On the surface, Entwined looks like an excellent addition to Sony’s stable of of high quality indie offerings. It has the look (abstract, colorful, gorgeous), the theme (two star-crossed animals attempting to connect with each other over several lifetimes) and, on paper, the mechanics (flights down hypnotic corridors, passing through shifting, colored gateways). The boxes all appear to be checked, but after a few minutes of playing the game, it becomes apparent that Entwined doesn’t hold the wistful, relaxing and thoughtful quality of games like Flower or Journey, nor the thrilling replayability of something like Velocity 2X.
The main issues with the game can be traced to questionable core design. In each of Entwined’s nine levels, or lifetimes as they are called, you control an orange fish and a blue bird as they fly down a vibrant corridor, passing through like-colored portals. The challenge comes from the fact that each analog stick controls the movement of a different animal (left stick controls the fish; right stick controls the bird), and the two can only operate on their specific side of the corridor. Functionally, this is problematic, especially on larger televisions, because you have to rotate the animals on the outside of the circle and, thus, cannot actually look at them during more complex patterns (your eyes must be focused on the upcoming portals in the center). Basically, you have to trust your feelings and pull a Luke Skywalker-style trench run, but without the benefit of an omnipresent, metaphysical power guiding your actions.
Additionally, for a majority of each level, the player is not rewarded in a traditional sense for successfully passing difficult sections. Navigating tough areas simply means neither the fish nor the bird lose any resources that have been built up until that point (which is accomplished by collecting orbs scattered about in between portal sections), yet missing a portal results in a curt rumble of the controller and depletion of resources. What this means is that you are constantly fighting to not be punished, rather than to be rewarded. This same mentality extends to the game’s Challenge mode, which gives the player three lives (a life is depleted upon missing a portal) and a constantly increasing score meter, which really just serves as a glorified timer (the longer you survive, the higher your score).
The ending portion of each level is also a waste of potential, as it controls poorly and doesn’t add much to the experience. When enough orbs are gathered, the fish and bird fuse into a dragon and the player is allowed to fly around a smallish, open area, filled with colorful and striking abstract scenery. These areas look wonderful, but the dragon controls in a flighty, clumsy way, which detracts from the impact and contrast of going from racing down a narrow, defined corridor to gliding through a nonlinear environment. These open areas are there to support the game’s narrative of “always together, forever alone,” but the profundity implied never quite syncs up with what is happening on-screen.
All in all, Entwined is a flawed game with some good ideas, but none of them coalesce in a cohesive, interesting way. It’s often gorgeous, features an excellent, minimalist soundtrack, and takes on meditative themes that few other games even get close to touching, but the core systems should have been the glue to hold it all together, and that’s where the game is let down. Entwined might not be a winner for Pixelopus, but the young development team clearly has talent, and perhaps their next project will weave everything together in a way that places them shoulder to shoulder with studios such as thatgamecompany, Drinkbox and Honeyslug.