The Rest of the Story
HIGH The simple joys of physics sans frustration.
LOW The one occasion where I had to precisely propel a block over a chasm to hit a button. Most certainly not sans frustration.
WTF Dealing with most enemies by sitting just below them as they enthusiastically rocketed themselves over my head and into open sky.
In my review for the first episode of Topatoi, I noted the solid physics, but couldn't ignore the fact that it was basically a foundation for something meatier. The entire journey through the the seven stages of the great tree did little more than set players up for as-yet-unreleased content. In developing all of the stingily rationed ideas of the first outing, Topatoi: Pillar of the Skies is the substantive puzzle-platformer that its predecessor only alluded to.
At the end of the first episode, the evil Blackwing takes the hero's girlfriend through a portal to another dimension and Raph, our ever-charmless protagonist, pursues. Once there, he learns that Blackwing has ascended to the top of Sky Pillar (surprise!), and can only catch up by collecting majiggers and dragging blocks around. Topatoi was never about high drama or world-building, but as an excuse to get players back to the business of toolin' around in a hovercraft, it gets the job done.
The praise for the effective handling of physics in the original episode is doubly warranted here. While the first episode had plenty of boxes to drag around, the trials that required it were pretty simplistic; pushing a box onto a switch or rolling a ball up an incline was about as demanding as things got. In the second episode the gloves come off, and players frequently face much more involved challenges. Evoking memories of Portal's companion cube, one particular instance had me navigating perilous catwalks, riding elevators and fending off enemies all while hanging onto a box I had found much earlier.
At first, gauntlets like this elicited a reflexive groan; I wondered how many of my inevitable repeat attempts would result from fussy physics. Thankfully Topatoi's stable object control rarely faltered, and I was able to complete a majority of these physics-heavy tasks in a single run.
While the basic gameplay has been much improved from the first episode, Pillar of the Skies also brings a greater and unwelcome emphasis on combat. In the The Great Tree Story, enemy encounters didn't do much to add or detract from the experience, so I didn't even feel compelled to mention them. In the second episode, dismantlers—the enemy du jour—are both more plentiful and more tenacious, and the frequency of combat highlighted just how much this system leaves to be desired.
Encounters play out like a sumo match, as the player and enemies simply attempt to shove each other off of the game's many precarious platforms. The dismantlers aren't exactly the sharpest tools in the shed, habitually surrounding Raph and pushing against him in opposite directions. Often we'd all just sit there, clustered like a bumper car pile up. The imprecise futzing of these "fights" stands in stark contrast to the tight design that defines the rest of the experience.
Despite the stumbling of the first episode, Topatoi: Pillar of the Skies finally sees the series hit its stride. While the game could still do with a little more personality, and less emphasis on combat (or even better, none at all) Boolat has proven that a modern physics twist on old-school platforming is a concept with legs.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 5 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 times) and 1 hour of play in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains comic mischief. As with the first episode, there's nothing to be concerned with here.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Audio cues are used to denote that an object has appeared, usually upon pressing a switch. While it's possible to simply search around after activating a switch to see what effect it had, it should be noted that these sometimes take place off-screen, necessitating a bit of searching.
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