Recently the world was introduced to Tumbleseed, the “Rolly Roguelike” that sends seeds scrambling up a mountain filled with threats and bottomless pits with all the charmingly friendly visuals and music you can imagine. The path is fraught with dangers in the form of insects and small moles that burrow holes into the mountain face, making progress incredibly difficult. To combat this, Tumbleseed is able to transform into different seed bodies that grant specific powers and upgrades like a closet full of super-suits. These powerful skins can be used as weapons, grant extra lives or even turn you invisible to slip unnoticed by the hoards of enemies in your way. Using these powers is not only encouraged, but completely necessary for you to be able to progress in the game. It’s a game that demands focus, precision and skill to master but is incredibly rewarding to play. Tumbleseed is a modern day story of Sisyphus, the god cursed to roll the boulder up a mountain for eternity, only to have it fall back to the bottom right before reaching the top.
Tumbleseed is at it’s center, a roguelike – one run up a randomly generated mountain face that is constantly shifting between runs. The mountain path must be carefully navigated, taking care to avoid holes dug by monstrous beasts, dodging enemies and bugs bent on squashing/eating/exploding near you, and all the while trying to plant some of yourself in small plots of soil that are good for growth. The powers that you wield can only be used in these soil spots; after all, you are a seed.
The world of Tumbleseed is randomly generated each run, meaning your experience will vary depending on the layout of the map, and depending on your skill level. Holes scatter the map, and halfway between basecamps on your trip up the mountain is a small square portal that leads to a choice between upgrades (randomly generated selection) along with a place to “try before you buy”. This portal houses upgrades for your journey, and are essential for progress. Because the game is a roguelike, these powerups and upgrades are lost once you’ve lost all of your hearts, and most frequently deaths occur right after getting a new power. (Probably because you forget that when you leave the safety of the temple, the world is a gorgeous deathtrap once again).
In this way, playing this game feels like you’re in hell. Just kidding, but it’s harder than it looks at first glance, by a good measure. The lighthearted musical score and brightly colored world of Tumbleseed invites you in, whirling towards an inevitable cutesy death on the mountain side while you scream profanities about why your lack of remembering to place a flag-seed respawn at a reasonable spot or lack of skill isn’t your fault.
There is a main game with storyline about getting up the mountain, and a daily challenge which offers a somewhat more direct “how far can you get” mentality to players looking to push on in a different venue or background. Often, the Challenge is a bit more difficult than the Adventure mode, but both of them will leave you feeling accomplished (or frustrated) and offer a lot for dedicated players.
The game requires an immense amount of patience and skill, but if you’re willing to commit to the challenge it offers, it’s very rewarding. I’m on record as somewhat of a game masochist, very much enjoying games that are obscenely difficult or challenging to the point where others quit. I find great joy in beating games like this, and proving my mettle. Games like Dark Souls 1-3, Playing Dishonored 2 in my own “Iron Man Mode” configuration (no powers, no kills, no detection). The thrill of a win after a literal slog through hell is one of my favorite feelings, and it’s something I actively seek out. Having said that, I recognize that this type of brutal gameplay style is not for everyone, and often all that is desired is to feel like a superhero after a long day at work. The roguelike style of survival and very careful maneuvering provides a singular experience unlike many other games that are available on the market today.
There are several power-ups that are accessible on your trek through the mountains of Tumbleseed, and I’ve compiled a list with a small description of their abilities below. All of the power ups require touching a planting soil plot, which then instantly activates the power, provided you’ve got the crystals to pony up. It’s interesting to note, that not all of the power ups will be fully in your favor, and in fact, you can be easily damaged yourself by some if you aren’t careful. The growing list of Seed powers can be found at the bottom of this review! Each powerup is uniquely powerful and changes the game slightly. Some are far more potent than others and not always do they help you progress. For example the seed upgrade “Avalanche” creates a huge snowfall of giant orbs that damage anything that comes into contact with it (including you). I’ve enjoyed discovering new powerups and learning what they can do for me as I progress in the world.
Tumbleseed is notable for its gorgeous visuals. The worlds are exceptionally well designed and flow smoothly from one area to the next, and while it’s perhaps odd that an ice shelf base camp is directly below a rainy swamp biome for level two, it’s not jarring enough for me to mind. The world design is reminiscent of games like Fez or Mandagon, with large sweeping play areas scattered with old ruins and colorful visual effects. While playstyle remains the same throughout each “stage” as you progress, the world design and the enemy types change drastically around you; the effect of which is an ever changing game of progressively more difficult challenges and interesting ways to lose the game.
The only weird thing of note is that the initial loading time is very long. We did a boot test from dashboard to in-game playing, and Breath of the Wild loaded (digital versions both) a full 10 seconds faster than Tumbleseed across two separate consoles. Having said that, after the initial load time, the game runs perfectly with no delay between menus or runs. With no loading bar, it’s difficult to be sure that you’re waiting for a load to complete, or whether you just haven’t hit the right button combo to start the game yet. This I assume can be patched out in future versions of the game, but it’s a very minor thing.
