It must be tough coming up with an idea for a platform game. What kind of platform game do we want? What's the theme? How will it look? It's pretty incredible the amount of pre-production work that goes into a game. Most platformer play the same, with jump and attack buttons. Can Totem Runner stand out from the pack?

The first thing you notice when you start playing Totem Runner are the incredible visuals. It looks as if you're playing a cartoon. Not a crappy Saturday morning cartoon, but one that would look awesome in IMAX 3D. In Totem Runner, you play as a mystical warrior, out to stop an evil that is threatening to render the planet lifeless. Do this by transforming yourself into a mighty eagle, enormous rhino, or a magical dragon.

Changing into another creature happens with the simple push of a button. Since you don't control the speed of your warrior, the only thing you do control is what appearance he takes throughout the level. If the ground has given away, then press the eagle button and soar through the sky. If an enemy warrior or plant is in your way on the ground, press the rhino button and charge right through them. The transformations are instantaneous and provide quite a bit of timing trickery in the later levels.

As you run through the stage in human form, pressing the button in the lower left corner allows you to grow new life in the stage. Grass, flowers and stars erupt behind you as you run towards the exit. You can only do this while in human form, so make sure to stay in that form as much as you can. Try and grow enough plant life to accumulate the three flowers in each stage. The more you earn, the more stages you can unlock. The ultimate goal is to find all five of the magic seeds scattered in various stages, in order to pull together the power of the sacred flowers and beat the game.

The real challenge in Totem Runner is paying attention. Events happen at a moment's notice, and you must be quick to hit the transformation button. If you run into a vine, boulder or enemy, you'll die. The great thing about Totem Runner is you don't start from the very beginning of each level if you do die, something that drives me f-ing insane in some games. There are various checkpoints littered throughout, so once you pass one, you'll start from there if you do perish. If you're really stuck, then press the button that transforms you into a dragon. The dragon automatically clears part of the stage, killing enemies while filling up your flower meters. Be sure to collect those gems littered throughout each stage, because they replenish your dragon powers. It's the only transformation power that you can't use at will.

Another thing you'll notice about Totem Runner is the music. It starts out as a soft melody before quickly amping up to jungle beats infused with techno. Sounds bizarre, but when the music starts getting crazy, it's because the stage is becoming more and more intense. I wonder if they're going to release the score as an iTunes download because I'd totally buy it.

Totem Runner was a real surprise. The beautiful artwork combined with an intense score, simplistic gameplay and challenging stages will keep you coming back for more. If anything, just to see what surprises the game has in store for you on the next stage. The only real drawbacks are sometimes controlling your eagle can be tough in tight areas and some may find the challenge to be a tad difficult. But be persistent, and you'll get better and better at it. It doesn't take any mysticism or magic to see that Totem Runner transforms the platforming genre into something pretty amazing.


App Store Link: Totem Runner for iPhone & iPad | By Chillingo | Price: $0.99 | Version: 1.1 | 63.8 MB | Rating 9+

8.5 out of 10 arcade sushi rating