Even with some awkward physics, this roly-poly roguelite is a fun, unique addition to the indie scene.
Think of your ideal roguelike game. Take your time. Got it? Good. Now, I’m going to hazard a guess, and say that your title was not “a momentum-based game where you try to roll a marble up a mountain.” I don’t blame you—that’s a suggestion from way, way, way left field. It’s quite an interesting premise, albeit a silly one. If you did pick that description, though, TumbleSeed may be right up your alley.
I say this because, well, TumbleSeed is a rougelike based around momentum, in which you try to roll a marble-like seed up a mountain. The seed rests on a large bar that stretches the length of your screen. One analog stick moves one side of this bar up or down, while the other stick moves the opposite side. Players roll this small seed along this bar to navigate obstacles, pitfalls, and enemies, while incrementally raising their bar further along the treacherous mountain.
Though TumbleSeed calls itself a “rougelite,” it functions much more closely to a difficult mobile game; think Tiny Wings with a meaty helping of Dark Souls. Coincidentally, game designer Greg Wohlwend previously worked on mobile apps like Threes and Ridiculous Fishing.
While the art style is simple and cute, TumbleSeed is mind-bogglingly challenging. Your seed will die, and it will die a lot. You have three hearts, but enemies take half a heart, while falling in a hole will take a full one and place you back at your last “checkpoint.” The game asks you to play it over and over and over, like some sort of demented version of Jetpack Joyride.
…TumbleSeed is mind-bogglingly challenging. Your seed will die, and it will die a lot.
Though, if you think TumbleSeed is simply about rolling a ball around, you’re (partially) wrong. As you climb, you’ll want to collect shiny crystals. When rolling over a small diamond-shaped patch in the ground, your seed will use one crystal to plant a checkpoint. Mid-ascent, you can switch your seed’s “power” to accomplish different goals. For example, one power gives you a small, rotating thorn instead of a checkpoint, so that you can defend yourself against the adorable flying worms headed your way. Another hands you a crystal each time you roll over three different patches, ensuring that you always have currency to obtain thorns and checkpoints.
Once you truly get the hang of it, TumbleSeed provides some very intriguing mechanisms and “combat.” Contemplating how to best proceed can be genuinely thought-provoking: you’ll need to gather a hearty thorn shield, lithely maneuver betwixt holes and enemies, then collect enough crystals to plant a new checkpoint. Townsfolk can also provide quests with sweet little rewards, providing even more of an incentive to learn TumbleSeed’s mechanics.
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed one important word I’ve been using: “roll.” While it contains a multitude of mobile and roguelike tendencies, TumbleSeed is also akin a physics-based puzzle game. Here, the title can be thoroughly disappointing. It’s such a letdown to think that your run is going great, only for you to build just a tad too much momentum and send your seed careening into the black abyss. It feels as though more deaths can be attributed to imprecise controls and physics, rather than true lack of skill or game knowledge.
Thanks to the wonky-rolling-death nature of the experience, it’s easy to feel that you’re making absolutely no progress in TumbleSeed. You may have six or seven plays in a row in which nothing is accomplished, followed by one fantastic run. It’s simply the nature of the game, though I can’t help but feel underwhelmed with the design. However, I’ll concede that this harsh difficulty will be welcomed by certain types of players.
It feels as though more deaths can be attributed to imprecise controls and physics, rather than true lack of skill or game knowledge.
TumbleSeed will most certainly lead to rage-quits and unfair deaths galore. It was designed to be a difficult game, but the inherent imprecision in its premise tips the scales in an unjust way. Despite that, I want to play more. This is another hill to overcome, another monster to best. Though the challenge will seem insurmountable to some, it provides some new, clever mechanics and ideas. TumbleSeed is an extremely cool, interesting, and artful indie, and is definitely worth a try—even if it means throwing a controller in anger.