am with the Hawk tribe in spirit, guiding them through the countless hardships that they must face.

The map artwork is also surprisingly good as static objects decorate the entire island and make it feel like the island is alive. I also like how the developers have done an incredible job in hiding all the treasure on the maps; trust me, it's very easy to miss a quest item that is actually right before your very eyes.

Help Aruku in her quest
The in-game music is quite exciting featuring a mystical tribal beat and an enchanting flute solo, however I felt that it was too short. The sounds effects are reasonable if not too overly fanciful, with serviceable interface clicking sounds and clear ambient sounds of seagulls calling or of men hammering and constructing a building.

That's not the Aurora Borealis, is it?
Totem Tribe is a one of a kind experience that exposes a casual player to the world of real time strategy. 
  • The real time strategy concepts are easy enough for everyone to appreciate and enjoy.
  • The game holds your hand throughout most of the journey across the 23 islands, that's because you get to uncover new things at almost every step of the way.
  • At the same time, it also gives you free reign to tackle your quests in the manner you prefer.
  • The battles in Totem Tribe are pretty epic in a casual sense and Enkord should be lauded for injecting a hidden object challenge into the game in such an ingenious manner.
  • The artwork is rather pleasing to the eye and the island landscapes you visit is rich and diverse.
  • There is a treasure chest at the island selection screen. Inside this chest are all the jewels, coins, totems, artifacts, and other thingamajigs that you have collected along the way. You can consider this your achievements showcase.
The best part of the game is finding all the treasure
In seeking to be uniquely different, has Totem Tribe compromised the need for casualness in favour of being too mainstream
  • The hidden object part of the game can be a real game killer; there are parts in the game where you are literally looking for that proverbial needle in the haystack. To make matters worse, there is no hint system whatsoever. You will have to rely on walkthroughs for the game that have thankfully been made available to everyone on the Internet.
  • There's actually a build tree in Totem Tribe that may be too cumbersome for the casual player to recall. My previous example was - to build a hunter camp, you must first build a scout lodge. That was easy, but wait! Here's a more complex branch of the build tree - to build a hall of mysteries, you need to already have a shaman tent, which in turn needs a wiseman's house built. The wiseman's house requires that you possess a workshop and a smithy too.
  • Quests can become very tedious affairs in some parts of the game.
  • Battles are usually one-sided affairs in your favour, especially if you follow the saying the more the merrier!
  • Another thing that casual players may not like is the need to visit an earlier island and complete additional tasks that will help you in the later part of the game.
Choose the island you wish to conquer next
You should give Totem Tribe a try because it's a great game. And as far as I know, I've never played anything like it before. Despite the cons I listed above, I was very pleased by what Totem Tribe had to show me. There's so much to do in this game that it's going to take you at least 8 to 12 hours to complete everything.

Due to the surprising success of the game, Enkord has actually released Totem Tribes Gold which brings you through 32 levels with more than 200 challenging quests to complete. What more can I say, but - Come join in this tribal war dance and we shall vanquish our enemies once again!

Build as much as you can... and upgrading towers help

Daily PC Game Review Score: 8 / 10
Review Date: 15 Nov 2011


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