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TigerTails Gaming Reviews: Tanglewood

Tanglewood – A new game for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis

Finally I can talk about this. How long have I sat on this and not been able to say anything? Far too long, that’s for sure. Why, you might ask? Well, it’s full disclosure time before we go any further:

Yes. I, Thomas King, did contribute to the KickStarter to help raise the funds to make this game. This means that a lovely new Megadrive cartridge will be added to my games collection.
Yes. TigerTails Gaming (everyone other than Xavier) was involved in the Closed Beta of the game, and have played it to completion before release. We also helped find some bugs which have been patched out. And yes, there is gameplay footage of us playing the beta versions, and no that will not be released. Nor will any ROM files, so don’t even bother asking.

With the formalities out of the way, let’s get on with the review… Well, not such much review as a stream of consciousness, with a review flavouring. Tanglewood is a brand new game for the Sega Megadrive (or Genesis, if you’re from the USA) with ports to PC, Mac, and Linux via Steam, and a Dreamcast version coming in due course (thank you KickStarter stretch goals). The game was released on August 14 2018 and is made by Big Evil Corp – certainly not affiliated in any way with Sega. The game was written in 68000 Assembly and was made using Sega’s original hardware tools. Quite an achievement. We have talked about the game a couple of times before, but now we can talk about the whole thing! Well, we can, but this is going to be mostly spoiler free. There are some parts of the game that are best experienced for yourself.

Nymn battles against the weather as well as the terrors of the night in Chapter 2: Storm Warning.

For those who have not read the previous writeups about the game, Tanglewood is a puzzle platformer in the same vein as Another World or Flashback, with design elements from games The Lion King and Sonic the Hedgehog sprinkled in to complete the package. You control Nymn, a fox-like youngling of the Djinn race. Lost and alone in the forest, it’s up to you (the player) to guide Nymn to safety. While by day the forest (and other environments you’ll traverse) seems relatively peaceful, at night time the ‘orrible things come out to play. With poor Nymn being their preferred plaything… or snack – Djinn are most certainly not top of the food chain.

While out dodging foes and solving puzzles, you’ll come across some friends who can help Nymn along the way. The most common are Fuzzls. Cute little balls of fluff who, in return for you helping them to their nest, can grant special abilities. They can give the gift of flight (well, glide), taming some of the night dwellers for a short time, powering machinery, and even slowing down time. They’re quite powerful little beggars really. Which makes escorting them home for the night really worthwhile. Indeed, a lot of the puzzles are based around pushing Fuzzls into their nests, and then mastering the skill gifted to you. Things start off nice and easy. You see a nest and shortly afterwards you see a Fuzzl. Insert rod A into slot B and boom, you get the skill of flight that allows you to make a jump and continue on. Later puzzles, however, can be quite fiendish – though never so complex that you feel lost.

Running across collapsing bridges in Chapter 3: Heritage.

The foes that Nymn will have to face are wide and varied. From the huge and fast beast known as a Djakk, to the small and harmless looking Scirus. Each creature will have a way of defeating or avoiding them, and not all of them are solely denizens of the night. However, there is one enemy that you get introduced to in the opening cutscene that is different from all the others. What is it? Why does it look like some kind of demonic form? Why does it stalk Nymn while he sleeps? Who knows?

The game itself if broken up into 8 chapters, each with multiple acts. As you progress through the acts the time of day shifts from the daytime to the nighttime – and the game gets progressively harder with each chapter. That said, the game never becomes frustrating. There are certainly sections of the game which require a degree of trial and error, and there are sections of the game that will require some skill in order to overcome the obstacles, but the game is never unfair with its challenge. Some of this challenge comes from the puzzles, some from the enemy encounters, and some from the level design. There are also some boss battle sprinkled in. Does the demonic force have something to do with that? With Nymn unable to attack directly, however, you’ll need to use your wits and cunning to take down your opponents.

Fireflies and Fuzzls in Chapter 5: Bygone Mines.

Being a puzzle platformer means that aside from tackling the puzzles and outsmarting the creatures you encounter, you’ll have another task to complete. Collectibles hunting. In this game the collectibles take the form of fireflies. There are 8 of them scattered throughout each act they appear in (not all acts have them), giving 168 in total. Some are placed as a guide to aid you through the levels, especially in the earlier acts, and some of them require some thought and skill to collect. Collecting them all will give you a very special reward, which will not be spoiled here. Pressing Start will take you to a pause screen where you can see the number of fireflies collected so far, plus a level code so you can come back to the game at a later date without having to play the whole thing through in one sitting. If you get close to the end of an act without collecting all the fireflies, just hold A+B+C in the pause screen and press Start again to be taken back to the main menu to enter your level code and try again.

