Fly like an eagle…and a dragon…but you could also run like a boar.

Side-scrolling runner games are nothing new, but Chillingo’s Totem Runner is a true standout. With gorgeous visuals, a lush soundtrack, and intense action, this is a game that fans of the genre absolutely must play. Totem Runner opens with an impressive introduction to a magical, once-beautiful tribal world that has been corrupted and turned to darkness by a mysterious, malevolent power. As a fearless warrior, you must use your abilities to traverse the broken landscape, breathing life into your world and restoring it to its former glory.

Totem Runner

Unsurprisingly, you will most definitely be running in Totem Runner, but you what’s exciting is that you won’t jump – you’ll fly. As the runner, you can shapeshift from your natural human state into an eagle capable of soaring effortlessly through the skies, or a mighty boar that can crush obstacles and enemies with equal ease. The gems you collect along your journey will even let you transform, briefly, into a great dragon, unstoppable by anything.

Buttons on the bottom-right of the screen control your form, while the bottom left button activates your power, which changes depending on the form you’re in. Holding it while in human form will leave bright flowers in your wake, while as a boar it will cause you to charge ahead at great speed, rending your enemies and greatly increasing the number of points you earn. That it also greatly reduces the amount of time you have to react to oncoming threats is a clever piece of strategy on the part of developer Yagoda Productions. In eagle form, the HUD will display two buttons to control flight; with that said,  you can opt to tilt the phone instead, which is actually far easier and more accurate once you get the hang of it.

But your powers don’t mean the journey will be an easy one. Enemies and obstacles — from thick vines to the wicked Shikari Urdu hunter and more — will test your reflexes and your coordination, and making it from one checkpoint to the next often becomes a matter of trial and error; repeating the same process over and over until you’ve memorized what’s coming and are prepared to react accordingly. It can be an incredibly frustrating experience for those initiated in the ancient ways of “the grind.” The game boasts 18 levels in total, and so far I’ve managed to make it through seven. 

Totem Runner

With that said, play feels so packed with variety and mysticism that I can’t say I’m too annoyed at the thought of digging in further.  Most of the colors are soft and muted, while the enemies glow with a burning, bright red, and the multi-layered silhouettes. The music is a sort of “electronic tribal,” for lack of a better term, intense and driving enough to serve as an ideal aural backdrop to the game but still very listenable, too. This is an absolutely gorgeous game in every sense of the word.

Totem Runner introduces itself with a well-paced, thorough tutorial that even veterans of the genre would be wise to play through, and also has a very cool gallery of enemies that provides their names and a tiny bit of information about the part they play in the darkness that has befallen the world. A healthy lift of achievements and bonus “sacred flowers” round out the experience, adding longevity and challenge beyond the struggle to best each stage.

Totem Runner

Totem Runner, at its core, is another side-scrolling runner, which isn’t exactly the most complex genre on the planet. While it may not bring revolutionary new depth to iOS gaming, though, it deserves attention because it’s such an impressive artistic achievement. In a way, it’s sad that it’s so devilishly difficult, because gamers who are easily frustrated and/or fumble-fingered (like me) may well be put off by it. But fans of the style and those looking for a real challenge to their reflexes and coordination absolutely must not pass this up.