Today, a new game by the name of Tumbleseed graces the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Steam. This downloadable title was made by a small dev team and they seem to have made something unique. This game is a roguelike and really prides in that arcadey feel that comes with it. The path to the top is randomly generated every time you play. This combined with the abnormal controls made for a real challenging experience. The question is if the game really has the substance to back up that difficulty or if it’s just a shameless rage fest. Let’s take a look at the game’s elements to help us decide.
At the core of any great roguelike, the gameplay needs to really work on its own. If the gameplay isn’t any fun, the game will fall apart. Thankfully, we can attest that Tumbleseed’s gameplay really does hold up. The controls are somewhat awkward, which can make getting around a real challenge, even without hazards! As you play, you get used to that until you can even navigate some pretty crazy terrain without needing to worry about falling into holes, most of the time.
On the flipside, as roguelikes are, this game randomizes everything, including enemy placement. Most of the time, enemies stay stratified into their main biomes. Some, like the green serpents, won’t ever leave certain areas. Unfortunately, others can and will show up just about anywhere they please. This can occasionally lead to some really frustrating circumstances where it feels like we only lost because we got a really bad seed. Sometimes a purple flying monster will chase us and others, a red spider decides he liked the look of the forest. So he leaves the jungle in order to try and kill us before we can even really build up any defenses.
In other words, yeah, this game is really hard. So hard that as of the time of this review, we still have yet to finish it! But no excuses, of course. It’s worth noting that despite the difficulty, we’re still playing and enjoying the game. It’s frustrating, and at times feels completely unfair, but it’s addictive. You tell yourself “I bet the next round, RNG will be in my favor” or “if I could’ve just made it a liiiittle farther…” While I think the crazy difficulty does work against the game, in some ways, I also think it helps solidify what the game does best. It keeps you playing.
This is where the game gets interesting for most players. So every time you die, you get returned to the starting village. That makes it seem too difficult to get anywhere, as you’ll always have to start over. Well, there’s a character in the starting village that gives you quests. These give you simple goals you can complete while you play the game. Eventually, these goals will ramp up until you reach the end of the game. As you complete them, you gain access to a teleporter, which will let you start higher up the mountain. Beware using this, though, as your score becomes invalid and you won’t get the benefits from the previous biome.
Aside from that, progression is very natural. It’s just a measure of how good you get at the game, and how unlucky you can be in one run. As you go, there will be power-ups you can gather, but there are four that you’ll always have. These are called seeds and they allow you to do all kinds of things. One of the four main abilities is planting checkpoints, in case you fall in a hole. Another allows you to sprout thorns that hover around you and hurt enemies they touch. A third allows you to sprout crystals from the ground to power your abilities. And the last one lets you regain one health for every four patches you plant it in.
These seeds use crystals, which are scattered on the ground, drop from killed enemies, and can be grown by one of your main abilities. Other seeds may be bought or found, as there are various secrets to be found all over.
Audio and Visuals
So the game uses a variety of colors, depending on what biome you’re in. In our experience, this has caused some problems when trying to play in tabletop mode or with a friend. Though, co-op in this game is probably unintentional and is honestly just making the game far more frustrating than it ever needed to be. Aside from that, the art style is cute and fairly unique and the visuals have never given me trouble in handheld mode or playing on a big screen.
The music in the game is cute and kind of accentuates the feeling of a small mountain tribe. The music, as far as we’ve seen, has very well matched the scenery anywhere we go. Honestly, for what it is and what it’s trying to do, the sound design in this game seems to be very much on point.
The content in Tumbleseed, while heavily varied, isn’t that expansive. A single playthrough could take a matter of minutes, rather than hours, but the game’s biggest strength is by far its replayability. You typically won’t get anywhere near the top, but even if you do, the main response is to yell in frustration and start over.
Maybe this game won’t appeal to the less-masochist members of our audience, but if you want a challenge, Tumbleseed will be more than happy to supply that challenge. The game’s design appears to be spot-on and the replayability puts it over the limit of what’s expected of most indie titles. While it may not be the greatest roguelike every or even a favorite, there’s no denying that it’s unique.
–Thanks to the developers for providing a review copy of Tumbleseed on the Nintendo Switch.