Graphically the game is wonderful to look at, especially in motion. The characters all move with grace and fluidity and the love really does shine through. This has been consistent from the first publicly released demo and is something I appreciate in a game. I can forgive many things, but shonky character animation is not one of them. The backgrounds are also rich and lush, for a Megadrive game, and the switches from day to dusk and then to night are a nice touch. Each stage takes place in a different environment, starting out in lush green forests, finding evidence of civilization, underground caves, and the desert. Not necessarily in that order. There are times when the backgrounds can seem a bit sparse, but this appears to be a deliberate design choice and they do well in setting the scene, hiding fireflies, and providing the setting for some of the puzzles the game presents. This is especially apparent during a level that takes place in a lighting storm, where the sparseness is actually part of the challenge itself.

Creative uses of lighting in Chapter 6: Deadwood.

Keeping consistent with games like Another World, Tanglewood has no lives system. Instead there are checkpoints at key points in each level which you restart from upon death. This makes the trial and error element of the game far more palatable. In this modern age, games that have lives are often frowned upon. The mechanic is a throwback from the arcade era, and can serve as a method to increase the longevity of a game if done correctly – but if done incorrectly it can be an irritating roadblock in the completion of the story. Tanglewood sidesteps this by allowing infinite deaths. This does make the game a fair bit easier but also considerably more fair. The environments are dangerous and death can come at any time, especially for a casual gamer. That said, even the least experienced of player should be able to get through the whole thing in around 5 or 6 hours with a little patience. If even I was able to beat this game anyone can.

Something else that’s worth mentioning is the music. Created by experimental digital artist Freezedream, the original score to this game ranges from light and calming to dark and atmospheric. The music isn’t a constant soundtrack like in Sonic, but rather it kicks in to deepen a scene before slinking off when its job is done. Starting with fun, gentle melodies in the downtime, it doesn’t shy away from ramping up to percussion heavy, adrenaline pumping action music when Nymn’s life is being directly threatened by the terrors of the night. The sound is driven by the Echo sound engine, created by Sik, and really allows Freezedream’s compositions to shine in a way that other engines may not have… Sonic Spinball’s sound engine, I’m looking at you here.

Nymn glides with a Fuzzl powerup in Chapter 1: Harlequin.

Of course, no game is perfect. There are some minor gripes that come with the game. Most notably the controls. For the most part Nymn responds to button inputs rather well, however the platforming isn’t as tight as other games in the genre. Some of the deaths I encountered were from being unable to jump when I wanted while being chased. While this never became frustrating and jumping a few frames earlier worked, I did feel like a couple of deaths weren’t my fault. At first I had this attributed to my aging Megadrive joypads, but since playing the Steam version on my keyboard and experiencing the same issues I can only conclude it’s how the game’s controls work. This is only a minor issue though, as the controls are far from sloppy (this ain’t no Busby, for sure) and dropped inputs only appear occasionally so are only ever a fleeting annoyance. Also some of the colours used to portray the sky during some acts can also be a little bold. While I personally had no issues with them, I can see how they may not be to everyone’s taste. It can make the fireflies a little trickier to spot, so a keen eye is required for doing a 100% run.

Overall, though, Tanglewood is a fantastic game. It’s coming out at a time when retro is current again, and the march of the mascot platformer is on the rise. However, while most of the games looking to cash in on our nostalgia are inspired from the retro eras, Tanglewood goes that extra step by actually being a modern retro game. The aesthetics and mechanics aren’t trying to emulate the feeling of a bygone time, they’re actually working within the confines of the hardware and Big Evil Corp are using that limitation to drive creativity in both design and execution. This isn’t a throwback to the past, it’s a continuation of the genre. Taking what the industry has learned over the past 20 years and applying it where required so we can see what games can be like on the aging 4th generation systems with the benefit of hindsight behind us. Tanglewood is a modern game, made for an old system, using ancient tools and methods – and if that’s not something worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

Purchase Tanglewood:
Website: http://tanglewoodgame.com – Sega versions.
Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/837190/TANGLEWOOD – Windows, Mac, Linux, and Steam OS versions.
Itch.io: https://bigevilcorporation.itch.io/tanglewood – Windows, Mac, and Linux versions.

Tanglewood Social Media:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tanglewoodgame
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tanglewoodgame

Official Release Trailer:



TigerTails Gaming plays: Tanglewood Rev 0.0.15

It’s not often you get a chance to see development of a new game for the long-dead Sega Megadrive (or Genesis in the US) so when the Kickstarter for Tanglewood from Big Evil Corporation went live, naturally, I was all over it like a dung beetle on poop. What is even better is not only is it a new Megadrive game but it is a puzzle-platformer with an anthro fox type creature as the playable character. To add even more icing onto the cake, the Kickstarter page has a link to a prototype version of the game’s first three levels, with earlier prototypes available on Big Evil Corp’s website. I love prototype games.

