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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: Entwined (PS Vita)

Entwined is a Playstation exclusive art game. I imagine whoever picks the games to fund must have a fun job: it's a lot like being a VC in that you're largely picking teams on their potential, but the stakes are a lot lower, and the results are more about fun and diversity than purely about making money.

Not to say that the money isn't good. For instance, when Sony picked flow, Flower, and Journey to fund for the PS3, they ended up backing a game studio that's generated an experience that's unique among games, and that success was so profitable that Sony went on to port the game to all their other platforms.

I'm sure the same kind of thinking went into funding Entwined.  By essentially hiring fresh graduates from CMU, and pairing them with some veterans, they hoped that lightning would strike twice. Entwined uses a unique mechanic: essentially, you use the twin joysticks on the controller to control two different characters. Your characters then need to capture balls by running into them, and stay in certain zones that represent some form of tunnel. If you miss those zones, you lose energy (as displayed by a bar in your HUD). When you max out both characters' energies, they merge and you're rewarded by a free flight where you capture more colored balls with no chance of losing energy, and then it's onto the next level (there are 9 levels in all).

The game's hypnotic in a sense, as you gain tunnel vision while playing through a level. The music's beautifully written and complements the patterns. It's a very simple game, yet it commands your entire attention as the patterns you have to fly the characters in can vary, sometimes by moving in the same direction, but also sometimes flying in opposite directions or in complementary patterns. You can't ever die or lose completely, but as the levels get harder it's harder to sustain maximum energy, and so the game can get frustrating.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't quite work. There are two major flaws: first, the controls are very finicky, requiring you to hold tension in the joysticks for the entirety of a level. Since I first started playing this on the Vita, I thought it was because the Vita's joysticks were so small that I hurt my thumb. But when I switched to the Playstation TV's Dualshock 4, I suffered from the same issues. Playing more than one level at a time on this game is just asking for trouble.

The other part is the lack of story: both Flower and Journey had excellent stories with which to motivate the player through the experience. The visuals were beautiful, as was the music, but neither games suffered from the same frustrating control problems that Entwined did.

I didn't consider Entwined a waste of time, but I also picked it up as part of a Playstation Plus subscription. I can't find myself recommending this game to anyone who'd have to pay full price ($15). And even at a discount, you're better off playing Flower or Journey instead. Nevertheless, it's a good change of pace from the usually shooty-shooty bang bang games.

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