Turtle stacking is a practice that we're all quite familiar with, thanks to everyone's favourite childhood author, Dr. Seuss. So right from the outset, Turtle Totem imbues a certain nostalgic excitement, as it's undeniably built on the foundations of Yertle the Turtle.
While Yertle works beautifully under the maestro Seuss's pen, and offers a sublime criticism of the power hungry that's as relevant today as it was in 1958, Turtle Totem foregoes any social commentary and focuses entirely on the actual turtles.
And when stripped of pertinent analogies, it seems that balancing turtles on top of each other isn't as fun as we once thought.
Stack 'em up
If there's one gameplay mechanic you'd expect to see in a game like Turtle Totem, it'd be balance. Yet the game doesn't actually contain any physics gameplay, other than the turtles falling from the sky.
Eliminating the expected isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course, so long as there's something suitably surprising to take its place. Turtle Totem does indeed take another approach to retile piling, but it's not particularly surprising or ingenious.
Tapping the screen drops a turtle in line with your finger, so you're primary concern is to make sure the new reptile lands on top of the existing stack.
When it makes contact it's fixed in position, no matter how well it's placed. So, as previously discussed, there are no concerns over toppling the tower from badly-placed turtles. This feels strangely disappointing, as maintaining a swaying tower of turtles would be quite an entertaining spectacle.
As you grow the pile the screen steadily rises, regardless as to the level of your stack. Should your turtles disappear off the bottom of the screen before you've added enough new ones to keep the pile visible, it's game over.
Each new level of Turtle Totem allocates a set number of turtles, so setting them down wisely and not simply showering them upon each other is how you achieve height, and therefore a decent score.
You're also required to shape the tower around floating bombs, spikes and other obstacles, while dropping your turtles onto coins that are hanging in the air.
These are used to upgrade your options, such as the number of turtles you start with, decorating your reptiles, or adding more gold to the game.
While the controls are beautifully simple (we're still enamoured by one-thumb games), the game lacks a solid objective.
More often than not you'll casually let your turtles die, because navigating the tower around a bomb just isn't worth the effort, while collecting a coin feels more important that gaining a little extra height.
Turtle Totem is free-to-play, which suits its style well, but it has a nasty habit of dropping ad banners right under your thumb during play, adding a level of frustration that its already weak gameplay can't really afford.
Of course, you can pay to remove the ads, which fans will definitely want to do, lest they abandon a game they'd otherwise enjoy due to an aggravating cash grab.
While the game is salvaged, to a degree, by cute graphics, excellent music, and hilarious sound effects, Turtle Totem ultimately lacks any real substance and falls flat, with a burp.