Since purchasing a flash cart for the Megadrive, this seemed like the perfect game to try out so the prototype was downloaded and thoroughly enjoyed.

Below is a video of Hedge playing through the game, but I thought I’d offer my thoughts on the game here. So keep reading if you want to know my thoughts, or if it’s TL;DR then skip to the bottom to watch myself and Hedgie give the game a run through on the TigerTails Gaming YouTube channel.

Tanglewood is a puzzle-platformer in the same veins as Flashback, Another World, and The Lion King. The demo offered shows us three levels in a forest and we get to control Nymn, a member of the fox-like Djunn race. Separated from his family and all alone in the forest, Nymn must journey through the terrain while avoiding the traps Tanglewood has to offer. In the demo we get the Djakk race as the main enemy. They are huge monsters who will quite happily hunt down and nom on Nymn so it is up to you to use your wits to outsmart and outpace these creatures. You are not alone in this, however, as friendly balls of fluff called Fuzzls can aid Nymn by lending their powers (in exchange for a little help getting to a nest) to allow our protagonist to glide and cloak/slow time. The full game will offer more powers but for the demo, these are the two we get to play with (that I’ve found so far).

Currently there are three available levels which all take place in the forest. The scenery is a little sparse presently but in this early stage of development that is to be expected. There is also very little in the way of sound effects and music, though with the recent addition of Freezedream to the team, the game is set to have rather good music in it. Music will be welcomed as there is a lot of time spent just listening to the running sound effect, which doesn’t really fill the space up and can make the empty forest seem even more barren. The sounds effects that are there are for the most part rather good. The aforementioned running effect is spot on and syncs up with the animation. Fuzzls have a nice bounce “paff” and the sound of being ejected from a flue is rather satisfying, if a little cartoony. I think the game would benefit from a more complete soundscape, though I’m sure that this is far from the mind of the creators currently as they’ll be wanting to concentrate on level design and things first.

Speaking of the level design, it’s functional in its current state. There are opportunities to backtrack to get missing collectables if you want to get them all (and the pause screen tells you how many you’ve collected so far) but there’s very little level that is there for the sake of being “there”. If you can see it, chances are you’ll need to use it at some point. The puzzles and encounters in the demo use what’s available very nicely though. You’ll need to keep a keen eye out for Fuzzl nests and part of the puzzles are based around you pushing one of these little fluffballs home. The other part of the puzzles are based around enemy encounters with the Djakk. You can run, but they can run faster. You can climb, but they will be down there, following your every move when they can. However the opening cutscenes do offer a clue as to how to defeat them. It was a subtle touch that I was very impressed with as the game had taught you all you needed to know, you just had to put the pieces together – and I’m normally clueless to these kind of things. There are chase sequences and here I found the controls to be tight and responsive. However, my aging Sega joypads were not having such a good time – but that’s not something I can blame the game for. Each time I died during a chase (that wasn’t my controller’s fault) I felt it was an honest death and not the game cheating me out of survival, though the Djakk’s hitbox is huge and can get you if you’re not well clear of him. There are no lives, much like Another World, and death means either restarting the level, or from an unmarked checkpoint.

Finally I’d like to quickly mention the animation. Nymn is as smooth as silk and has fluidity and grace. It’s clear that a lot of attention to detail has been paid here and it pays off royally. Nymn as a character is cute as all sin, from the way he glides, pushes Fuzzls around, to the way he goes to sleep at the end of each level. He’s adorable and I want him as a pet. The Fuzzls are also well made, even if they are just little balls of fluff. The Djakk is large, imposing, and fierce. However, I do think his art style is a little jarring next to Nymn’s. It’s a little less cartoony and a tad more realistic. The attention to detail remains, however, as his large fangs are dripping with the blood of his last kill. When he runs, his shoulder muscles move in a way that seems believable, and his whole body is in motion when he roars. Lots of little details that would normally be unnoticed unless they were missing, and it’s the little things that help immerse you into the world. So while the environment is quite sparse, there is a lot of depth to be found in the character animation.

So that’s Tanglewood. A promising looking game that’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. The game will be coming out for PC/Mac as well as the Sega Megadrive. The demo requires either a Megadrive emulator (I personally recommend Kega Fusion) or real hardware using a flash cart like the Everdrive. If you want to know more, check out the links below or give the video a watch.



Links:
Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/63454976/tanglewood-an-original-game-for-the-sega-genesis-m
Website: http://tanglewoodgame.com/index.html
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tanglewoodgame
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tanglewoodgame/

Music used in the credits:
Fig Leaf Rag, by Kevin MacLeod (Incompetech.com)

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