TotemBall Review

If you already have the camera, you might as well download TotemBall. But don't expect to get much enjoyment out of it.

TotemBall is a simple Xbox Live Arcade game that's designed to work exclusively with the recently released Xbox Live Vision camera. The game was originally scheduled to be inside the box with the camera, but after a bit of a delay, it has been released as a free download in the Xbox Live Arcade. You can't beat that price, and if you already own the camera, you might as well download it. But if you're looking for a reason to run out and buy that camera because video chat alone isn't doing it for you, TotemBall isn't a good enough game to warrant the expenditure.

TotemBall's camera-only control isn't much fun.
TotemBall's camera-only control isn't much fun.

In the game, you play as a small turtle on top of a ball. You control that ball like you would control a tank, but instead of using two joysticks to move forward, back, or turn, you have to move your arms up and down. You stand in front of the camera, and the game puts a faded image of you on the screen. Your hands or arms must be positioned in two waterfalls on either side of the screen, and raising and lowering your two arms is how you determine the way the ball rolls. The level of control you have over your movement is incredibly sketchy and leads to more frustration than fun, especially when you get to portions of the game that require any kind of precision.

Additionally, setting up the camera properly may be a quest in and of itself, depending on how your TV and camera are positioned and the lighting of the room you're playing in. If you've ever struggled to set up an EyeToy game on the PlayStation 2, you probably have a good idea of what it takes. You need a well-lit room, and you have to be standing at a set distance away from the TV. A wide-angle option for players that can't get too far from their TVs, or zoom functionality for players that have to stand behind a couch or other obstacle might have made the setup a little easier. Also, if you don't have the right lighting, the game will have trouble registering your movements, essentially making it unplayable.

In addition to the main mode, you can also replay any of the bonus pinball levels you encounter.
In addition to the main mode, you can also replay any of the bonus pinball levels you encounter.

Once you're past all the setup, the game itself gives you fairly sizable and open levels. Your goal is to roll around and collect a bunch of music-making totems in each level, and then get to the exit once you have them all. Your ball will automatically jump when it rolls up to a gap, so you can hop around the levels when you need to. There are also treasures to collect for points and bonus levels that act like very simple pinball machines. Other modes let you play with a time limit, attempt to juggle, or mess around with the different totems, each of which plays a different instrument when you collect it. The different modes have their own online leaderboards. And, of course, the game has the standard 200 points worth of achievements. The most interesting one gives you 20 points for playing the game for 20 minutes straight without collecting any of the "take a rest" power-ups that give you a quick break.

The visuals are colorful, though plain and merely passable for an Xbox Live Arcade game. The game's sound is lackluster at first, because the game is mostly silent until you collect the first totem in a level. Each totem plays its own instrument, so the soundtrack fleshes and fills out as you proceed. The concept is interesting, and the tunes that the totems build are catchy.

TotemBall is a very tedious game that might make a good diversion for any rambunctious young children in your home, but it isn't good enough to hold your attention for long, and it certainly isn't good enough to justify the camera's purchase price.

The Good

  • It's free (provided you already have the camera)

The Bad

  • The control is spotty at best, extremely frustrating at worst
  • gets repetitive fast

About the Author

Jeff Gerstmann has been professionally covering the video game industry since 1994.


First Released Oct 4, 2006
  • Xbox 360

TotemBall is an interactive musical game for Xbox Live that works with the Xbox Live Vision camera.


Average Rating

485 Rating(s)

Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
No Descriptors