If you think of a game that uses both of the analog sticks on a PlayStation controller, what immediately comes to mind? Using one stick to walk around and the other stick to turn the camera, right? You almost certainly didn’t picture two characters, on on each side of the screen, each controlled simultaneously by a different stick. That’s what makes Entwined interesting: it gives the player an unfamiliar control scheme in a way that feels fresh instead of gimmicky.

Entwined is about a fish and a bird who are in love, but cannot reach each other for obvious reasons (it’s based off of some Chinese myth, which was actually fitted to the game after the gameplay concept was conceived). Thus, the fish can only move on the left side of the screen, and the bird can only move on the right. Each analog stick controls the respective character, allowing them to move in half-circles. As you travel through vibrant tunnels, you approach orange, blue, and green shapes which you must pass through. The fish can only pass through orange, the bird can only pass through blue, and both must join together at the top or bottom of the screen to pass through green shapes. These things often come in sets, so you’ll have to manipulate your characters up and down to pass through all the shapes properly. In the spaces between sets, there are little orbs that must be collected. Your goal is to fill up both the fish and bird’s bars at the top of the screen. If you screw up and a character misses a shape, that character’s bar is depleted. It’s… probably easier to just look at the screenshot below to understand.

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Is this helpful?

Each time you fill up both bars, gameplay switches up a little. The orbs stop appearing, and your goal condenses to simply clearing every set of shapes perfectly, bringing the characters’ souls closer together. Once they’ve met, the two fuse into a dragon. No shit. Then you get to use both sticks to fly freely around in a sort of micro-environment such as a glacier or a city, collecting more orbs until you have enough to begin skywriting. This phase feels kind of like a breather more than anything else. It helps since the main part of the game can get pretty intense. At the end of each level, or “lifetime”, the two souls separate once again and you begin a new and more challenging “lifetime”.

The dragon phase offers a nice breather before the next lifetime.

The dragon phase offers a nice breather before the next lifetime.

As you progress, things become more complicated. Shapes rotate around the center of the tunnel, they come in a variety of different, er, shapes, some of them expand and contract, and, later on, they come in increasingly convoluted waves, winding and bending around. The point I’m trying to make is that each lifetime brings fun new challenges to the table. Given that there are only nine lifetimes, the game never got boring or repetitive for me. It felt like it was just about the right length.

What’s truly interesting is how strangely calming Entwined can be, at least for me. I first watched SurpriseEnema struggle with the first lifetime. It was excruciatingly painful to watch. When I was handed the controller, though, my experience changed dramatically. This is likely in no small part due to the fact that I am simply a lot better at the game than SurpriseEnema, like, seriously, so much better, but there’s something more than that. Maybe it’s the aesthetics. The graphics and sounds are all very pretty; there is some kind of harmony in the chaos of colours. The music isn’t too intense or too mellow, managing to maintain a perfect balance that feels really cohesive with the gameplay. “Cohesive” isn’ the right word. Enmeshed? Entangled? Interweaved? I’m sure there’s a better word for this.

But perhaps it also has to do with the way I played the game. I’m not sure if this is necessary for everyone, or if it is just necessary for players like me, but I found that I had to zone out and sort of “become one” with the game in order to do well. If my eyes darted around the screen, trying to ascertain where the fish or bird needs to be next, then I would lose focus of the other character and, ultimately, the rest of the tunnel entirely. And then I would mess up and become frustrated. And, in that frustrated frame of mind, I would continue to miss, quickly losing much of my progress and making myself even more frustrated. It was only once I would calm down, stare at the center of the screen, and just kind of zone out that the game would really come to me more naturally. It kind of gives the title of Entwined even further meaning – despite controlling two characters, you have to be able to play them together, cohesively.

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Even when apart, they are connected.

If you do find yourself failing hardcore, though, Entwined is pretty forgiving. First of all, there are no game overs. The worst that can happen is that you can lose all of your progress in a lifetime before the dragon is formed. Secondly, if you do happen to be having trouble, the game seems to go a little easy on you for a while. I don’t know if this is just dumb luck or if it’s legitimately programmed that way, but I noticed it happening several times while I was playing. Of course, once you get back in the swing of things, it’s likely to crank things up again. It’s a nice system that doesn’t pummel you nor hold your hand. That is, provided I’m not just imagining things.

Finally, once you’ve completed all nine lifetimes and reached the ending of the game proper, there is a challenge mode that extends the lifetime of the game itself. This mode has five stages, themed after the elements, each becoming progressively harder. Or at least, that’s what I’m guessing. You have to unlock each one by reaching a certain score in the previous stage, and I just wasn’t good enough in the short amount of time that I spent trying. Challenge mode plays just like the first half of the normal game, but there are no orbs, and you have three lives. If one of your characters misses a shape, then you lose a life. Score is kept based on how far you’ve traveled. It’s a fine arcade-like addition to the game that should keep many players occupied long after they’ve finished the story. It looks like a version of this lone challenge mode is also available on Android and iOS devices, so if you’d like to spend a buck just to carry this around with you, go ahead and try it. I haven’t, so I can’t offer a proper review for those, but they appear to be essentially the same.

"Water" is the only stage I played. As you can see, I bombed.

“Water” is the only stage I played. As you can see, I bombed.

In summation, Entwined is an interesting action game, the likes of which you’ve probably not played before. It can be at times both calming and incredibly frustrating, but if you go into it with the right mindset, I’d say that it leans toward the former. You can pick it up on the PlayStation 4 network for $9.99.

Check out this recording I made while playing the game.

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