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Review: TumbleSeed

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Seeding them holes

"FUCK!"

That's the word I say right before I nearly throw my Switch across the room after dying what seems like the millionth time in TumbleSeed. 

"I hate this fucking game," I think at the time, but I don't really. I actually like it a lot, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to 100% it, but damn it if I haven't been trying my hardest.

TumbleSeed (PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed])
Developer: Benedict Fritz , Greg Wohlwend , Joel Corelitz , David Laskey , Jenna Blazevich
Publisher: aeiowu
Released: May 2, 2017
MSRP: $14.99

TumbleSeed is a roguelike game unlike anything else out there as far as I know. You play as the titular TumbleSeed, a noble hero rolling his way up a mountain to stop some kind of evil worm-like creature from destroying everything you know and love; or at least that is what I think is happening. 

Moving our hero around is a lot more complicated than meets the eye, in fact, I've seen many people question how the game is even played after watching its trailers. To help you understand check out this video for Ice Cold Beer, a mechanical arcade game that clearly inspired the five developers behind TumbleSeed. While that old arcade game wants you to use joysticks to slowly raise and roll your ball from side to side to get it to a defined hole, TumbleSeed tasks you with getting to the very top, while avoiding enemies, completing quests, and planting crystal seeds to activate one of your collected powers.

If you think that sounds hard, you have no friggin' idea. Don't let the cute and colorful aesthetics fool you, TumbleSeed is one of the hardest games I've ever played hands down. I'd say it is purely a skill based game, but the nature of randomly generated levels lets RNG play a small role as well. I've put many many hours in and I've only been able to make it to the very end of the third of five sections. I currently sit at sixth in the world on the Switch version's leaderboards, out of 150 players so far, and at least two of the people ahead of me are developers. Judging by the high scores, which are based on distance traveled up the mountain, I'd say I've made it a little over halfway as my score is 587 and the top score is 960, though who really knows if that isn't a red herring. 

I've spoken with the developers about how hard the game is and what to expect as I've advanced. They've informed me that the final section of the game alone requires tons of practice and skill and that it would be unheard of for anyone to finish this game in a week's time, just because of how difficult it is. Therein lies the biggest problem with the game, it isn't for anyone but the most try hard players out there. More casual folks will become frustrated and give up long before they probably even reach the third area, let alone finish the game. 

Before you tell me to "git gud" let me go into detail about what makes TumbleSeed so hard. You start out with three hearts, which can be lost by getting hit by an enemy, falling into holes, damaging yourself with abilities, or via one hit kill spikes. Falling in a hole can take away multiple hearts as TumbleSeed will fall all the way back to the most recent checkpoint you've planted, taking unavoidable damage every so often along the way. Many (if not most) of the abilities found in the game come with a risk/reward structure, and as I've said, many of them can hurt you. One ability lets your seed drop mines, which you can then accidentally roll into taking damage. That is just one example of many.

The abilities in found here, in general, just don't seem all that useful to me, to begin with. The amount of skill required, the aforementioned self-damaging, and the amount of time you can use them, it all adds up. Many of the abilities only last for a very limited amount of time, so little I rarely found myself able to effectively use them before they ran out. In most of my runs, I've just used the starting abilities which are the abilities to plant checkpoints, grow rotating thorns, gain hearts for the current run, and grow crystal seeds that are used to activate the other abilities.

Out of those, I've mostly been grinding crystal seeds and then pumping those into hearts, as that has been the best strategy I've found to get a decent distance up the mountain. Most of the combat abilities just require too much precision to be all that useful, especially considering many enemies take multiple hits to die and are much easier to just avoid.

Enemies in the game range from slow moving slugs and bugs, to giant flys, spiders, and snakes that chase you throughout the map, and let's not forget projective shooting enemies that can snipe you from across the screen. The game wouldn't be nearly as difficult without all these bastards out to kill you at every moment, as the controls are tight and responsive, which would make avoiding holes pretty easy otherwise.

Speaking of controls, the whole game is controlled with the sticks and one other button that lets you pause to swap between abilities. The Switch version features the perhaps the best use of HD Rumble yet, as you can feel your seed slowly roll from side to side, with the rumble getting strong as the seed gets further to each side. Playing with the JoyCon in portable mode has thus far been my preferred way to play TumbleSeed as I just find it easier when I'm able to see the entire screen without having to look around like I would on my 55-inch TV. TumbleSeed's short runtimes lend themselves well to being played on a portable system to boot.

TumbleSeed is a roguelike, as mentioned, but I think people are so used to roguelites with some sort of progression system these days they might be turned off here. In traditional roguelikes, your entire progress lasts for one run (or attempt) at the game, which is the case here for the most part. The only unlockables and progress to be found here are portals that let you start at later sections, which are granted by completing quests given to you in the starting village. Otherwise, that's it. From what I've been told by developers, there doesn't seem to be any postgame content other than shooting for high scores or playing the daily challenges (also for high scores) which are just set layouts of the mountain. This isn't one of those games like Binding of Isaac that you'll put 1000 hours into unlocking every hidden boss and character, but instead, one that you may put 100 hours into just to reach the end.

TumbleSeed is a game that I don't think I'll ever completely finish, but it's damn impressive for those that dare to stomach its difficulty. If you're the kind of person looking for a mostly skill based game that is brutally challenging, yet very entertaining, then TumbleSeed is for you. More casual players will want to save their money and sanity for games a bit more accessible to them. Honestly, the biggest mistake here is that the developers haven't offered multiple difficulties, which will surely limit the potential player base. 

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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TumbleSeed reviewed by Jed Whitaker

8

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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