Entwined is apparently an artistic representation of the love between a bird and a fish -- dancing about one another like a twin-stick take on a 3D Sonic bonus level. It emerged in surprising fashion at Sony's E3 press conference, a pleasant interlude between brooding, big-budget titles, that injected some colour into proceedings.
A blue, origami bird comes to rest on a body of water as twinkly music plays, and an orange papercraft fish bobs its head out the water to meet its feathery chum. They touch noses, it's all very cute. The bird guides the fish skywards, and they shoot forward down a series of psychedelic cylindrical paths that will span nine lifetimes (levels) and see player guiding the two creatures through colour-coded rings of sorts that twist and turn, creating a playful dance between the two creatures. They occupy separate halves of the screen, occasionally meeting in the middle as the coloured gates demand -- orange and blue individually, green when they meet.
The patterns of the gates/rings/checkpoints, whatever you want to call them, twist and turn, becoming more complex as the game progresses. In between these sections, you collect coloured orbs to fill progression meters for each creature. Then, if you successfully manage to guide them through the channels of rings, you keep the orbs. If you skip a ring, the bar drains. To begin with, these channels arrive one at a time in simple patterns, but it's not long before they begin to shift in length and distance, sometimes alternating at speed, before starting to move and undulate, forcing you to keep careful control over both creatures at the same time across different sticks.
It takes a little bit of getting used to, not unlike Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in that respect, but you never really fail. Instead, you simply keep going, rotating your sticks in increments of opposing half circles, until you fill both bars and a prompt to press both bumpers appears. At this point the game shifts into another gear and you must successfully complete several channels consecutively. Do this, and the bird and the fish will draw closer and closer together before coming together and in a blinding flash of light, transforming into a dragon.
It sort of makes sense, I guess. Fish have scales and birds can fly...right?
As a dragon, you get to fly around freely in a small open area, collecting more orbs and filling another meter. Once you've done that, you can set off the dragon equivalent of a contrail, painting a trail across the sky. It's like farting a rainbow basically. Then you fly into a dazzling portal and start the next lifetime.
I can't really speak to Entwined as a rumination on love between two different species of creature. I get where the young developers at Pixelopus are going with the theme -- the tagline for the game is "Forever apart, always together" -- but it didn't grab me at all in that sense. With its simple-yet-striking visuals and its serene soundtrack, Entwined falls into the ranks of PlayStation's "arsty" range that includes such luminaries Journey, The Unfinished Swan, and most relevantly Flower. But, unlike those games, Entwined didn't really do enough to make me care.
Much of that has to do with the relationship between the main lifetimes and what I shall term "the dragons bits". The core game is nicely varied, if cripplingly short, with the Trophy names for each level attributing an emotional state to the level in question. It's nice to see how these relate to the design of the various stages, "Innocence" is a smoother, more relaxed level than those of "Anxiety" and "Liveliness". To be honest, though, I can't help but feel like having those pensive title cues at the end of the level rather than the start is the wrong way around.
Whilst controlling Bird and Fish apart makes sense after a while, and handles nicely enough with the analog sticks, the Dragon is twitchy to say the least, further undermined by a camera that occasionally just flips out. The Dragon sections are really rather weak, and the supposed joy of flight -- the reward one would imagine for bringing the two creatures together -- is completely lost. The rainbow fart is irritatingly limited, and I never felt able to enjoy those moments as long as I might like. That might be the point, of course, that love is fleeting, but without really being given much to care about and then being fobbed off with an unsatisfactory payoff, it was difficult to feel like I'd been on much of an emotional journey.
In emotional rollercoaster terms, it was like getting on one of those kiddie coasters that doesn't even concern itself with going upside down.
Entwined seems in too much of a hurry, and then when you reach your destination after an hour (if that), it's all over rather quickly too. I tried playing it a second time through, but by that point the freshness of the first play had faded, and all I was left with was a twin-stick guide-em-up that provided little challenge and less reward. There's a challenge mode of sorts to see how far you can get without failing, but it's not really worth it.
Entwined is something of an empty love story, then. It looks pretty and charming -- pretty much every frame delivers a gorgeous screenshot -- but there's not much going on below the surface, even if there are vague hints to that effect. A longer runtime, more fully realised "together" stages, and more purposeful direction might have helped -- there is a good idea here. Unfortunately, though, Entwined doesn't put in the work to see it realised fully. One for PlayStation Plus.
- It's a delightfully unique little game, the sort Sony specialise in nurturing
- Simple-yet-striking aesthetics and a soothing soundtrack
- There's a good idea at the heart of Entwined...
- ...It's just rather underdeveloped
- Very light on content
- Dragon sections feel limp
The Short Version: Entwined has a running time of an hour, yet barely sustains interest for that long. There's a good idea at the core of this wannabe indie darling and the "apart" stages can be fairly engrossing the first time around, but unfortunately the substance is just as minimalist as the style. Worth checking out in a sale or on PS Plus, but probably one to skip at £6.49.