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Full disclaimer before we get into it, my relationship with puzzle games is fairly limited and pretty strained to say the least. I’ve only ever played a handful of them – Fez (being the one I’ve spent the most time with), Monument Valley, Portal 1 & 2, Gorogoa, Braid, Opus Magnum – and as for how many I’ve successfully completed, that would be a grand total of zero. 

You see, patience is not something with which I’ve been copiously blessed, so although I always find these titles engaging at first, I either get antsy after a few hours due to a lack of frenetic combat/compelling story or hit a particularly challenging level that I’m unable to figure out within a generous 5-10 minutes of time my patience is willing to spare. Following which, I shut the game down in frustration, my inflated ego denying me even considering the possibility of just looking it up online (‘I’m better than that!’, I delude myself). Technically, I never give up though, I always convince myself I’ll get back to it and finish it eventually, only to never really get around to it. 

Fez, to me, is the most relevant of the puzzlers I’ve played, not only because it’s the sole title I’ve spent a solid amount of time with – and loved every second of it – but because, like the subject of this review, the gameplay revolves (literally!) around perspective. That is no doubt why it held my attention for longer than the rest, as I just found the concept extremely clever and the resulting puzzles very satisfying to figure out. 

Toodee and Topdee is a puzzle platformer developed and published by the peculiarly-named developer dietzribi (consisting of two brothers) and is out now on Steam, possibly also coming to other platforms eventually.  Like its name succinctly suggests, Toodee and Topdee is a game similar to Fez in that it plays with the idea of perspective, but in a wildly different manner. You see, a version of the game was first developed in under 72 hours (!!!) for a Ludum Dare Game Jam a few years ago, with the theme of ‘Combine two incompatible genres’, in this case being the side-scrolling platformer and a top-down puzzler. After being hosted on Kongregate and getting a great response for it, the duo developers subsequently made the game into the full, commercial title that we now have. 

That being stated and celebrated (game jams rock and lead to some of the best, most creative, innovative, and envelope-pushing ideas in all of gaming!), let’s get to the review. 

When Worlds Collide 

Toodee and Topdee starts off with a short intro into how their worlds were created – first there was nothing, then there was Aleph, a four-eyed (no, I’m not taking a shot at fellow spectacle-wearers) purple being who basically just one day learned how to create worlds, and so, created not just one but 8, using a semi-colon in place of sun to keep them in balance (shout out to programmers!). 

So far so good right? Well, Aleph also creates an assistant called Toodoo (geddit?) to keep track of the inevitable glitches. Once the work is done though, Toodoo has an existential crisis – after all when all the glitches are gone (Hah!), what is his purpose? Terrified of being deleted now that his job was done, he somehow steals the semi-colon and plunges the worlds – including those of Toodee and Topdee – into chaos! 

And… that’s pretty much it for the story. Now that the worlds have collided, it’s up to Toodee and Topdee, with the occasional help of a glitch, to navigate this messy amalgamation of various worlds in order to defeat 4 corrupted guardians and finally get to the sacred semi-colon. 

While the premise of exploring a mish-mash of different worlds is definitely intriguing, the game doesn’t really deliver upon that promise, to be honest. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you what the 8 different worlds were since there’s really not that much variety in the style through the game – the only thing that really changes is the backgrounds of the levels (from greenery to a factory to outer space), which were not only unimpressive to look at but have no effect on the actual gameplay at all. 

That’s not to say that the gameplay doesn’t evolve or deliver on the promise of the collision of genres and perspective – far from it – but just that the setting has no bearing on it, which was slightly disappointing. I mean, what’s the point of the set-up of the 8 worlds? You could’ve just had two – one 2D and one top-down and called it a day, you know? 

It’s clear that the focus was solely on the gameplay and not much else, which is totally fine if it delivers, but we’ll get to that later (spoilers: it does!). 

An Adorable Interdimensional Friendship

As for the characters themselves, Toodee and Topdee are visually absolutely adorable (Toodee more so than Topdee since you don’t really see much of them what with it being top-down). While the character designs are fairly simple (overly so with Topdee, he’s just a green hoodie pretty much), the animations and facial expressions of Toodee are exceedingly cute and charming. The whole tone of the game – from the color scheme and art style to the fun, quirky dialogue – is very light-hearted and some of the writing – particularly the meta-jokes at the end – is laugh-out-loud hilarious. 