While some may argue that fighting a losing battle against gravity in a game isn’t their idea of fun, I would have to say that this type of challenge puzzle wrapped in such a delightful style is absolutely worth experiencing. I, for one, have had a blast one upping Lan-party Co-host Antonio on his progress up the mountain since the game released, and our friendly rivalry shows no signs of slowing down so far. In fact, one of my favorite features of this game is the leaderboard. Found after every run is a recap of your story up the mountain; how high you climbed and how long it took, along with the skills and powerups used along the way are presented after you inevitably die. This information is shared to the global server and players are ranked by furthest flag-seed planted (which makes a lot of sense, climbing a mountain I’d want to leave a flag at the highest point I could). Your scores are shown off on a global level but can be sorted between just you and your friends to keep the rivalry going.
It’s worth mentioning that I play Tumbleseed in small doses. Batches of fun punctuated by rage-quitting and challenging friends to do better while I gear up for another go. It’s certainly not going to be my most hours invested title champion (currently record held by Witcher 3 at 260+ hours – I know – I have a problem). For a game that I can play on the go and get an immense amount of thrill when I progress, It’s absolutely worth it.
Tumbleseed has released on the following systems for a very reasonable $15 USD – Steam, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Itch.IO and is available for Mac and PC.
Final thoughts: 8/10 Puzzle style game with fun distraction level content and brow-sweat inducing difficult gameplay. The game is a nice addition to the growing Switch library, and while we’ve only played it on the portable console so far, our expectations for passthrough to PS4 and Steam are that it will be much the same experience, just with different keybindings.
ALL ABOUT SEED STYLES:
The prime 4: (Starter powerups that you will have on every run)
Flagseed: An absolute necessity for any climb. Planting a Flagseed allows Tumbleseed to respawn at this new point on the map if it were to fall. Without it, all progress is reset to the beginning of the stage at the base of the hill.
Thornvine: Growing a thornvine adds 1 spike to Tumbleseed that rotates slowly around clockwise. You can repeat this growth to create a ball of spinning death protecting you (and damaging enemies) on your way up the mountain.
Crystal: The moneymaker. Crystal will grow Crystals needed to pay for upgrades and play minigames at basecamps along your trek up the mountain. They are acquired by planting 3 crystal seeds, and on the third planting, two crystals will be given to the player. Crystals can be acquired in this manner, or found scattered around the map or by killing bugs. All abilities rely on crystals to grow, and cultivating a large “harvest” of crystals early is a good idea.
Heartseed: This powerup allows you to gain, you guessed it: additional hearts. As you start the game with only 3 hearts, and it’s ridiculously easy to lose them, growing more early on is never a bad plan.
Additional/found powerups: (can be found planted randomly in the wild, or acquired by visiting a shrine midway up each section of the mountain and adding it to your arsenal of powers.)
Toxic choke: poison spores that create toxic Shroom spaces and allow you to physically poison and explode beings in the map.
Avalanche: balls of snowy death from above! all beings in the map take damage if they connect with one.
Slowseed: Slows down time, enemies seem to move slower while this power is activated, but you still rocket around the map at the same time, so watch out for holes.
Floodfruit: fills holes around you in a small radius with water, so you can blast past or over them with no trouble
Shield sprout: gives shield that protects against one attack before breaking.
Reflectroot: bounce back a single projectile before breaking.
Ray flower: shoots a beam at enemies that damages anything in it’s path.
Boomeregg: Upon planting, a boomerang is ejected in a random direction and swings across enemy paths for about 3 seconds damaging anything it hits.
Cannonspore: shoots a cannonball at enemies, but the aiming is pretty ineffective unless the enemy is nearby, but typically one hit kills most bugs.
Cloakfruit: invisible for small period of time, -15 seconds (just enough to escape death by bug, and meet death by falling!)
Flytrap: Enemies are attracted to spiky death patches you leave behind you.
RandoBud: chaos mode, any sprout has chance to create any of the mentioned power ups
Missilefroot: heat seeking missile to damage enemies shot from the planting spot
Longspore: shoots out bullets sideways on a timer. This power up follows your roll bar, and tumbleseed itself shoots these projectiles as you move up the hill.
Vertispore: Shoots out bullets vertically on a timer. This power follows your roll bar, tumbleseed firing these as you move for a short period of time.
Starseed: Similar to the Super Mario Star, after paying the high seed-fill cost (10 crystals across 5 separate planter spaces), you become invincible to all damage for a short period of time, and can destroy everything in your path. However, you are not impervious to falling, so go slow.
Bounceberry: Creates a springloaded vine that propells you into the air above holes and enemies. Great for getting out of a tight spot. Great for getting into a tight spot.
Squash: grows a dangerous block creature that moves in a straight line vertically or horizontally at the first thing it sees. (including you, so be careful). It will also squash you when it spawns if you’re still on the dirt mound after paying the crystal cost.
Laseroot: Shoots a beam of death that can be aimed like a gun in the four cardinal directions. So long as you remain on the flower that blooms, whatever side of the plant you aren’t on is the direction the beam will shoot, so as not to harm you, and wreck everything else around you instead.
(more to come that I have not encountered yet – check back for updated list – updated 5/5/17).