Entwined is meant to be a poster child. With a big on-stage announcement all of its own at Sony’s E3 conference, it’s being positioned as a bright, whimsical champion to lead the company’s growing army of artsy indie games. It plays like a checklist for the anti-triple-A brigade: sparkly-if-basic visuals; simple, repetitive gameplay and a story that is (nominally) about love and souls instead of guns and ammo. Unfortunately, once you peel away the glossy surface there’s not a lot else going on in Entwined – no Shawshank tunnel to anywhere interesting, just a blank wall.
Take the story, for example. Here it is, in full: there’s the soul of a fish, and the soul of a bird. They’re in love, but they can’t be together – presumably because birds eat fish, but this is never explained. Thankfully, Entwined’s story is pretty superfluous. The main meat of Entwined is guiding the bird and the fish through linear neon tunnels, controlling one soul with each thumbstick to pilot the bird (blue) and the fish (orange) into floating orbs and through correspondingly coloured light gates. Collecting orbs charges each animal’s progress bar, while missing gates drains it. Fill both bars and you’ll be prompted to hold R1 and L1 to trigger a final dash to the level’s end.
More challenging configurations of gates are introduced slowly, and when you miss one, all that happens is that the offending soul flashes red and loses a small chunk of charge from its progress bar – no Game Over screens, no frustrating returns to the start of the level. But while it’s a peacefully rewarding experience guiding both souls safely through each segment, it’s hard to shake the feeling that after a couple of levels, the game has run out of ideas.
Take the between-level free-flying sections. Finish a stage and the bird and the fish join together into a dragon which must then be flown around to collect enough floating orbs to progress to the next level proper. These sections are supposed to represent the bird and the fish finally united after a lifetime of struggle – but really, they’re pure padding.
For a start, there’s no challenge: no time limit, no gates to fly through, just orbs to collect by steering your dragon into them. Worse, the game’s controls obviously weren’t built for this kind of gameplay. Both sticks still control movement, so when you instinctively twitch one stick to pan the camera, your dragon will veer into a mountain instead. It’ll harmlessly bounce off, but the lack of camera control makes it hard to spot and collect orbs, dragging out these weirdly misplaced segments when all you want to do is get back to the real game of dodging through light gates in tunnels.
That’s Entwined in a nutshell: a nice core bit of gameplay tarted up with unnecessary pretensions and stretched too thin, even over its short playtime. It feels like a minigame from a bigger title – specifically, those minigames from God of War and Dead Space 2 in which you guide a plummeting hero through falling debris. What it doesn’t feel like is a full a game – let alone the artsy indie hero Sony would like it to be.