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Tanglewood Review

Tanglewood is a brand new Mega Drive game that you can buy and purchase in the year of our Lord, 2018. A lot has been said of its development in 68000 assembly language and using an actual Mega Drive development kit. It’s certainly one of the more interesting Mega Drive homebrew developments in recent years, but for all its authenticity to developments of the time, is it any good?

Before we answer that question, let’s give you a bit of context: Tanglewood puts you in control of Nymn – a fox-like character that awakens from a nightmare featuring a terrifying shadow spirit. Nymn discovers they have been separated from their family and must traverse 8 areas in order to find their way home. This would be a fairly simple endeavour if it wasn’t for the fact that Nymn’s world is full of beasties – small and large, who aren’t in the mood for making friends.

Nymn’s world is aesthetically very green and forested – full of luscious, rolling landscapes and gargantuan trees. You do encounter some structures as the game goes on, but overall you’re looking at a very natural environment. Visually it’s a very impressive-looking game and the scenery is very detailed and dynamic, with some lovely spot effects like rain and leaves adding to the atmosphere. Atmosphere is something Tanglewood is very good at creating and it doesn’t feature a traditional soundtrack with stage themes like a lot of classic Mega Drive titles. What music is there is used to punctuate the action to create a mood and it’s often very ambient and eerie. The game often abandons a soundtrack and simply lets you listen to various animals chirp and twitter to wonderfully minimalist effect.

Let’s talk about the game itself: As Nymn you can run and jump around the environment and the controls are responsive and fluid. Nymn has the same sort of feeling and inertia as Simba does in The Lion King game by Westwood Studios and they’re a joy to control. As you explore the environment you often find flowers projecting a circle of light onto a spot. These circles are made to house one of the many fuzzy little spheres that litter the game’s world. As Nymn you need to roll these fuzzy friends to the flower lights in order to activate certain abilities that Nymn can use. A yellow fuzzy allows you to glide, a green fuzzy gives you the ability to slow down time, a red fuzzy will power machinery and a blue fuzzy will allow Nymn to tame and ride on the many bull-like beasts that charge around the landscape.

The fuzzies are the real crux of what Tanglewood is about. Tanglewood is a puzzle platformer and making correct use of the various abilities that you are granted by the different coloured fuzzies is the key to reaching the end of each stage. You may need to tempt a beast away from a launcher and use time manipulation to freeze the beast and gain access. You may need to use your gliding ability to reach an area your standard jump won’t allow. You may need to use a red fuzzy to power a contraption that activates an elevator to a different area. There’s a lot of problem solving to be done in Tanglewood, and having the patience to experiment and explore is the key to success. You can also push and roll objects around the environment which also creates interesting options like moving boxes onto weighted switches to draw back bridges, or rolling boulders onto unsuspecting predators.

Unfortunately, even though you are encouraged to explore via problem solving or finding the 8 optional butterflies that are hidden around each stage, you are frequently punished for exploring. Tanglewood abides by the Oddworld rule of level design – try something, fail, learn from it, try again, succeed. However, this is a best case scenario. Certain puzzles will take multiple attempts and each stage is generally home to around 3 puzzles that you will often fail on your first attempt. Then it’s either back to the start of the stage or the last checkpoint to try again. There’s no way to play Tanglewood skilfully on your first attempt. You have to die to learn from your mistakes and the developers know this. That’s why Nymn is given infinite lives for the whole game. This helps to alleviate some of the frustration it can cause and it certainly helps elongate the amount of time you end up playing the game, but overall it’s a design decision that feels a little archaic for a 2018 release.

Tanglewood is an often gorgeous, fluid and responsive game that beckons the player to explore, but sadly falls short of greatness by frequently putting an obstacle in the path of the player and demanding you play it a certain way. It definitely feels very authentic and representative of the Mega Drive titles it takes inspiration from and it will appeal to a player who appreciates a slower, more thoughtful approach to level design. Unfortunately, it can’t decide if it wants to encourage the player to explore or to abide by its own logic, making for a good but occasionally irritating experience.

7/10

Written by Lewis “Sonic Yoda” Clark 14/8/2018

A free copy of the game was provided for this review.

Tanglewood is available to buy digitally on PC for £13.95 and on a limited edition boxed Mega Drive cartridge for £54. The PC version is available now, while a 2nd print of the Mega Drive version is due to ship in October 2018.

Screenshots

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