Live inside the outside.
Games have this hugely powerful ability to impart a wisdom, the ability to relate to something completely foreign and unknown to our senses. They can transfer us to unbelievable worlds that can scare us or bring about a wondrous sense of beauty that escapes the five that typically rule our view on the environment and people around us. At E3, two moments touched me deeply and left me wondering about the impact video games have had on my life thus far with the first being Entwined’s reveal on Sony’s stage.
It felt like the entire day of press conference crawling came crashing down on my head as Entwined’s gorgeous, vibrant visuals played on the series of screens and I can’t deny the Oprah-audience excitement that floods your body when a publisher or hardware manufacturer says a really cool-looking thing is available right now. I felt like the bug who knew to fly close to the zapper without actually touching it. Still, as I sat at home this week with my own PS4, the second deeply-moving moment of E3 played and one man’s impassioned plea for more gaming rang in my head. Entwined is that rare title that even gets a cynical critic like me to ask, “Who would want to grow out of gaming?”
Where many downloadables rely on tired genres like 2D platforming and arcade action, Entwined presents a relatively threadbare story of two lovers always together, yet forever apart. I mean, as much as I’d like to see the neon genesis of these two unlikely heroes into an awkward bird-fish hybrid, I’m happy just to navigate them through Entwined’s twisting 3D levels until they eventually synthesize into a dragon with the ability to paint the sky. It sounds like Entwined is lacking interaction and it’s true that I was left wanting for more, but that's the sign of a great piece of media.
The golden fish and azure bird brave enough to meet at the surface of a gentle ocean remain nameless throughout the adventure, but you can sense something special about their mechanical refusal to cross each other and in the moments where they achieve parity. That’s never truer than when one of them flourishes after collecting a string of orbs or when gliding through a sequence of rings in perfect order. Entwined features nine different “lifetimes” that slowly ramp up in difficulty and intricacy until elements from previous levels coalesce or the speed increases in an effort to throw you out of sync.
It’s the separation of left-brain and right-brain attention that provides the most challenge. Each character is mapped to an opposite thumb stick, but even if you mess up momentarily it’s not hard to recover and continue towards your goal. More often than not I found it difficult not to get distracted by the gorgeous visuals or entertaining electro-symphonic soundtrack. The art and animation department at my alma mater, San Jose State University, worked on the game. It's oddly personal in that I’ve grown so disillusioned with violent gaming lately and this decidedly gentile experience found me just after our E3 awards felt like an unfortunate exercise in telling people what to kill for the next two years.
Entwined usurps the sense that a $400 console could only be used for first-person shooters and undermines the idea that independent games will prove a waste of investment capital for anyone in this business. Even if one or two games of Entwined’s willing playability and beauty land on the platform in a given year, it could be enough to push the needle even further in Sony’s favor, despite mounting pressure from Microsoft’s own smart indie promotions and the sheer volume of software landing on Steam. That Entwined chose E3 to reveal itself to consumers at home watching Sony’s press conference (possibly via their PlayStation 4 consoles) hoping for something to get excited about feels like Bianca feeding Petruchio the tune to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
This game makes you feel special by transporting you to a world where the score doesn’t matter and two souls align just long enough to breathe life into the scenery around them, not unlike classic love stories on paper or celluloid. When you push the fish and bird together, they seem to regard each other gently until fate throws them into a twisting blender of gates. Successfully tossing one analog stick up and the other down in succession feels incredibly satisfying, though the game is criminally short. I was desperate for more gameplay, but challenge modes offer up the leaderboard action you’d get if Entwined sat in a big wooden cabinet at the pizza place down the street.
Further, Challenge Mode proves damn difficult with increasing marks needed to unlock successive themes. Entwined doesn’t have the bells and whistles you might expect from a next-generation console game, but it doesn’t really need them either. Even at less than two hours of playtime, I can’t complain when it costs more to go to a movie. In that way, Entwined feels like Journey and that’s high praise for upstart developer Pixelopus.
Code provided by publisher. Exclusive to PlayStation 4.