Gaming: Entwined

Sir Thomas McDaniel reviews a new game called Entwined.

Sony had a nice little surprise for gamers at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) last Tuesday. They revealed a new arthouse game, Entwined, then promptly announced that the game wasn't months away from being ready; they were putting it up on Playstation Network right then!

Developed by Sony's newest studio, Pixelopus, Entwined is billed as a romantic tale of a fish and a bird who are in love with each other. Outside forces keep them from being completely together, so they go on a journey through nine lives to try and smash with each other.
After playing Entwined, I have to take Sony at their word about that premise. The game play consists of you controlling a fish on the right side of the screen and a bird on the left, moving each along its respective side of a large circle by using the analog sticks on your controller. 
"I am"
You advance through the game by moving each animal through colored shapes that originate at the center of the screen and grow bigger as they approach the protagonists. As the game progresses, there are more and more challenging patterns of shapes that you must fly through. It's disorienting to have a pattern of shapes approach the bird on the left, with a different pattern of shapes challenging the fish on the right slightly later. Successfully flying through patterns of shapes fills up two meters on the top of the screen. When the meters are full, you get a chance to experience the bonus stage that's included after every level.
Arthouse games like this rarely go for top-notch graphics, but the people at Pixelopus tried for a streaming psychedelic look that could have been gorgeous. Unfortunately, the characters and shapes are blocky, and the trippy background art was done better in a number of Playstation 2 games.
I'm disappointed that a game with such simple game play controls so poorly. You only use the analog sticks, except for the once-per-level times where you must push R1 and L1 simultaneously. We're given a hint at the beginning of the game that it helps to keep the creatures on the outside of the circle throughout the game. They stay just inside the outer perimeter by default, so we're forced to push outward on the analog sticks while maneuvering them through the shapes. It would have made a lot more sense to have them set on a fixed curve instead.
The worst thing of all is that in every level I played, there was at least one maddening bug that froze the screen for a second and reset my characters to their base positions. It only lost me a minute or two of game play each time, but a bug like that in a game like this is inexcusable.
After finishing story mode, which took about three hours, I had a go at challenge mode. It's just like story mode, except that you're not trying to get to the end of a narrative, you're trying to get high scores and advance to more difficult challenges. I enjoyed challenge mode more than story mode, but I got tired of it after just a few hours.

For those of you who enjoy games like Journey and Rez, you might find something to like here. It's completely non-violent and suitable for children of all ages. There is no killing or death, only progress and setbacks. While some of the more challenging stages brought back memories of old arcade games like Tempest and Gyruss, Entwined never comes close to matching their intensity. It's $10 in the Playstation Store, which is twice the price of what it's worth. 

-Tom McDaniel