Entwined is a tranquil reminder that even a simple rhythm game can be a more emotional adventure than the most expensive blockbuster title. A $500 million budget, guns, and a barrage of rockets and explosions around every corner can do a lot, but sometimes all it takes is a fish, a bird, and a bond to create a memorable gaming experience.
Developed by Pixelopus and directed by Dominic Robilliard, Entwined has a minimalistic, geometric art style that pops with color; it’s reminiscent of classic games like Rez and Tempest. You may not even realize it when you first start playing, but it follows an orange fish and a blue bird that are in love, but can never be truly experience life together. They are “always together, forever apart.”
Entwined has a minimalistic, geometric, colorful art style reminiscent of classic games like Rez.
Entwined is a shared dream between the two of them, and during each of their nine lifetimes (levels), the two work together while being apart, eventually earning the ability to briefly become one as a green dragon, soaring across the skies together in an afterlife of sorts.
As hokey as that all sounds, playing Entwined feels transcendent: The sense of separation and the joy of becoming one are felt on a visceral level through the game’s simple, elegant control scheme.
Like a music and rhythm game, Entwined has you attempt to hit “notes” as they come at you in a third-person view. The gameplay is on rails, tasking you with moving the orange fish using the left control stick and the blue bird using the right – no buttons are needed. You can move the orange fish around the circular left edge of the screen to hit pie-slice shaped notes and orbs, while you do the same on the right side. Each hand controls both creatures independently, and they cannot travel on each other’s side. If they meet at the top or bottom of the screen, they glow green.
It’s your job to make sure the orange fish is in the right place to hit all the orange notes, while simultaneously controlling and doing the same with the blue bird. As you get through more of these sequences, orange and blue meters at the top of the screen inch closer to one another.
Feelings of elation, anxiety, and excitement swell as the genetically distant lovers get closer to being together at last, and in the final moments, as they race toward the end, you’re asked to hold L1 and R1 together. Do it right and you get a boost of speed as bird and fish soar through a final series of notes on their path toward unification.
When you finally make it, a burst of light melds the two souls together into a soaring green dragon, which you can fly freely around a small open world using either the left or right control stick. Though you may not realize you’ve lived out a love story, there’s an odd sense of relief now that the challenge is over and the two beings are one. Collect a few orbs at your leisure and you can create a portal leading to the next life.
The challenge grows as you advance. At first, success is simply a matter of moving the two creatures in parallel – when one goes up, the other goes down, as if a pole ties them together. Each new level adds layers of complexity, as the odds stack against the unlikely pairing, until it gets to the point that you’re expected to perform complex asynchronous movements with both your hands.
A feeling of elation, anxiety, and excitement builds as the genetically distant lovers get closer to being together at last.
Entwined has no scoring system, and it’s hard to lose in Story mode, but it’s also difficult to win. The game’s difficulty tunes itself on the fly, decreasing or increasing as you fail or succeed. The best players still face a tough game, but even the worst players don’t have to worry about a “Game Over” screen, as long as they don’t give up.
Mastery is key. Each level has its own set of patterns to learn, and the game recognizes when you’ve gotten one down. To clear a level, you have to eventually face and surpass the most difficult patterns it has to offer. If you like punishment, there’s a challenge mode as well, which lets you play for as long as you can with only a few chances for error.
There’s a lot to like about Entwined, but it’s not perfect. The price may be a bit steep for the 2-3 hour playing time. The green dragon flying arenas are also sparse and the unified control scheme lacks the elegant balance of the fish and bird portions of the game. It’s easy to fly into an object and almost feel stuck in it as you turn around – ruining the emotional fluidity and rush that comes when the two lovers finally unite.
Entwined is wonderful little game that, while only nine levels long, runs deep with feeling. The plot is simple, and the characters do not change, but somehow Entwined left us with feelings of longing, loss, and love.
- Elegant dual control stick gameplay
- Beautiful, minimalistic art style
- Rich with emotion and feeling
- Great for experienced or new players
- Short (only 9 levels, or a few hours)
- Dragon controls are a little off