Ukrainian developer Boolat Games have been hard at work as of late, releasing topatoi: The Great Tree Story in July 2009 then quickly following it up with a second installment, topatoi: Pillar of the Skies. Since topatoi is episodic in nature, players will require the original game in order to run Pillar of the Skies, so be sure to read our review of topatoi: The Great Tree Story to learn everything about the first episode. This second episode in the puzzle-platformer series builds on the foundations of The Great Tree Story; new features include complex puzzles that continue the game's story mode and a cooperative multiplayer mode. Fans of the first topatoi will no doubt enjoy this new episode simply because the levels and puzzles are more challenging. That being said, Pillar of the Skies isn't going to change the minds of those who didn't like the first game.
Pillar of the Skies picks up right where the first episode left off; Raph, the protagonist, is adventuring through a strange, mechanical world with the help of the professor to try and repair their ship and save his girlfriend. Along the way Raph meets several villagers who give him advice and point him in the direction of the villainous Blackwing. The plot is pretty straightforward so don't expect any major twists, it mainly serves as an introduction to each level. Character development isn't the focus here, it's the puzzles and platforming that players will care about.
The seven new story mode missions continue the progression of the increasingly difficult puzzle-platforming started in The Great Tree Story. There is the option of skipping the original story mode levels, however, doing so makes the second episode especially difficult because the first episode teaches players what clues to look for when solving the puzzles. New to Pillar of the Skies is the ability to advance in the story mode even if a level is failed the first time through. This feature relieves the frustration of being stuck at one particular point, which will keep a lot of players engaged who would otherwise stop playing the game entirely. The controls, on the other hand, remain as loose as the first episode, which adds to the frustration when precise actions are required.
Another new addition to the topatoi series is a cooperative multiplayer mode. By playing through the Pillar of the Skies story levels players unlock ten new co-op levels under the label 'Double Mode'. The name comes from the fact that each level can be played solo or with a friend cooperatively, unlike the first episode in which arcade levels were separated by single and multiplayer. While these levels can be played solo they are specifically designed with coop in mind, so the best scores can only be achieved by playing with a friend. Players are rewarded for working together by having their scores boosted if each player gets a similar amount of points. This takes away the incentive for one player to rush ahead and grab everything, the system makes the levels more enjoyable and satisfying when a high score is achieved.
Pillar of the Skies changes the forest setting from the first episode to an industrial world for the second. While the change to an industrial setting does offer some variety between episodes there's very little to distinguish one level from another within each episode. Graphically, the change in environments doesn't add much; topatoi still bares a striking resemblance to Jak and Daxter, albeit slightly upscaled. The game's soundtrack is instantly forgettable and some voice acting to go with the dialogue would have been nice but these are minor complaints.
Pillar of the Skies offers the same level of replayability as its predecessor; online leader boards, collecting hidden objects and achieving high scores offer many incentives to go back to completed levels. The cooperative arcade levels offer a variety of different objectives, such as races, balancing acts, various puzzles and collection challenges. Playing with friends to try and maximize scores will keep many players coming back for a while. Ultimately, those who enjoy the core platforming and puzzle solving mechanics will get a lot of this game.
topatoi: Pillar of the Skies builds on the foundation of the Great Tree Story. Additions such as cooperative play and more complex story levels will satisfy hardcore players. Anyone who found the first episode enjoyable will enjoy this continuation because it expands on the strengths of the original. On the other hand, the problems from the first episode, such as the loose controls and a weak story remain to be addressed, therefore Pillar of the Skies is not going to convert those who didn't like the original.