You can look, but don’t touch
Entwined mesmerized in its unexpected E3 debut, washing over viewers like a breath of fresh air, with its sweeping strings, pastel waves of color, and a romantic scene between two creatures from different worlds.
Unveiled by a team of unknowns under the industry’s brightest lights, it came totally out of left field, interposed between two of PlayStation’s hottest upcoming properties. We were made to presume this was the successor to Flower, or perhaps the next Unfinished Swan, given Sony’s track record taking talent out of university programs under its nurturing wing.
Talent is the key word here. It’s obviously something Pixelopus, the nascent studio behind Entwined, possesses in large quantities. But those gifts seem raw and unrefined. The developer’s first effort desperately wants to be brilliant and profound, but too often settles for something decidedly more vapid.
Entwined (PlayStation 4 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: June 9, 2014 (PS4) / July 2014 (PS3, Vita)
Entwined immediately evokes memories of Rez, Dyad, and Child of Eden; a fleeting allure that ultimately invites unfavorable comparisons. Unlike its potential muses, Entwined lacks hooks and rarely threatens to be captivating or provide players enough recompense to stick around until the end.
The title casts players as two characters, a bird and a fish, which simultaneously must be guided down nine obstacle courses of increasing complexity. Pixelopus claims to put a new twist on dual-stick controls, assigning each creature an analog, which must be rotated along semicircles in patterns that will test players’ motor skills and challenge their brains.
Essentially, Entwined shoots players down a pipe and tasks them with collecting objects and jumping through hoops. The mechanic quickly proves shallow. Interspersed between a handful of exciting moments are long stretches of banal highway only interesting for kaleidoscopic scenery, ethereal chords, and driving beats. Awkward controls, which see players pulling the analog sticks in opposite directions and waving them up and down with delicate precision, cap off a tedious experience with frustration.
That isn’t to say Entwined is difficult, though success is hardly guaranteed. There is no fail state. Levels will go on until the player triumphs or surrenders. Progression necessitates the collection orbs, which fill gauges, and jumping through elaborate series of hoops. Failure to do the latter will hastily erode any headway players make with the meters, which seem to deplete almost instantaneously yet take forever to fill.
Entwined seems eager to punish and reticent to reward. I oft found myself on the verge of victory only to lose several minutes of progress brought on by minuscule mistakes easily traced back to the twitchy inputs. Pixelopus seems to be chasing a zen sensibility that occasionally feels transcendent when everything falls into place, but Entwined is too often caustic and too eager to break its own spell.
Each level climaxes with the bird and fish fusing into a dragon. These segments initially seem like a welcome change of pace, as the game really opens up, with large open environment and stunning terrain. It ultimately still boils down to clumsily maneuvering around and collective baubles, though. Once again, players will need to fill a meter, this time so they can paint a trail of color across the sky for some reason. The dragon instances make for nice reprieves from the tunnel portions of the game, at least at first, but ultimately grow tiresome and impotent by Entwined‘s final chapter.
The whole production is imbued with stunning environments replete with this trenchant sense of beauty. It’s just really a pity the gameplay is rarely as cogent as these ornate landscapes or the gauzy, resonant soundtrack. There’s obviously something special at work here bubbling beneath the surface, but it’s too subtle and poorly realized to merit delving into.
Entwined is just far more satisfying to look at or listen to than it is to actually play.