Entwined is an interesting game. Entwined’s stripped down, extremely minimal design compliments its simplified gameplay, although it sometimes feels a little too minimal. In a time where games come loaded with a multitude of gameplay mechanics, blending genres and switching between different styles of action on the fly, it’s a rare thing to feel like a game could actually improve with more interesting and varied gameplay, but that’s exactly how I felt when Entwined finished.
Entwined challenges players to guide a fish and a bird to the end of each level, known as ‘lifetimes’, by passing through enough segments of a circle and matching corresponding colours. The fish is always on the left hand half of the gameplay area and is controlled with the left stick while the opposite is true for the bird. The aim of the game is to pass through enough segments or collect enough floating orbs in order to merge into a dragon and complete the lifetime.
Each lifetime is split into three distinct sections. The first, and the main bulk of the gameplay, sees you collecting enough segments and orbs with each ‘character’ to fill up their respective gauges in order to proceed to the next stage. Missing segments, or guiding the characters through incorrect colours reduces the gauge, but there’s no death in Entwined, it continues endlessly until you’ve collected enough segments or orbs.
The next stage of the gameplay is forming a greater bond between the characters. During this section the gameplay is exactly the same, but if you miss too many segments you’ll drop back to stage one. It’s a case of collecting more segments in order to progress to the third and final stage of the gameplay.
The third stage is the point at which the characters merge to create a dragon. The player then guides the dragon around an environment you’re given more control to explore to search for more orbs to fill another gauge. Once the gauge is full this time, you can ‘sky write’ using the L + R buttons, which essentially leaves a brightly coloured trail behind you. Once you’ve then emptied your gauge by sky writing, the portal to move onto the next lifetime appears and the game progresses.
There’s a brief tutorial offered in Entwined that explains the best way to control the fish and the bird is by pushing each stick towards the outer rim surrounding the stick. By doing this, Entwined actually controls well for the most part on the Vita’s small sticks; as long as you keep each stick pushed towards its respective outer ridge, it allows you to focus on moving up and down in order to collect orbs or pass through circle segments.
There are no other functions or buttons to learn in regards to controlling Entwined. The only exception to this rule is at the end of a lifetimes’ when the animals merge to become a dragon. During these level ending sections, both sticks control the movement of the dragon, or can be used in conjunction for swifter movement. These end-of-level sections were the only time I didn’t feel in control in Entwined. This was mainly owing to the fact that having freedom to move and controlling your viewpoint felt entirely alien following gameplay that was restrictive and locked to one view. Thankfully these sections are very brief and for the most part are over within a minute or two, so it doesn’t become a huge issue.
Nothing is told or shown in Entwined, which matches the rest of the games minimalistic styling, and in some ways this helps to strip away what otherwise could have cluttered the gameplay. In other ways however, Entwined’s minimal approach is just too much. There isn’t any explanation for the events in the game; it’s never explained, or even implied, why the fish and the bird are progressing through their lifetimes in order to merge as one.
Some games use this lack of narrative and direction to great effect, in a positive way – Minecraft for example doesn’t have a strict storyline or quests to complete, allowing the player to experience their own stories harnessing the power of their own imaginations. One thing that Minecraft does afford the player is freedom, and it’s this freedom that allows players to experience the world on their own terms and create their own adventures. Entwined doesn’t afford players freedom at all, and the experience suffers for its restrictive nature.
There are nine lifetimes in total in Entwined’s story mode, none of which are too challenging or particularly lengthy and they are all extremely similar, exceptions being for changeable themes and background animations. I completed the story mode in Entwined in less than two hours and there’s very little reason to play through the main mode again.
The other game mode in Entwined is the challenge mode, broken down into five elementally themed worlds. The gameplay is almost exactly the same as the main mode, except in challenge mode you’re collecting towards a score total and you have just three lives with which you can make a mistake or miss a segment before the run ends. This is probably Entwined’s most interesting mode, and the mode to offer longevity to the game, although the length of time you’ll challenge for leader board scores will depend on your own motivations and whether or not you have friends also competing for leader board scores.
Graphically, Entwined is minimal, with a strong emphasis on themes and colourization. The background effects and animations do enough to make the journey a little more interesting without distracting from the core gameplay, although this is another regard in which Entwined just feels too minimal. Given the amount of time you’re looking at very similar chunks of the game, it would have been nice for the developers to have varied the designs up a little; the game feels massively repetitive after about half an hour of play.
Entwined is by no means a bad game, but it does feel like a tech demo rather than a fully featured game. Cross buy across Vita, PS3 and PS4 is a nice touch and adds a little extra value for money. Unless you’re working hard in challenge mode to battle up the leader boards though, it’s unlikely you’ll play Entwined twice on the same console, never mind across multiple platforms.
It’s hard to recommend Entwined as a game. It feels more like an experience than a complete game, in a similar manner to Journey, although Journey is much more involved, mysterious and captivating by comparison. Introducing some obstacles, or enemies even, would have lent Entwined some much needed variation. Given that it’s almost guaranteed to appear on PlayStation Plus in the next six months, or at least appear in a PSN sale, you might be best waiting to get your hands on Entwined.