Toodee is a tad more cautious and suspicious of a character while Topdee can be overly naive and friendly, which is a decent, occasionally humorous dynamic that, though it doesn’t ultimately lead to anything, keeps what little of the character interaction there is, fun and interesting. Speaking of, the severe lack of character interactions (there are only a couple of tiny dialogue cutscenes in each of the 5 chapters) is one of the underwhelming aspects of the game that I think could’ve truly bolstered the overall quality of 2D&TD if it were prioritized more. 

Since the story is already extremely basic, these interactions could’ve added a lot to the narrative but alas, it doesn’t really do much until the very end. The last ending cutscene is really where the heart of the game admittedly finally shines through and ties everything together in a nice little heart-warming bow, which makes me wish that was more present throughout the game. 

I’d be remiss to also not shout out the soundtrack – for all the frustration of puzzle-solving in Chapter 4 especially, the excellent music really helped not only keep me sane but bopping to it and having a good time. Pretty much every track is solid and a couple of them stand out as exceptional, some evoking the amazing Celeste soundtrack while one, in particular, believe it or not, reminded me of Mac DeMarco’s psychedelic stuff. 

Innovative Inter-Dimensional Puzzle-Solving 

Now let’s get to the juicy stuff – the crux of the matter and the be-all-end-all of the review – the actual gameplay. As you can imagine from the premise, you control both Toodee – in a side-scrolling platformer perspective & Topdee – in a top-down perspective. While you control one character, the other stays frozen in place. There’s a co-op mode as well which is the way I highly recommend playing so as to minimize your frustration with the game (trust me). 

Topdee can carry/push wooden crates around that Toodee can then use as a platform, while Toodee has this extraordinary ability called ‘jumping’. Both characters have to avoid obstacles like pigs and bats (a subtle commentary on Swine Flu and Covid for sure), while Toodee also has ground spikes to worry about. 

The primary objective is to get all the keys in the level and make it to the portal to the next one until you reach a boss, upon defeating whom you get to the next chapter. Simple right? Oh, you sweet summer dumbass. 

You see, the smug pair of fraternal geniuses at dietzribi progressively add more and more little complexities and mechanics to the levels that are so clever and fun that when they all compound towards the end of the game, they’ll have you in a schizophrenic frenzy alternating between confusing states of joyous frustration and annoyed awe. Truly, hats off to you two, in fact, why don’t you go ahead and keep the hats, you’ve already taken my pride and evaporated my air of superiority.

Okay, let’s back up. I’ll be spoiling the major game mechanics here, so skip ahead if you don’t want to know. You’ll suck at it even if you do know about them but discovering these mechanics was honestly such a joy (The number of times I went “Oooh that’s clever” is higher than in any other game, ever), I suggest you continue to read this section only if you’re not convinced to buy it yet.

So in addition to the wooden crates that can be pushed or carried by TD, there are also metal ones that can only be pushed. There are switches that open up paths when pressed. There are also arrow blocks that are affected by gravity – since when you switch between perspectives, it’s not only the view that changes but also the direction of gravity! So that adds a mini layer of complexity, doesn’t it? And then there are the lightning blocks that block lightning from storm clouds. And then there are pools of water that 2D can drain out by blocking the source with a crate. And then there are portal blocks, which not only teleport the character to the other portal but also conserve the momentum of the character. All of these used together make for some good shit, let me tell you. You’ll have to figure out where to use which block for example – if there’s a wooden as well as a metal crate, there’s probably a reason for that. 

Anyway, yes, there’s a lot of complex, clever puzzles in here that are sure to get your gears turning. But just how difficult are they? And are there any accessibility/assist options to ease your way through the hard parts? Let’s talk about it. 

Almost Perfect Difficulty Options 

Look, first off, I’m the kinda guy that would rather a game be too hard than too easy any day. I’m someone who’s not opposed to there being a difficulty slider in Dark Souls, but would definitely make fun of you for using it and don’t think you really have the right to say you’ve played the game if you ‘played’ it on Easy. That being said, I wholeheartedly admit that there is absolutely no way I would’ve finished this game if not for the accessibility options. 

