The indie game scene is full of creative ideas executed with a remarkable amount of polish, and Toodee and Topdee looks set to join those ranks. Starting life as a Ludum Dare game idea put together in under 72 hours, Diet Zribi’s entry for the theme of ‘Combine Two Incompatible Genres’ is out now in full, and it’s a treat to play. Control two characters at once across dozens of puzzling levels as you help Toodee and Topdee save their universe from chaos and destruction.
Toodee and Topdee is available now on Steam.
Story – The Importance of Punctuation
The game starts you at the beginning of all creation, observing the almighty Aleph making a whole universe from scratch and bestowing life upon his worlds. The player gets a brief look at the respective worlds of the two heroes – which is to say, Toodee’s Super Mario-style side-scrolling platforming and Topdee’s top-down Zelda-inspired aesthetic – before disaster strikes.
The faithful retainer Toodoo, fearing his obsolescence as Aleph nears completion of his project, decides to steal away the Semicolon at the centre of his master’s universe. This plunges everything into disarray and causing the various worlds to collide. Toodee and Topdee find their worlds layered on top of each other, and have to work together to find the missing Semicolon and restore order to the universe.
Toodee and Topdee is a funny little game, and though its story is undeniably a bit wacky, it’s genuinely quite entertaining to follow along with it. I’ve mentioned in the past that I don’t think puzzle games necessarily need strong narratives to carry them, as the focus tends to be much more on the gameplay and mechanics. But Diet Zribi’s first commercial title manages to both have its cake and eat it, combining innovative gameplay ideas with some fun little story beats to break up the puzzles.
The writing is light-hearted and manages to be funny without being grating. Toodee and Topdee even manage to have their own distinct personalities as evidenced in their dealings with other characters and bosses. Topdee approaches the world with a certain innocent naivete, while Toodee takes a more wary and cynical stance to most things.
A theme of coding runs through it all, too: glitches play a sizeable role, the importance of the Semicolon cannot be overstated and the first main world is even straight-up called ‘Hello World’. Whether that’s all entertaining set-dressing or if there’s a deeper meaning to be mined there, well – that can be left up to the discretion of the player.
Gameplay – Let’s Shift Again
The key to an engaging puzzle game is a solid core premise, and Toodee and Topdee delivers on that front. The main mechanic involves switching between the two different perspectives: Toodee’s side-on platforming, and Topdee’s Zelda-style top-down movement. Shifting the style changes how the player can interact with the level. Crates that Topdee can push around can be used as platforms for Toodee to land on to access the higher reaches of the screen, for example.
Right off the bat, the premise is an interesting and innovative one, and the game manages to escalate the range and complexity of the puzzles admirably. Things start very low-key, with only easy block-moving solutions and simple platforming standing between our heroes and the portal to the next level. But new elements get added gradually, and the way the systems interact with each other is thoroughly explored. Small changes like the addition of metal crates that can only be pushed, not picked up, create surprisingly big challenges and will require a good bit of thinking to work around.
Before long the puzzles will have players perfectly timing a perspective switch to drop a block in just the right spot to block a laser, and baiting enemies over to step on a switch to create a platform to land on. It’s not always immediately obvious how things work, but a little bit of trial and error will usually reveal the purpose of any new addition.
That sense of escalation is perhaps most evident in the boss battles at the end of each world. Using everything you’ve learned about how the mechanics and the environments interact, you’re tasked with bringing down these corrupted guardians in a timely fashion. On paper, these often boil down to the classic ‘hit them three times’ methodology. Though since neither character can actually harm enemies directly, these fights become puzzles in themselves as you search for a way to bring them down.
The bosses’ attack patterns change over the course of the fights, and they also behave differently depending on who you’re controlling, so there’s often a lot to keep track of in the heat of battle. There’s precious little room for error, too: on the default difficulty setting, a single hit will send the duo back to the beginning of the fight, undoing all your hard work.
The game rarely risks getting frustrating, though. Deaths will be frequent, especially during the boss battles, but restarting is almost instantaneous; dispensing with lengthy load times and annoying waits in favour of getting you straight back in the action. A co-op mode is also available from the outset, allowing players to split the legwork with a friend. On top of that, a small but helpful selection of accessibility and difficulty options are available to use, in the same vein as Celeste’s Assist Mode.
These range from simpler changes, such as adding more health or making the characters invincible, to bigger gameplay tweaks like infinite jumps, telekinesis and super strength (the latter two of which make moving things around as Topdee much easier). Purists can still power through the game on the default difficulty settings, but these additions will no doubt prove very helpful to those who might otherwise find themselves getting stuck or frustrated.
All in all, Toodee and Topdee takes its relatively simple hybrid concept and runs with it in an innovative and creative way. Complexity starts to stack pretty quickly, but the game stays true to its core gameplay even while adding plenty of new elements along the way. Not every single level is a slam-dunk – on occasion, for example, one character is trapped in a corner and the bulk of the work falls to the other, which somewhat undermines the core switching mechanic. In general though, the puzzles toe the line between challenging and frustrating remarkably well.
Graphics and Audio – Absolutely Bossing It
As with many indie games inspired by the classics of our collective youth, Toodee and Topdee tickles the nostalgia glands with its pixel-art style. The visuals are impressively detailed, though: backgrounds are often evocative and elaborate canvases, there’s a pleasing amount of visual variety on the screen and there’s some very fun character/monster design in the mix too. The shifting animation between the two perspectives is handled very smoothly and in my experience, it all ran pretty darn seamlessly.
The music is great too. The game is full of perfect retro-inspired earworms that’ll get stuck in your head, very reminiscent of the style of other modern-retro platformers like Celeste and Super Meat Boy. And if you’re not rocking out to the various boss themes, well, I don’t know what to tell you. They absolutely slap.
Toodee and Topdee was reviewed on PC using a Steam key provided by Diet Zribi.