For years to come, Entwined will probably be remembered as that small game that turned up at Sony’s 2014 E3 show. The one that was announced and released at exactly the same time. However, though its announcement was overshadowed by bigger and louder games at a crowded conference, the game itself is incredibly interesting. It’s a rather unique pseudo-rhythm game, which has a message behind it but never preaches it to you. Instead, it uses a narrative idea as inspiration for gameplay, basing how it plays around a basic premise rather than delving into overt exposition. This makes for a very smart game that expresses itself in a way only video games can, it takes full advantage of an interactive medium and is all the better for it.
The gameplay stems from the idea of two animals who yearn to be together in spite of their separation. They go through lifetimes trying to reach each other, struggling to become one. How this is manifested in game is really rather simple. On one side of the screen is an orange fish, on the other side is a blue bird – they are flying through an abstract environment and need to pass through gates of their own colour (as well as collect colourful orbs to increase a meter at the top) in order to get closer together. Each animal is controlled by an analogue stick, allowing you to move each character in a semi-circular motion – guiding them through obstacles. They can meet at the top or the bottom, but apart from that they stay separate. The previously mentioned gates line up with the music in nice ways and each level builds upon this core mechanic very slightly.
It’s a very simple game to grasp; it makes sense straight away and is enjoyable throughout. The gameplay works on a couple of levels also. Firstly, it is satisfying due to how it fits the music and due to excellent visuals. Secondly, it matches the games theme very nicely. There are nine levels in total, each representing a lifetime, the goal in each is to build up each animals meter (it reduces if you miss a gate) so that they can join together. This is an exciting process and you always feel driven towards connecting this pair, which echoes the narrative framework really nicely. After you manage to connect the animals they form into a colourful dragon, which you get to fly around a beautiful location. The aim here is to collect more orbs, but in a carefree manner. Orbs fill up a new meter and when it’s full you get to boost around, leaving a visible trail behind you. Once you use up your boost a gateway opens up and you have completed the level. That’s it.
Entwined works due to the strength of its mechanics. It is enjoyable and manages to maintain a consistent design, while varying things up in an interesting way. It never diverges much from a core idea, but it changes gate layouts in clever ways with each successive level. This increases the challenge and adds some typical video game satisfaction. Some of the sequences actually get very difficult, mostly due to how hard it can be to coordinate two separate characters. When you get through a tricky segment there is a palpable sense of achievement that really adds to the game’s overall appeal. Outside of this though, the mixture of music and visuals can create an almost meditative state. Sometimes the game just starts to wash over you, leaving you trance like – playing by feel and totally immersed in the moment. These moments lessen as the game increases in difficulty, but they are meaningful when they occur. Once again it takes advantage of video games as a medium, using interaction to get you into a unique state that other art forms couldn’t achieve.
There are slight detractions though. The most egregious parts are the end level sequences, which look fabulous but control really awkwardly. They are a nice idea, and give time for reflection, but they also become almost pixel hunting at times. The final level presents you with something really rather interesting that had a profound effect on me, until I couldn’t find the last thing I had to collect and the moment started to fall flat. This annoyance was accentuated by awkward controls and made the ending irritating rather than a powerful coda. These parts are great to look at, but the actual gameplay involved is uninteresting. It’s just a period between one enjoyable part and the next where you get to see a nice vista.
Depth perception can be problematic also, you fly into the screen and things come towards you. With the gates they use shading to indicate distance, however with the orbs you have to collect it is often unclear which one is ahead and which behind. Collecting orbs is hugely important, but you will miss some by thinking they start high and go low, rather than being the opposite way round. It’s a small issue, but it’s a noticeable blemish.
At some points the game overreaches also. It asks a lot from you and its mechanics start to grate. You will never see a fail state as such, but messing up is crushing. Your character flashes red and the controller vibrates violently – making you instantly feel like a failure. This mostly works well, but it can start to get to you when the game increases in difficulty. Sometimes you feel you are being asked to do the ridiculous, and to do it relatively blind time. Segments repeat, so you improve, but later levels can annoy due to difficulty spikes. It may be bad coordination on my part, but some parts did detract from my overall enjoyment. However, this does add satisfaction to getting through and you feel like a ninja when you pull off something seemingly difficult the very first time. It feels like you are playing by feel alone, like Luke Skywalker in the Death Star trench.
The last part before the dragon section is often where the game is at its best, but sometimes these parts frustrate. When your meters fill you have to press L1 and R1 together, which creates a beam between the two characters that brings them closer together every time you get through a segment correctly. The music swells and the game really gathers momentum. It goes from calming to edge of your seat stuff in a really natural way, however it is frustrating when you are almost about to connect only reach a crazy segment and fail – meaning you have to start this process again. This is a rare occurrence though and the only time when you can fail. In fact, the possibility of failure creates the sense of excitement. It will irritate you once or twice, but for the most part it enhances the overall experience.
Entwined isn’t a long game also, but it does enough in its lifespan to thoroughly impress. At its best it captures some of the appeal of Rez and at its worst it still gets by on uniqueness. It’s a very calming game that is just endearing. It has a nice message to it, but it doesn’t get over sentimental because it never forces it down your throat. It just lets an idea inspire art, meaning you can choose to engage with it on this level or not. The art style is wonderful and the music (though not outstanding) is good enough. It’s very simple and minimalist in focus, but it works. It may not stick with you, but while you play it is completely involving and wonderfully different.