Thankfully, there’s a good number of difficulty settings to fiddle with to fine-tune the game to your liking, while still not necessarily making you feel like you took the easy way out (just a slightly easier – or in my opinion, more fair – way out). These include a game speed slider, adjusting how much damage you can take (from 1-5, then infinity), enabling air jumps, telekinesis, and super strength. I only ever used the invincibility option and a couple of times, adjusting the game speed, but I’m glad the others are there for those who want them. 

Still, there are a couple more things that I think would’ve done wonders if included. A rewind button akin to the one in Timelie for example would’ve been extremely welcome, as there are some levels that become unsolvable after you make a wrong move, forcing you to restart from the beginning. A rewind or undo button would definitely help with this. 

The second suggestion I’d have is integrating an optional hint system (maybe through a conversation between Toodee and Topdee) to clue you in on what you might be missing. There were quite a few times where I was missing something simple that hadn’t had a tutorial, like how the teleport block works. Other than these, dietzribi has done a commendable job with the difficulty options! And a good thing too, cause man can this game get hard. 

Ouch, My Brain

As I said, I’m not a puzzle head, so maybe I’m just a noob when it comes to puzzlers and I should ‘git smurt’, but holy hell is Chapter 4 of this game impossible. 

The first 3 chapters are fun and range from easy to just the right level of challenge, including the bosses. The bosses especially are a lot of fun, forcing you to think in real-time while switching between platforming, dodging obstacles as 2D, and setting things up while also dodging obstacles as TD. Having to switch between the two mindsets that serve each other, with a boss breathing down your neck while creating this sense of urgency made for some really fun, frantic, and satisfying levels. 

A few levels through Chapter 4 though, especially when Tookee comes in, had me stumped for long stretches of time mostly spent not on the puzzle but contemplating my own (lack of) intelligence. As for the boss fight? It was nightmarish, there’s no fucking way I would’ve been able to do that without enabling invincibility, not even with multiple hearts of health, much less default setting (one hit and you die).

To make things worse, it’s in this Chapter that it becomes very easy to mess a puzzle up to the point of it being unsolvable, which means you’re forced to premeditate your actions like you’re Ted Bundy (appropriate, since it made me want to murder someone too). Seriously, there’s a level with not one but TWO Tookees that almost had me committed (to a hospital or suicide, you pick). 

I’d be so close to clearing the level when one small mistake and whoop, gotta restart. I’d rather not divulge the number of times I had to restart each level, each click of the restart button like another right hook on my ego (stop! stop! it’s already dead!). At a certain point, I just couldn’t handle another restart so I kept pausing the game to carefully plan my next 2 seconds of gameplay before I paused again. 

So I admit, I pulled a classic gaming journalist move and not only made use of the accessibility options but even looked up some of the puzzles just to know how it could possibly be done. In my opinion, the difficulty spike in Chapter 4 is honestly unreasonable to ask of anyone but the hardest-core of puzzle enthusiasts, and if this game didn’t have the accessibility options it does, I guarantee 99% of players wouldn’t ever beat it. 

Thankfully, once you beat this hellhole of a Chapter, you’re rewarded with an extremely fun series of fast-paced levels in Chapter 5, which I got the most fun out of. These levels focus more on speed and thinking on the fly than actual brainpower, which worked great for me (although there was one level I had to turn invincibility on for since I’d forgotten a previously introduced mechanic. Hint: portals momentum). 

The best part of the whole game that even made it worth suffering through Chapter 4 happens in Chapter 5, which I won’t spoil for you. It’s something I was hoping they’d do but didn’t really expect them to be that ambitious, but props to them, they did, and they pulled it off perfectly! 

All in all, you’re looking at 7-10 hours of playtime depending on your puzzle-solving skills, plus an extra few hours if you want to do the extra content (hint: beetles) which I was honestly too mentally exhausted to bother with. 

Real Talk 

Despite being marred by an unholy difficulty spike that could’ve probably been fixed by some more time in the playtesting phase, Toodee and Topdee is a unique, extremely innovative puzzle-platformer that pushes the envelope forward in its field with some truly groundbreaking ideas.  The puzzle genre and I have had our differences for sure (mostly in IQ) but I’m glad to say, with a little (a lot) of help from the accessibility options, we were able to come to a happy resolution and establish mutual respect in Toodee and Topdee. 

I highly recommend it to casual and hardcore puzzle fans alike, just don’t be afraid of changing the difficulty options, and maybe take a friend with you to share the frustration.

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