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Entwined review: Tunnel of love

S. Prell, @SamPrell

Entwined on PS4 puts you in charge of two souls: The left analog stick controls a soul depicted as a fish, while the right analog stick controls a soul depicted as a bird. You guide these two creatures through an ethereal tunnel, collecting memory fragments until the two can come together to form a dragon. In gameplay terms, the fish is meant to line up with orange shapes and the bird is meant to line up with blue.

It sounds simple, and for better or worse, it is.

This simplicity is simultaneously Entwined's greatest strength and its biggest weakness. Levels become trickier to navigate, but the game never introduces any new mechanics to keep you on your toes. The challenge is trying to independently operate your thumbs so that you don't miss the targets, keeping each animal's half of the tunnel separate in your mind. Many of the targets appear in mirrored patterns however, so it's rare that you'll move the controller's sticks in an uncomfortable or difficult way.

Once you've completed a stage and transformed into a dragon – a cathartic accomplishment – you'll soar the skies of a larger, open area instead of restrictive tunnels, but the goal is still the same: Collect orange and blue fragments. What you do in the first minute of the game is the same thing you'll do in its final moments.

Entwined is minimalist in its design. Its graphics, sound and controls give impressions and ideas more than they give a fully-realized vision. The bird and fish are no more than an arrangement of separate triangles, forward momentum is implied via the moving scenery instead of player input, and the story is told just as much through Trophy names like "Innocence," "Anxiety" and "Exploration" as it is through what happens on-screen.

That's not to say any of the above is bad – the stylized protagonists are unique, and act as proof that photorealism is not the end-all, be-all of video game graphics; not having to worry about pushing the species-crossed lovers forward allows your mind to relax and focus on tilting the analog sticks properly. Without a clear-cut narrative, the story is open to interpretation. Entwined doesn't need to overtly explain itself. It acts best as a relaxation tool, so the less there is between you and completing its objectives, the better.

Unfortunately, one reoccurring problem did rear its head. In order to transform into a dragon, you need to link up with your partner and fly through several series of targets without error. If you fail, you'll have to collect more fragments until you can link up and try again. Problem is, if you drop out of link mode, the game hiccups just before you reach the next set of targets; a single image gets frozen onscreen as the game itself continues. This persists for only a fraction of a second, but it makes lining up your targets difficult, and is enough of an annoyance that it becomes frustrating.

If you're looking for something more than a weekend getaway, Entwined may not suit you. It's a relatively bare construction overall, consisting of a nine-level story mode that takes about an hour or two to complete and a five-level challenge mode that's all about staying alive as long as you can.

You can also attempt the Everest-like climb up the leaderboards if you want yet more time in the game's tunnels of love, but it feels somewhat contradictory to turn such a relaxing and hypnotic experience into a competition.

Entwined has clear objectives and an overall goal, but the reward for "beating" it isn't points or a trophy, it's a sense of serenity and peace. It's certainly not for everyone, but to those who find the idea appealing, it utterly succeeds.

This review is based on a PSN download of Entwined, provided by Sony. Entwined is also planned for PS3 and Vita and will support Cross-Buy.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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