Being a huge fan of the subtle, surreal, artistic games (I’m particularly partial to Thatgamecompany’s productions), I thought I’d fall in love with Entwined. Upon first seeing it displayed on the stage during Sony’s E3 presentation, and learning that the game was already available, I couldn’t wait to try it out. After several hours of playing, during which time I was continually reminded of games like Flower and Child of Eden, I emerged satisfied, but not enamored. Developer PixelOpus tries for a profound experience but it never quite coalesces into something special.
The entrancing, vivid graphical presentation is part of the reason Child of Eden kept popping into my head. Entwined doesn’t quite assault your senses in the same way, as the developers implement some softer tones and hues, so you don’t always feel on the verge of a seizure. PixelOpus sort of wants to tell a tale through this abstract visual style and to some extent, they succeed. But the longer you play, the more you realize that there’s a distinct lack of depth and variety (more on that in a second), and this applies to the graphics as well. Still, it’s very pretty and immensely creative.
There isn’t much to the audio, as it remains mostly understated throughout. I liked some of the music selections for the game but beyond that, there isn’t much to talk about. The special effects are appropriately crisp yet subdued, as if every technical aspect seeks to involve the participant via interpretation. In other words, how we react to the sights and sounds in the game will differ based on who’s playing; some will feel more emotionally attached to and invested in the experience. For me, the music worked, but it wasn’t enough to fully immerse me in what is an otherwise intriguing title.
The idea behind Entwined is simple and romantic: There’s a blue bird and an orange goldfish; each “character” represents a soul, and they are forever mated. In other words, they’re soul mates, and the player must find a way to bring them together. This involves controlling both creatures at the same time: The bird is on the right and the goldfish is on the left, and you have to guide them through a series of markers. It’s basically like following a vibrant, unique racecourse of sorts, and as you progress, the speed and intensity picks up. The idea is to hit all those gates and snag as many orbs as you can.
Once you’re successful, the two creatures will fuse into one majestic green dragon, after which time you can locate the exit. That’s one lifetime and there nine overall but unfortunately, it won’t take you much longer than two hours to enjoy those “lifetimes.” That’s a little on the short side but I will mention the five challenge stages because after all, they do add to the longevity of the game. On top of which, you feel as if you’re embarking on a good and noble quest; you’re going to unite two souls forever and that’s worthy of your attention, right? In an industry that loves to fixate on the dark and gritty, this is a refreshing change of pace, at the very least.
Control is straightforward but you might feel a tad frustrated, just because our eyes and hands aren’t used to controlling two virtual entities at the same time. See, you control the fish with the left analog stick and the bird with the right. We’re used to switching between characters in games but controlling both at the same time – and in real- time – isn’t quite as intuitive as you’d hope. It never solidified in my mind and throughout my time with the attractive adventure, it just always felt awkward. For the sake of optimism, I’ll assume that for other players, the control scheme gelled and ultimately settled in their heads.
That all being said, the game isn’t hard. Even though it felt awkward to me, it certainly isn’t difficult, and that’s probably a good thing. You want people of all ages and various gaming skill to appreciate this game, even if it falls shy in the content and depth categories. The problem is that the gameplay isn’t all that compelling. Sure, you basically just controlled the wind in Flower, and you could really only jump and float in Journey, but those games presented us with remarkable, involving worlds that reached us on a personal level. Entwined never reached me in this fashion, which is a mild disappointment.
There’s something oddly calming and enrapturing about the game, though, and that’s what’s worth noting. When you’re playing, you’re convinced of two things: You’ve never really played anything like it before, and you feel strangely relaxed when meandering through the colorful avenues of fate. I believe this is indicative of the atmosphere and tone, which is upbeat and promising, as it should be. You’re guiding two souls to an eternity of happiness and while it’s not much of a challenge, and the gameplay never really blossoms, you remain interested in the quest. There’s something to be said for the ambient sensations when playing such games.
However, we can’t ignore the fact that PixelOpus needed to reach the next level before we could affectionately call this a quirky gem. I’ve no idea how to expand upon the gameplay but then again, that’s not my job. It’s my job to explain how and why the mechanic falls a little shy, and why I felt somewhat underwhelmed throughout. Again, I have to reemphasize the serenity that often accompanied my play time. I’m not going to discount that but bear one thing mind: If I did discount it and I focused entirely on the gameplay mechanics, the game would’ve received a significantly lower score. I just believe in critic interpretation (to some extent, anyway).
Entwined isn’t the beautiful masterpiece Sony wanted it to be, just because it doesn’t travel far enough down that meandering road. There are plenty of visible flaws; the control isn’t perfect, guiding two creatures at the same time may never click, and more could’ve been done with the concept. Of that, I’m certain. Even so, where else are you going to find an experience like this? If you’re having a difficult day and you want to feel a little better about yourself – and life in general – you should give Entwined a try. It may not encircle your heart like Journey but it should have an impact, and that’s what matters.
The Good: Very pretty and quite imaginative. Some great music, especially when the gameplay ramps up. Accessible and easy to play. Five challenge levels adds much-needed longevity. Very…zen-like.
The Bad: Control is a little iffy at times. Overly simplistic gameplay never really flourishes. Overall, it seems like a missed opportunity for great artistic achievement.
The Ugly: “Nothing bad here, unless you count unrealized potential as ‘ugly.’”
6/13/2014 Ben Dutka