It’s as true for gaming reviews as it is true for any field of critical analysis that you can’t engage in the activity for almost seven years and counting (give or take) without starting to think in patterns. Very little is ever as unique or as groundbreaking as it’d like you to believe, and it becomes both a useful shorthand and a method of thinking to categorize and compare games on similarities to past design. Oh, this game uses shooting mechanics based on Doom, but with a dash of Shadow Warrior. That game has a visual palette reminiscent of Limbo. Such-and-so game has a moral choice system that’s less Kotor and more Mass Effect. This game is like this, that game is like that; we all do it. It’s rare enough to find games that buck similarity expectations on any given area, let alone several.
And yet, it’s exactly that which drew me to TumbleSeed (by ‘Benedict Fritz, Greg Wohlwend, Joel Corelitz, David Laskey, and Jenna Blazevich’). Far as I can tell, in this game you play as a brightly-coloured… plant seed? With eyes? That rolls up a mountain, for various reasons, which involves dodging giant holes and fighting banana snakes and spiders with back-mounted turrets? And… you don’t move the seed directly, but instead, you move up some sort of plank from the bottom of the screen? And the seed balances and rolls on it?
Listen: I’m not saying TumbleSeed has no inspirations. The website itself claims that TumbleSeed is based on “the forgotten arcade classic Ice Cold Beer“. What I’m saying is that I don’t see any. TumbleSeed might be the first game in 2017 that I genuinely don’t have a frame of reference for. Might being the operative word: Could be that long-forgotten memories click into place once I start playing. My memory’s weird like that, it wouldn’t be the first time. I think.
But either way, wouldn’t that make for an interesting review?
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, not really a factor. Mechanical, medium-high-ish.)
(Game source: Patreon funds.)