I still can’t believe that it has been 20 years since the Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis) had it’s so-called Swan Song game released. That game was Frogger, which was a fun and entertaining little romp of a game. However, it used to bring a feeling of emptiness whenever I played it because of the fact that it was the last Sega Mega Drive game. The key point to note there is the use of “was”. Things have changed and I couldn’t be happier!
For those of you who don’t know, a small (one man) indie development company called Big Evil Corp has been working on a brand new Sega Mega Drive game set for phase 2 release in October of this year. When I first heard about this, I was instantly excited! The Mega Drive was the very first console that I ever owned, so to see it getting a new breath of life after 20 years was amazing for me. I was ecstatic at the news and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game. Now that I finally have, it’s time to share with you just what I thought of it.
Tanglewood follows Nymn, a youngling who trying to find their way home after waking up lost in a forest, all alone. Nymn is a creature that largely resembles a fox, and needs to make his way home whilst avoiding the various threats that populate the forest. Oh, and I say “him” because that is what the creator, Matt Phillips, refers to Nymn as.
There isn’t a whole lot that you can really say about the story of Tanglewood. It is a simple and straightforward premise that paves the way for the gameplay to take over. However, one thing to note regarding the storytelling, rather than the story itself, is that you need to read Tanglewood’s manual to understand what is going on. And yes, it does come with a full manual, just like the good old days.
In the manual, you get a brief explanation of who Nymn is and what his goal is (to get home). The reason why you need to read the manual is that, in the game, nothing is explained. The game starts off like a traditional side-scrolling platformer by throwing you straight into the gameplay. There is no introductory cutscene or dialogue to give you the backstory or a brief understanding of your current predicament. In fact, there’s no dialogue at all… If you don’t read the manual, you’ll miss all of the base plot for the game, as once you are in the game, the gameplay is paramount over the story.
When it comes to the gameplay of Tanglewood, you can instantly see how much effort was put into the game’s development. Mechanically, it is a definite throwback to the classic games for the Mega Drive, with a focus on platforming fun. However, rather than recycle the same old ideas that we have all become accustomed to, Tanglewood creates a new gameplay formula that is both engaging and exciting.
For starters, Tanglewood isn’t your ty[ical side-scrolling platformer where you just run right and jump on your enemies. In fact, avoiding the enemies entirely is the name of the game with this one! You have to dodge your foes whilst clambering around the trees and locations, finding different paths and fuzzy little creatures that you can use to help you progress. Tanglewood plays more like a side-scrolling puzzle game, rather than a traditional platformer.
There was one part in the first couple of levels where I had to get passed a big enemy that killed me instantly if it caught me. So at first I tried to outrun it but found that it ran faster than Nymn. Next, because it follows me, I thought I would try and trick it by running one way, jumping over it and running back. That didn’t work either. Eventually, I figured out how to get the creature into a specific position where I could drop a boulder on it so that I could progress. That’s how Tanglewood plays in a nutshell – it is very much a game of trial and error where you have to figure out how to deal with each situation. There isn’t any guided assistance in this game, and I love that!
On top of the trial and error gameplay, Tanglewood also features “power-ups” of a fashion. However, you don’t get these extra abilities by breaking open TVs or eating mushrooms. Getting them can actually be a mini-puzzle sometimes as well. Basically, you need to find a fluffy little creature that you then have to roll around until you can get it under a light. At that point, you’ll be able to activate the new ability until it runs out (but you can recharge or reactivate it at the same light at any time). These abilities include being able to glide through the air or even pause time itself!
The inclusion of these abilities also meant that the Matt could create even more puzzles and challenges into the game. And it is these puzzles, with the aforementioned trial and error aspect to the gameplay, that really grabbed me. Trying to figure out how you progress through the game, with almost no assistance from the game itself, gives you a sense of achievement far beyond what a little sound effect and notification can. You feel like you have actually accomplished something each time you reach the end of a level. I haven’t had that experience in a lot of more modern games due to the hand-holding that has become prevalent within the industry these days.
That said, there is a little bit of assistance that Tanglewood gives you, in the form of collectable leaves. If you find yourself getting lost, which is entirely possible in Tanglewood, look out for these leaves. You don’t get anything for collecting them, but they are there to show you that you haven’t been in that direction before.
This sort of gameplay mechanic means that Tanglewood can give you little hints on where to go without shoving a giant arrow or marker in your face. As someone who enjoys a challenge in a game, rather than just waltzing through it as an overpowered God, this all just makes me appreciate Tanglewood even more. However, it also means that the game might not be for everyone. If you’re the type of gamer who loves to blast your way through the game without any real difficulty or thought, you’re not going to enjoy Tanglewood. On the other hand, if you are like me and enjoy having to think about & figure out how to progress in a game, then Tanglewood could be perfect for you!
Graphically, Tanglewood is a work of art! The environments look outstanding, capturing a sense of wonder, amazement and also a feeling of concern when the ambient lighting darkens. The way in which the game plays with lighting and the ambient colour is brilliant, with the overall mood shifting tone as you progress through a level. Even some of the power-ups change the overlay colour of the game, letting you know when they are in effect.
By using the colour and lighting to such effects, Matt has been able to use the graphical style and presentation of Tanglewood to portray the emotion of the game without having to create thousands of lines of dialogue.
When it comes to the animation of the creatures (and Nymn, himself) it is generally very smooth with almost no jitter or stuttering. However, I did notice that when you are interacting with the fluffy creatures, the movement speed of the creature didn’t match the movement speed of Nymn’s hands. This means that sometimes the creatures would be slightly behind Nymn’s hands, even though he was supposed to be pushing it. Of course, this is a truly minor issue that most people probably wouldn’t even notice (I’m just a bit pedantic sometimes) and it really doesn’t take away from the game.
On the contrary, the fact that such a minuscule little thing is the only graphical complaint that I have about the game should tell you just how amazing the game looks! Even the lightning effects look incredible. Tanglewood is a truly beautiful game.
And That’s All Folks
In the end, Tanglewood is a magnificent game that is both amazingly beautiful but also offering wonderful gameplay that will have you both pulling your hair out and jumping for joy. Being able to capture both gameplay and graphics is something that even Triple-A games have trouble doing, so the fact that Matt was successful by himself is worthy of a huge congratulatory round of applause.
Tanglewood is a phenomenal game and, as it is a Mega Drive game with a cartridge, I can actually say with complete accuracy that it is now one of my favourite Mega Drive games ever released. You can find out more about Tanglewood on the official website here, but either way, if you ignore Tanglewood then you are doing yourself an injustice!