The gaming landscape is broad enough to support a wide variety of experiences. More releases are challenging our definition of the word “game,” defying classification and veering toward interactive art. Entwined is one of those titles, but it demonstrates that being artsy and unique isn’t a free pass.
Revealed and released during Sony’s E3 2014 press conference, Entwined pulls elements from memorable experiences like Flower and Rez. The gorgeous visuals and ambient audio form a meditative backdrop, but that stage dressing ends up being the most significant and substantial aspect the game has to offer. As soon as you look beyond the stylish surface, Entwined is hollow.
You control two neon characters – a bird and a fish – that sail through an infinite tunnel. Each animal is assigned to an analog stick, and skates along the edges of its designated half of the screen. Swinging them both around simultaneously, you maneuver around the tunnel’s circumference and through gates flying at you, lining the orange and blue beasts up with the appropriately colored openings.
This simple approach is accessible, but makes for a dull game. It’s on rails, so you aren’t exploring, and you aren’t engaging with any emotion. You’re just flying through hoops, watching and listening to the environment shift according to your actions. Unfortunately, regardless of how pretty the game is (and it is very pretty), it just isn’t fun. It’s like an mp3 visualizer and a lockpicking minigame fused into single, boring product.
After going through enough gates correctly, the bird and the fish form a dragon, ditching the tunnel in favor of more open area. You are able to fly freely as you collect floating orbs, but these sequences aren’t exhilarating. The controls for the dragon are sluggish and the camera is erratic, making it hard to get any thrill out of flying unrestricted. When you collect enough orbs, you can leave a glowing trail, skywriting abstract shapes until a meter depletes and you move on to the next level.
The dragon sections are probably important to the message developer PixelOpus (a new studio within Sony) is trying to convey. However, that message is ambiguous, at best. PixelOpus says the game is about “two souls who are in love but that can’t be together,” but that tale is entirely symbolic. Apart from flashing the phrase, “always together, forever apart” when you begin, the game does not convey any sense of narrative. Telling a story is possible without dialogue-heavy exposition (like we saw with Journey’s implied arc), but the “plot” of Entwined is little more than a vague metaphor. It basically means whatever you want it to, which makes the adventure (which took me a little over a hour, not counting challenge mode) completely uninteresting.
Entwined’s experimental nature reminds me of similar games that I’ve enjoyed, but there’s always a “minus” in the comparison; it’s like Journey minus the community, like Flower minus the message, like Rez minus the action. It is a stylish feast for the eyes and ears, but one that ultimately leaves you hungry.
As soon as you look beyond the stylish surface, Entwined is hollow.