Two creatures--one a fish, the other a bird--come together and then are pulled apart, their love undeniable, and the rules of nature difficult to overcome. Entwined tries to tell their story, but it is not very adept at communicating a sense of romance, though it is nonetheless calming on its own terms. The journey is short and comforting, a simple coalition of ambient beauty and pattern recognition. Yet for all its gentle delights, Entwined is also too ephemeral for its own good, its sweet whispers tempting you onwards, and then dissipating into the wind once the experience has ended.
On the right side of the screen, blue rectangles and triangles come together in the shape of a soaring bird; on the left, an equally angular fish swims along. The two flit through a tunnel swirling with abstract visualizations and glowing orbs. Each creature is only allowed to move within its own hemisphere, the right side representing the air, the left representing the sea. The two may come together at the top or bottom of the screen, where they each turn green and emanate a soft chime, as if their adoration for each other is so great that they cannot help but glow with excitement. As the bird and fish automatically travel through the vortex, blue and orange windows appear, and you are to navigate through them, seeking to reach a state of unity in which the two beings merge into a single wondrous creature. The bird is controlled with the right stick, and the fish with the left.
Entwined is awash with sound and color, and its primary goal is to lure you into a trance with its pulsating music and symmetrical patterns. The game is separated into nine stages, called lifetimes, each of which radiates its own kind of comforting energy. In the fourth lifetime, for instance, you travel through a rust-red cavern in which a steady synthesized melody keeps the tempo, and heaving guitars cry out responses to it. As the bird and fish float through their checkpoints, a drum beat sounds out, and the two creatures become part of the level's rhythm section. The placement of the windows creates a rhythm of its own, causing your thumbs to flick with urgency, in contrast to other levels, which require smoother thumb movement. Each lifetime finds subtle ways to mesh the gameplay’s patterns with the musical accompaniment, though the gameplay itself doesn’t greatly vary during the hour or so it takes to complete the story mode.
Ultimately, Entwined doesn’t boast much diversity. The cylindrical structure of each stage may recall 2012’s Dyad, but where Dyad made each stage a new opportunity to do something new, Entwined is relaxed and comforting, and at least in its story mode, rarely provides much challenge or variety. Left- and right-stick movements are typically parallel in the most obvious manners, and when they are not, one creature usually needs to simply stay in place while the other navigates through its checkpoints. Halfway through the game, I longed for a new idea, an unexpected pattern, or a more poignant thematic representation of the two characters’ unfulfilled love. It wasn’t until the last minutes of the final level when the lifetimes coalesced in any meaningful way, but the pretty visuals gave way to a tedious object hunt that sucked the joy from the screen.
Entwined is awash with sound and color, and its primary goal is to lure you into a trance with its pulsating music and symmetrical patterns.
That hunt occurs in the same kind of denouement that ends each level. The two animals, finally united (in death, it would seem), bond and transmogrify into a fantastical fishbird that you control freely. These sequences only require that you collect enough floating orbs to fill a meter at the top of the screen, at which point you then etch a pattern into the air, with vibrant color trails emanating from your wings and forming rainbow-colored ribbons that remind me of musical staves. There is no greater objective here than to collect and to skywrite: this is your reward for uniting two halves into their romantic whole. The imagery is always beautiful, though just as with the primary gameplay, I longed for skywriting to have more meaning than just “pretty.” The post-union flights bring with them some catharsis, but it’s fleeting. The ebbs and flows don’t create waves of emotions so much as minor ripples.
Challenge levels provide more intellectual stimulation than the story, giving you three lives and removing one for each colored window you miss. You must remain active for a certain number of seconds to unlock the next challenge--and you must remain active for even longer if you wish to have any hope of rising to the top of Entwined’s leaderboards. Sadly, some of the fire challenge’s sound effects have a habit of going missing, a hitch almost as distracting as the pause that occurs in the transitions connecting each level’s core gameplay and the soaring celebration that follows. But these moment don’t define Entwined. This is a lovely, gossamer experience that lifts you into the clouds and then quietly brings you back to earth, happy for the time spent, and your mind free of the detritus that originally cluttered it.