One of my favourite games of last year, and the one that I consider the most important, was Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The idea of telling a story through the controller and relating those controls to a character is fascinating and the step towards understanding video games as an interactive storytelling medium. I would have been shocked if I didn’t see another game coming out afterwards attempting something similar, and lo and behold, Entwined showed up out of nowhere. Impressionistic in nature, with a clear focus on a simplistic experience, Entwined is a gorgeous experiment that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but is also lacking in the things which the controls represent: character development and story.
A bird and a fish want to be together; two souls constrained by love. However, they cannot be together, due to unknown circumstances. Something is keeping them apart, and it’s not just the fact that one is the colour of fire and one is the color of water. I make the comparison to Brothers because Entwined has players controlling each of these souls with a respective analog stick. The catch is, you’re trapped within this tunnel (the tunnel of love, perhaps?) and cannot go outside of it. The other catch is that each character is relegated to one half of the screen and can only get close to the other character, but can never completely meet.
My brief interaction with Entwined was fun, if a little frustrating at times. The gameplay is extremely simple because it is you flying a bird and a fish through a tunnel and into colour-coded objectives. Go through the orange gate if you’re the orange bird, and go through the blue gate if you’re the blue fish. Occasionally, there are gates which are green that appear in the bottom and top centers of the tunnel, where the two characters can meet but not touch. However, their colours change to green and they go through the gate. It’s a fun concept of simply flying through a tunnel, collecting orbs along the way and maneuvering through gates to the very end. I was persistently reminded of Rez, in its vibrant colours and maneuvering around the screen.
In the simplicity of flying through gates, Entwined loses itself by over-complicating things. Progression through a level is measured by how many gates you go through. Miss a gate, and your progression bar depletes. Each character has their own bar to watch out for as well, so it’s important to master controlling the two of them at the same time (as if they are one soul, divided in two). Filling each characters bar doesn’t mean you’re done yet, though, as the game then makes you hold L1 and R1 in order to “bond” the two souls, in which you are still flying through gates but messing up will lead to the bond failing and you’ll have to refill part of the meter. You’ll likely spend a long time re-attempting to bond the two souls, but the fact that the game never really changes the formula after nine levels makes the monotony painful.
It is clear that Pixelopus were attempting to make something both artistic and fun. I think they nailed the artistic aesthetic, and the broad strokes of a story are there, but in far too abstract of terms. The fun is there, but with little to no variety between levels other than the game speeding up a bit, there isn’t much to sink your teeth into. The conclusion of each level, or “lifetime” as they’re called in Entwined, involves the two souls bonding into one, where the player collects some more orbs, writes in the sky briefly, and then flies into the end portal where you proceed to do it all over again. The concluding levels are clearly inspired by Flower, in that the only differences are the assets used.
Piggybacking on some of the most popular games in a specific scene is fine, but you have to set yourself apart. Entwined has a tough time doing that beyond its aesthetic and controls. The story is probably meant to mirror an impressionist painting in its simplicity, but a lot of what is being conveyed is lost in the monotonous gameplay and derivative conclusions. There’s a challenge mode that has players seeing how many gates they can fly through before missing three of them. If the gameplay was already repetitive for you however, doing more of it without any reason but to unlock more redundant gameplay is hardly an enticing proposition. Entwined gets points for trying, and it does feel completely at home in the PlayStation ecosystem. But it is not the artistic achievement that it makes itself out to be.