Posted by Graham Banas
Always together, forever apart
Entwined is the first game from new studio Pixelopus, a brand new addition to Sony’s Worldwide Studios network. The title’s trailer premiered this week during PlayStation’s big E3 2014 press conference, and to the delight of many – this author very much included – it was announced that the game would be available on the PlayStation 4 immediately after the media briefing’s conclusion. And what a treat it is.
This is a dual-stick title in which you control two lovers who want to be together but can’t. In the game, the left stick deals with an orange fish, while the right stick helms a blue bird. As such, it’s down to you to guide the two souls through a tunnel akin to Tempest or Dyad through nine different lifetimes (or levels), so that the two entities can finally hook up. Each stage culminates in the conjoining of two kindred spirits, as they form a dragon so that they can paint the sky of several beautiful environments.
As mentioned, the similarities to Dyad are immediately obvious, but the game plays at a much more relaxed tempo; where the PlayStation 3 indie revolved around time limits and frantic tasks, this game moves at a much more manageable pace. Each creature has varying triangular objects that it must fly through while in the tunnel, which advances a meter associated with their colour. Once both are filled completely, you must successfully complete five or so additional patterns in order to become the aforementioned dragon. The gauge will collapse if you miss too many targets, but there isn’t really a fail state in the game; make a mistake and you’ll merely need to regain the momentum that you’ve lost, however long that may take.
Alas, that doesn’t mean that the game is a walk in the park, as the developer expertly ramps up the release’s difficulty as you progress. Since there’s no death mechanic, the patterns that you have to mimic become increasingly more complex as work through the levels. Indeed, the game starts out nice and soft, easing you into the gameplay – but it gradually snowballs, meaning that by the time you reach the last stage, finishing it will prove particularly hard work.
Still, no matter how tough the story mode may be, you’ll never see a ‘Game Over’ screen – and that’s where the challenge mode comes in. Here, you’re tasked with hitting every object, and surviving for as long as you can. Miss three targets and you’ll need to restart, which makes it really quite, er, hard. Fortunately, the title controls like a dream, and the only real issue with this mode is that you can’t earn extra lives, meaning that if you mess up in the early stages, you’re actually handicapping yourself right out of the gate. You’ll want to see everything in this section, too, as these levels depict a journey through five unique elements, starting with water and culminating in metal.
These areas each adopt a different art style, which is utterly beautiful throughout. Using a delightful combination of blue and orange, the characters are just the tip of the iceberg, as gorgeous environments exist outside of the gameplay ‘tunnels’, which go hand-in-hand with a breathtaking score by Sam Marshall. This title, through its art and music, actually manages to evoke comparable emotions to thatgamecompany’s seminal smash Flower – and we can’t think of higher praise for the game than that.
In fact, much like the aforesaid botanical blockbuster, there’s no dialogue, so it’s up to you to uncover the heartbreaking story concealed beneath the surface. The campaign only takes a couple of hours to finish, but that ensures that it never outstays its welcome, and, as already alluded, the difficulty curve feels expertly tuned throughout. The abovementioned challenge mode adds replayability to the package, too, so you won’t feel like you’re getting short changed.
The biggest issue is that the game, while beautiful, just doesn’t quite have enough of an identity of its own. You may notice that we’ve referred to a number of other releases throughout this review, and that feeling permeates the entire experience; it spends a lot of time combining the ideas of others, rather than forging its own. However, if Pixel Opus can fully find its voice, then we might be looking at the rise of a future star.
Entwined is right on the cusp of being a masterpiece. A gorgeous art style is complemented by an exquisite soundtrack and tight controls, which culminates in one of the best PS4 titles to date. The game’s occasional lack of identity prevents it from receiving the very top marks, but don’t let that put you off this romantic release.