Project Totem Preview: A Co-Op Game to Challenge Your Friendships

A message appears at the bottom of the screen when players fire up the co-op mode of platformer Project Totem, mentioning the title is about trying to stay friends.

Developer Press Play’s title is the kind that can get people frustrated with each other, because in its couch co-op mode, it’s all about working together with the person next to you. Mitchell Saltzman and I got a chance to try Project Totem at the Xbox Lounge at San Diego Comic-Con 2014, and felt pretty good about not coming away from the game wanting to kill each other.

Players take control of a totem pole in Project Totem, moving through the game’s side-scrolling world and interacting with each other. Chunks of the totem are color-coded, so one player controls the green totems, while the other guides the purple. Even at the outset of the demo we tried, there were four totems on the screen, two on the top of the screen and two on the bottom.

Each half of the screen was functionally identical at the start, but different hazards were present between the top and bottom. That meant we needed to pay attention to both halves of the screen and all four totems at once to avoid things like tar pits, enemies and colored energy fields.

Players can hop on top of each other’s totems to make a pole, which is key to avoiding some hazards and reaching some heights. Both totems can jump, and so using the top of one jump to lift another is a key strategy. The colored energy fields mean that only the totem of the right type can pass through, so Mitch and I found ourselves carrying one another over our specific hazards to avoid getting murdered.

It’s easy to fail in Project Totem, and efficient, careful teamwork is key. Navigating the two halves of the screen simultaneously was tough as well, and before long, Project Totem threw us another loop — the totems on the top half of the screen dropped down to join the lower pair, doubling the number of totems we had on-hand to use to solve puzzles. Even more coordination was required to get the totems to the right ledges and past hazards, and we had to work together to activate switches and open paths forward.

It’s also possible to play Project Totem in single player. You simply control all the totems and switch the colors as needed. While it’s certainly functional like this, the co-op mode seems much cooler.

Project Totem’s floor demo lasted only five or 10 minutes, but in that time it begged quite a bit of solid teamwork out of Mitchell and me, in the vein of cooperative gameplay such as what’s seen in Portal 2. Expect to fight through some clever challenges that will have you slapping your partner many high fives — possibly in between bouts of trying to throttle each other.

Project Totem is headed to Xbox One and Xbox 360 later this fall.

Phil Hornshaw is senior editor at GameFront. Find more of his work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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