Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Entwined is Better Left Behind - The Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: Though it tries to emulate the same emotional experience of games like Flower and flOw, Entwined falls way too short of those artistic experiences. The control scheme is never comfortable and the arcade style levels clash with the calming art style. Unfortunately, if you're looking for a calming, emotional experience, keep on looking. Or go back and play Flower, because it's awesome. 

Games have come a long way since the humble beginnings of vector graphics and pixel art. Today it's possible to pick up slow moving and emotional masterpieces like Journey, which stands alongside narrative driven experiences, such as Telltale's The Walking Dead or action oriented game play like God of War. The artistic approach to crafting games is an area that is growing rather quickly, but not all of these games hit the emotional core they are intended to strike. Despite all of it's efforts, Entwined stumbles out of the gate and never reaches the heights of the games it aspires to be.

Entwined tells the tale of two souls who are forever entwined throughout the numerous lives they live. One soul takes on the form of a fish while the other takes on the shape of a bird: two creatures that are forever separated by air and sea. Players are tasked with helping the two souls meet to become one by gathering crystals and hitting panels in the correct order while moving down an endless corridor. 
The simple, colorful coloring goes great with the music.

Each life starts with the two characters on each side of the screen moving endlessly down this tunnel filled with shapes to collect. The fish is controlled with the left joystick while the bird is controlled with the right. By moving the characters into the correctly colored panels (orange for the fish, blue for the bird and green for when both characters need to be together), players will fill the bar above the critter that designates when the two souls can be combined by pressing the left and right shoulder buttons at the correct time. Once the combining process starts, layers must successfully collect even more of these random items to grow closer together until they reach critical max and meld into a bright green dragon.

Panels get more and more complex as you progress through the nine lives.
As the dragon, the game changes things up a little bit. Rather than moving around an endless corridor, players will move this elegant emerald dragon around a 3D open environment to collect more of these shiny collectibles until the dragon's meter is filled. Once full, pressing both shoulder buttons releases a trail behind the dragon that helps reveal a portal to the next life.

There are a total of nine lives that players must help bring the creatures together for, totaling in roughly an hour worth of game play, depending on how talented you are at collecting. The simple aspect of collecting is kind of fun, but the design of the game makes it difficult to feel relaxed. 
The different levels are aesthetically beautiful, but ultimately not very exciting to play.

Controlling two characters at once starts off easy enough, but as the levels continue to get more complex, it becomes increasingly harder to move the two characters in two different directions in quick succession. To make matters even more annoying, the beginning levels seem to offer players a breath of error that later levels do not. Where as earlier levels would not dock me for coming just under a panel I was supposed to hit, later levels would dock me if I did not hit the panels dead center. This 'arcadey' feeling clashes entirely with the aesthetic of the game, and unlike Flower or flOw, which are inherently relaxing but have trophies that make playing through more challenging, these sections are required to continue.

The other big detractor for the game is the vagueness of the overall narrative.Where as the calming game play and simple world building help make games like Flower fun and inventive, Entwined forces players down endless corridor after endless tunnel, with the only reprieve being the small sections of dragon flying, which are so brief and frustrating themselves with poorly implemented flying controls that it doesn't feel like a reprieve. And once all nine lives have been lived, that's it. There's no pay off and nothing to go along with the original story and theme introduced to the player at the beginning of the game. In the end, the game feels like it's soulless and missing that special element that make similar games so engrossing while also being frustrating with game play that isn't all that fun.

As much as it tries to be a dragon, this game is more like a carp on dry land.

Entwined is a great experiment, as it is bite-sized and uses game play that is unconventional along with a lighthearted aesthetic, but it is also not a successful experiment. The lack of real world building makes the game feel empty and, despite being a different way to play a game, the control scheme and level design make Entwined feel more frustrating than fun. It is one of the rare examples of a game that I feel would probably work better on a mobile platform, but I fear even that could not make Entwined a good game. 

6.0 out of 10

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