The independent scene of gaming is notoriously home to some of the most strange and bizarre concepts out there, so forgive me if I was a bit pessimistic coming into Entwined; an abstract artistic game centered on a story of two star-crossed souls of a bird and a fish, and their quest to come together. Sometimes, however, to find true success you must take your most ridiculous ideas and put them into execution without fear of if it being positively or negatively received. At the end of the day, that’s also what independent gaming is all about in a nutshell, and the reason why Entwined soars past the bulk of its independent brethren.
The concept of the game is a simple one: you have an abstract and artistic origami-like representation of a bird and a fish, with your goal being to bring them together throughout a series of psychedelic and hypnotic looking stages. The tagline of the game probably says it best: Forever apart, always together.
This is accomplished by guiding both Bird and Fish into transparent gates appropriately colored to match the character. Bird is blue, so your goal is to navigate him through the blue gates, while Fish must be crashed into the orange gates. Keep in mind, this is all done via on-rails levels that have the player controlling both Bird and Fish at once. It’s a system that works exactly like Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, in that each character is controlled with their own joystick.
Essentially, Entwined is an on-rails shooter that doesn’t have any shooting; it is solely about navigating these artistic creations through their respective gates, all in order to fill up their separate gauges. Basically, after successfully navigating Bird and Fish through a sequence of gates, you’ll have an opportunity to collect glowing orbs for each of them. If you fail at hitting the gates though the bars will decrease; it’s similar to a health bar only there really is no way to die or receive a game over in Entwined.
That doesn’t mean the indie title is a breeze to finish though, as it most definitely will test your hand-eye coordination. The patterns and sequences of the gates start out relatively simple and short, but with each passing stage they grow longer and more complex. The fact that you’re also guiding two characters at once also complicates things, but in a challenging way that’s fun. As you undoubtedly mess up some of the sequences, things can feel rather daunting at times, but never frustrating to the point where maxing out both gauges feels like an impossible chore.
Speaking of maxing out both gauges, once this has been successfully accomplished, the player will be prompted to press L1 and R1 together to begin the metamorphosis of Bird and Fish into a single entity, which is finally complete when the you successfully pass through one last wave of multiple gate sequences. Afterwards, Bird and Fish become one as a dragon, as the player explores an area of some narrative importance depending on how you look at things. For example, one area has a giant ferris wheel in it – which was a bit jarring at first considering most of the game is made up of pretty colors – which can probably mean anything if you let your imagination run wild. Maybe it was the location of their first date, who knows.
The point is that, similar to a game like Journey, Entwined tells a highly abstract and minimalistic story that can essentially mean anything you want it to mean. There really is no right or wrong answer as to what Entwined is about, other than that these two colorful souls are in love and clearly want to be together.
This relationship occurs throughout nine different stages, which has both some positives and negatives to it. On one hand, Entwined is a very simple and basic experience that would have probably overstayed its welcome if it went on any longer. It also results in a game that barely lasts over an hour though, which is a bit disappointing even if the game is only $10. I’m going to go out on a limb, however, and state that the asking price is justified, if only because the game is so damn gorgeous to look at, soothing to play, and boasts an incredibly calming soundtrack.
In all honesty, the visuals of Entwined are probably what an LSD trip feels like, and I mean that as a compliment. A better example is to compare it to those random screens of colors you’re treated to when playing music on any recent console or Windows Media Player, only it now has somehow been turned into a game. Players will navigate Bird and Fish across highly varied environments ranging from the skies, to the inside of a volcano, to beautiful ice inspired areas and more.
The soundtrack is also able to effectively evoke an emotional response to what is transpiring on-screen. Many will argue that Entwined has been collectively considered a success due to its distinct trippy artistic style, but if you strip away the music the game probably wouldn’t elicit even half as strong a reaction.
For the most part, the music is in tune with the tranquil and relaxing vibe of the game, but throughout each stage as you progressively grow closer and closer to maxing out the gauges of Bird and Fish, parts of the tempo pick up and draw you further into the experience. You don’t know why you’re so invested into making sure a bird and a fish are conjoined into one being, you just know you suddenly given a damn. The beautiful soundtrack is what bridges the evocative story and unique visuals together into the complete package that makes up Entwined.
Aside from the aforementioned unfortunate lack of content, there was only one more glaring flaw to be found within the game, and that is its lack of cooperative play. Fundamentally, Entwined is a game about bringing two souls together and utilizing both thumbsticks at once to do so. Therefore, it seemed like a given that there would be some form of co-op to fully realize the ambition of the narrative.
Entwined would be even more compelling a game if it could be cooperatively played with a significant other or even a friend, as that determined drive to bring these souls together would come out further. Somehow, it just feels that completing a game that is about bringing two lovers together would feel more more liberating upon completion with someone you care about.
There is also a Challenge Mode where you must survive the various stages for as long as you can, but it honestly doesn’t add much and feels like the easiest tactic in the book to pile on some additional content to a game that is pretty bare-bones. It is there though, so if you enjoy the rhythm-based gameplay of guiding artistic creations through color-based gates, you can make a competition out of it if you desire. Realistically though, once you’ve seen the story and made up your mind as to what it was about, you will probably never touch Entwined again.
Overall, Entwined is a pleasantly surprising experience. Admittedly, it isn’t on the level of games such as Journey or Limbo, but there is a lot to like in this psychedelic title. It’s certainly one of the most outside the box ideas for a game I’ve come across in quite some time, and has that creativity boosted with equally creative and unprecedented visuals, and a beautiful musical score that successfully elicits emotion.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 exclusive.
A psychedelic art-style, a minimalistic yet evocative story, and an emotional soundtrack all make for a great way to spend an hour as you bring together the loving souls of a bird and a fish.