Reviews// TumbleSeed

Posted 2 May 2017 17:01 by
My first hour with TumbleSeed didn't go well.

I'm all for difficult games - they can be a lesson in bringing players to the brink of quitting before giving them the elation of progressing. Dark Souls, Trials and even Flappy Bird managed to turn anger into determination which lead to addiction.

These games got under the skin of the player and your failings would send you into a fit of rage, but they always carried that feeling that you could do better and your next attempts would be an improvement.

Initially TumbleSeed seemed to have missed the mark. Instead of blaming myself whenever I'd run out of lives, I was turning to the game. It felt hard for hard's sake and needlessly vicious. What's more, the feeling of being in control wasn't there because in TumbleSeed, you don't control the seed itself you control the platform it sits on.

The aim is to get to the top of a mountain by raising and lowering each side of a platform with a seed on it. The idea being that you roll your seed left and right to avoid the many obstacles in your way.

There are four main seeds that you swap out on the fly, each with their own ability tied to how many crystals you pick up along the way and activated by planting a crystal in a soil patch. One sets down a checkpoint to return to if you fall down a hole, another builds up an extra heart, and so on. The risk/reward style of gameplay works well but I didn't feel as though I had enough in-game time to work out a strategy before dying and wanting to put my Switch through the telly.

I persevered, not because I was enjoying myself but because I had to in order to review the game properly, and as I neared my limits of anger I worked something out. I was focusing on the wrong goals.

Now, after around 10 hours of play I realise that if there's one major problem with TumbleSeed it's that it doesn't communicate to the player what they need to focus on from the start. It's not like the likes of Future Unfolding, which takes a step back and lets you work things out. TumbleSeed actively tells you that your goal is to reach the top of the mountain so that's where you focus.

In fact what you need to do is work on the challenges on offer. At the village right at the bottom of the mountain is a character who asks you to do tasks, from killing three enemies to the likes of collecting 15 crystals in a single run. Once you've completed the challenge you return to be told to come back later. That's where you start changing things up.

I'd focus on a challenge, then go for a high score until the next mission was ready for me. Back and forth between getting as high as I can and trying to tick another achievement off of my list. Slowly the challenges taught me about the perils that laid ahead and how best to deal with them and soon enough I was beating scores that I thought were never going to be beaten by a mere mortal.

Whats more, I was enjoying myself. Each run up the procedurally-generated path would have me on edge, palms sweating and heart beating. I'd shift my body as I adjusted the platform to stop my seed a millimetre short of a hole or enemy and could only breath again once it was Game Over.

Most importantly though, I started to see progress. Not only from my high score but how I was dealing with certain situations. Don't get me wrong, there were still many times I'd take a step forward then fall right back into the infuriating depths of losing hearts within seconds of starting my ascent, but I now understood the game and once I was in. I was hooked.

Away from the main game there's the Daily Challenge. A chance to show off to the rest of the world how good you are. If this gets the player base that it deserves then this will be something that'll be the main focus for the hardcore players.

One attempt up the same mountain with no warps and no second chances. Where you finish is what your score will be and if you put the time and effort in you'll be up with the big boys on the leaderboard by the end.

This is a staple for roguelikes, but in TumbleSeed you're well aware of the difficulty players have to master to get their name in lights. Each day feels like a real event and although it adds extra stress and pressure to everything you do, the game goes a little lighter with the enemies and obstacles you have to navigate around.

It would be nice to see the dev team expand on this idea though as a single daily attempt is fun but once it's done, and it's a long time until your next go. Maybe a weekly challenge that lets you try as many times as you like to encourage continuous competition would be a good idea. Or perhaps that could kill the intensity surrounding the daily challenge. Either way, it feels like there need to be more than just these two game modes.

Back in the main game, I was completely addicted and before long would spend hours retrying runs, bettering my score and staying up way too late unable to put the thing down. What helps is that the aesthetic and music are so damn charming too. It's colourful, bold and sharp. The characters all look cute and the enemies all distinct, while the soundtrack is pleasingly warped. The whole thing reminded me of Fez, without it feeling like it was trying to imitate.

There's no doubt though that with TumbleSeed there's a barrier for entry. You have to push through your initial dislike and work hard to get to a place where it becomes enjoyable, but I think that's what the developers were going for. At no point does this game want to give you an easy ride and if you want to master it, you have to go through the raised heart rate, the vein-popping and almost snapping your console in half.

Once you're there though you'll be left with a game that has enough charm and challenge to keep you coming back and when everyone else is on board I can see TumbleSeed becoming part of your daily routine. It certainly is for me.

+ Challenging
+ Charming
+ Rewarding

- Will be too hard for a lot of people

SPOnG Score: 8/10

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