What it is: Tumbleseed is a Roguelike-style game from indy game developer AEIOWU. The plot focuses on a seed that must make its way to the top of a mountain in order to plant itself and save the world. Or maybe the mountain…? It’s not really a plot-heavy type of game.
The game is out today, 5/2/17, on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Steam for $14.99.
The best comparison I can make is to say that this game is the Ninja Warrior of video games. The point of the game is to climb up the four stages of the mountain (Mt. Midoriyama?), completing various tasks and navigating treacherous obstacles, in order to be the best. And if you die…? The game is unforgiving. You start again at the bottom, but all the obstacles you were lucky enough to get past last time, the one that you want revenge against for doing you in…they’re all gone. Or at least, rearranged. Some are replaced with new obstacles you couldn’t have trained for, that nobody has ever seen before. All you’re missing are the annoying announcers giving play-by-plays and the leggy blonde demanding an exit interview while you drip with water, self-loathing, and defeat.
I’ve had the game for about two weeks or so, and I’ve been playing pretty rigorously in that time, with many breaks because I’ve never sworn so much at a game in my life, and this is as far as I’ve gotten:
Yep, that’s about halfway through the 2nd stage.
The game’s biggest strength is also its greatest weakness: procedurally generated level maps. I know, I know. This is a staple of the Roguelike genre, but hear me out. This game makes you multitask to the utmost. You have to avoid pits as numerous as Chicken Pox, steer clear of mines, avoid slugs, run from a myriad of bugs and critters that chase aggressively after you, all while trying to navigate a unique and challenging set of controls. Now, if the maps were the same through and through, players could eventually figure out the timing and the patterns, learn the routes to take, and speed-run through the game. It would make the game navigable. But the downside to that is that the game would eventually get boring. With the random maps every time, you can potentially play this game forever! Which means the game has an incredible value. Plus, if you get stuck on one place that you just can’t get past or an enemy (or cluster) that is ridiculously relentless, just die a couple times, and when you play it again, the new map won’t have those same pitfalls. New ones, yes, but not the same ones.
Oh, and did I mention there are Sandworms? No Beetlejuice, but there are Sandworms. They are evil, and nothing I’ve found slows them down.
Controls: The first hurdle of the game is learning the controls. They’re unique and, at first, quite challenging. It isn’t the comfortable button-mashing mapped configuration that you’re used to, which is good and bad. It’s good because it makes you pay attention. It’s bad because it takes some getting used to.
Modern controllers have two joysticks: one on each side of the controller. In Tumbleseed, you don’t control the titular character. You control the balance beam that carries him up the mountain. The left joystick moves the left side of the beam while the right joystick controls the right side. As you can imagine, living in a world controlled by physics and gravity, if you put a round object on a surface that isn’t completely level, it begins to roll from one side to the other. This is how you navigate the mountain.
Art/Animation: I have to praise AEIOWU here. The game is gorgeous, both on the small Switch screen and on the giant TV. The visuals are so crisp and inviting that you get lost in the game as easy as falling asleep.
Most indy games these days, especially the ones heading for the Switch (Shovel Knight, Enter the Gungeon, Tower Fall, etc) are all throwback style games, with a throwback style of art…very rarely getting above 16-bit graphics. I’m not knocking those games by any means, because they’re a blast to play, and that art style was likely chosen deliberately. It works for those games.
The style of Tumbleseed is simple, but it’s also clean and modern. It’s a look that garners attention because it is its own thing. This game doesn’t look like any other game.
What makes this game so impressive is how it engages every available sense to really give you an experience that other indy games simply aren’t able to serve: your eyes take in colors so rich and vibrant, your ears are perfectly captivated by the sound effects and music, and the use of the HD rumble allows you to feel every movement.
Why you should play it: This is perhaps the hardest game I’ve ever played…but I can’t stop playing it. There is something so curiously addicting about it. What at first seems like a very simple game of balance and avoidance, very quickly becomes so much more.
I didn’t even mention the weapons and power-ups you can get. There are over 30 unique moves, attacks ranging from daggers to missiles, lasers to a flipping mace, and defense maneuvers like flooding the sinkholes to be able to roll right over them or a bounce that lets you clear obstacles in midair. The depth of thought and time that have obviously gone into this game is staggering. The game is coming from a small studio that began making flash-based and mobile games. This is not the 15th title from Square Enix, where you expect it to be crammed with surprises. It’s not designed to take you 80 hours of gameplay to beat, but as the mountain ever changes, you can certainly get 80 hours of play out of it.
I know, reading the review, you’d think that I should be scoring it higher than a 7. Truth be told, the game isn’t perfect. The controls make it difficult for just anyone to pick up and play on a casual basis. It was something I had to work at, and I’m not sure I would have put the time in, had I not been focused on giving it a fair review. Plus, at the end of the day, I’m a story guy, and this really doesn’t have much of a plot.
Still, for a $14.99 price tag, there’s so much to be had here and so much value for the money. Will you play it for hours on end like you would Zelda? No. But it’s the perfect game to kill time in 20-30 minute increments (or less) while waiting for a bus or at the doctor’s office.
Let us know what you think of Tumbleseed in the comments section below!