With an announcement and simultaneous release, Entwined burst onto the PlayStation Network with little furore; after all, it’s hard invest emotional excitement towards game that you didn’t even know existed. The debut game from Pixelopus sees you control an origami-styled bird and fish trying to create perfect harmony to become a majestic dragon. There’s more than a little bit of two of thatgamecompany’s titles as clear inspiration – with aspects of both fl0w and Flower – but Entwined, despite its moments of wonder, fails to match either.
The similarities between Entwined and Flower will be clear to see from the moment you step into the game’s nine-part story mode, but not in terms of gameplay primarily. There’s a tone with Entwined, an attempt at creating a zen-like scene as the simply brilliant soundtrack sucks you in. Where Flower excelled was punctuating the occasional melancholy with moments hope and this is something that Entwined mimics expertly.
It would be unfair on Pixelopus to entirely compare the two titles so starkly, but the aspects that let Entwined down are those that Flower executed perfectly. You are tasked with bringing two souls together to unite them for eternity. It’s a theme inspired by an ancient Chinese myth, plus there’s aspect reincarnation and empowering transformation, but ultimately one that fails to provide any real impact or sense of progression. Each of the nine lives are a separate level but, other than increasing difficulty, no real connection between them can be felt.
You could argue that, like the trio of thatgamecompany’s titles, you can draw your own meanings from Entwined – and those of freedom, partnership, struggle and love are all valid ones, but ones that are never bubbling at the surface having invested the hour needed into the entirety of the story.
How you actually aim to bring these two estranged souls together is simple. You control the bird with the right analogue stick and the fish with the left, rotating them to correctly hit coloured (orange, blue, or a combined green) markers. This complexity increases over time and with each successful hit a musical note is played (akin to Flower) and with every miss a harsh tonal message is your punishment.
As you achieve more and more successful hits a progress bar for each soul fills up until both – simultaneously – are full and you can begin their liberation into a unified dragon. Upon completing a final burst of markers you are unleashed into a new, free world as a dragon where you must collect a few orbs before soaring through the sky with a gorgeous trail of light.
Unfortunately, that’s all there is to Entwined. Once you’ve gone through the story there’s little incentive to go back and the occasional difficult moment induces a mixture of stress (when it goes wrong) and euphoria (when you finally get it right) – this is sometimes contrasting to the more uplifting music.
There’s a ‘challenge’ mode to dip your toe into as well that will pit you against a world leaderboard as you try to survive as long as possible with just three lives. It’s a valid attempt at a mode that would present some replayability were it not for the terrible decision to include just five levels and lock each of those behind a top score. In order to unlock the next level you must beat a top score (a figure around several minutes) – something that immediately frustrates. With a scoring system devised simply by counting the number of seconds, it’s a mode that could have provided a viable side element to Entwined but instead just disappoints.
It may sound like I’m being overly negative on Entwined which would be unreasonable given the wonderful experience it does provide. Sporting a visually striking art style is clear from the off and, despite a the occasion stutter, it is a marvellous game to watch. There’s a vibrancy and variation to each level that is bursting with colour and unusual design, whilst the audio accompaniment is something that really does rival Flower. The rousing tunes and use of accentuating melodies is powerful and, at times, truly moving.
Entwined has clear inspiration and it’s difficult not to draw comparisons. Pixelopus have developed an interesting title that, whilst it is an enjoyable outing, just doesn’t quite offer enough. In under two hours you’ll have had your fill, and that wouldn’t be a problem is the quality was somewhat higher.