Spelunky is one of my favourite games of all time. It is funny actually saying that because in the hundreds of hours I’ve put into it, I’ve actually finished it properly only a few times. The same goes for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. I’ve put in far too much time into both those games and have been trying every single roguelike to release since. Risk of Rain is the closest one to approach that status for me. TumbleSeed by aeiowu instantly had my interest piqued because Greg Wohlwend has been involved with some really great games. Ridiculous Fishing and Threes! are two fantastic iOS games and they excel visually for sure. TumbleSeed does so many things brilliantly, but it is let down by maybe throwing too much at the player too quickly.
TumbleSeed is a new spin on the classic Ice Cold Beer arcade game. This has you tilting a rod with a ball on it. The aim is to get it to the top when there are a lot of holes in the wall behind. TumbleSeed builds on this basic concept really well. You play as a seed on a branch that is controlled by both analog sticks. Your aim is to be planted at the peak of the mountain as a seed and there are a ton of obstacles in your path.
The initial learning curve involves both the mechanics and the controls. Thankfully the tutorial is really well done. Even though you play as a seed, you have 4 seed types you start a run with. There are patches of soil that you can plant seeds on to get certain bonuses or powerups. You need crystal shards to be able to use these patches. Crystal shards are either across the levels at random or earned by killing some enemies. Flagseed will plant a checkpoint and I cannot stress how important this is. When you’re feeling super confidant about a run and have a ton of stuff unlocked, it won’t hurt to create a checkpoint. Your dualshock 4 controller will thank you for this. Thornvine uses crystal shards to add thorns around your seed while Crystal generates 2 crystal shards once you’ve moved on top of 3 patches as crystal. Heartseed lets you regenerate a heart after 4 patches of soil. As you play, you have the ability to unlock a new ability in an item room like area on the way to the top of the mountain. There are tons of seeds to try out and each run will feel different.
There are various enemies as expected and it feels like the hardest roguelike opening area ever. There’s an annoying jumping spider and a flying insect that looks like it was taken from the TMNT NES game and given an abstract paint job that will fly towards you super fast. For a game that borrows some ideas from Spelunky like the Teleport mechanic and how to unlock it, TumbleSeed’s opening area may be too unforgiving for its own good. There’s no real way for you to get accustomed to enemy patterns with so many enemies and also keeping in mind the holes as you try and navigate higher. I feel like this design lets the other aspects of the game that are super polished down quite a bit.
Greg’s art is brilliant. The abstract look extends from the simple stuff like a flagpole design to the various seed types and how they look. Even the animations and how depth is represented are really well done. I knew for sure that in a game that had his art, at least that aspect would not let me down. It is really a sight to behold when there are tons of enemies on screen all around as you are precariously trying to navigate around holes with two analog sticks and your adrenaline pumping. The use of colours is very nice and I kind of wish there was a PS4 theme I could buy with this art style. Joel’s audio design is another aspect that excels. Music is great across the board, but the sounds for the interface are great. Even the sound when you die is great.
I wish TumbleSeed’s opening area was a little more focused. I know it’s procedurally generated, but some runs can feel easier than others and throwing too many enemies early on really hurts the experience. There’s hard like Spelunky and Risk of Rain and unfairly hard, and TumbleSeed is more of the latter.
If you’re craving a beautifully designed roguelike and have the patience to deal with a lot of unfairly difficult sections, TumbleSeed maybe your new Spelunky. It could have been a brilliant game, but I cannot recommend it to everyone without caveats.
Nice take on an old mechanic
Abstract art and the music are top notch
Has the roguelike hook nailed
Maybe too hard for its own good initially
That damn jumping spider