Tumbleseed (Switch eShop) Review
One pattern I’ve found among a fair few of the releases on Switch is how challenging they are. Tumbleseed is definitely adding to that trend, with an interesting game mechanic that 90% feels fair, with the last 10% comprising of a frustration towards gravity and momentum.
Normally in game reviews, this would be the part where I would compare the game to a few other games in the same genre or elements borrowed from other games. But Tumbleseed is really unique. The movement is based on an old Taito arcade game (not a video game, by the way) called Ice Cold Beer.
To break it down- you have a vine that goes across the screen, and your analogue sticks control each side of the vine up or down. This creates a slope for the seed that rests on this bar. Tilt the left side higher than the right side, the seed will roll down to the right, and vice versa. The bigger the incline, the faster the seed will roll.
You’ll need to get the hang of this unique movement style because, in the background, there are holes and enemies. You’ll have to use the vine to move the ball up to the top of the level while rolling around to survive the onslaught of enemies and holes.
You’re also given a few variants on the seed to help make progress. There are points on the map that perform different actions in exchange for a crystal. The default seed, Flagseed, will allow you create checkpoints, another one will let you regain health, while Thornseed will give you protective thorns, and you can even use one to farm up crystals if you’re low. The key to surviving is swapping between these seeds as you go up. Collecting hearts will keep you alive, but if you forget to lay down checkpoints, you’ll fall a long, long way back down. Too far and you’ll lose everything!
Now, that might sound simple enough, but the other key part of Tumbleseed’s concept comes into play – it’s a roguelike. There’s a lot of dying involved here, and even if you think your saving grace is remembering where to go and what to avoid, well, the level will reset every time you start a new life. Sometimes the game will open up to some fairly easy areas, sometimes it’ll be a gauntlet of holes, enemies and bullets. For the most part, the challenge of it all makes sense, but there were a few times I was hit by a bullet I didn’t see and died instantly from 5+ hearts, with the bullet visually lost amongst a screen of chaos.
You can collect power-ups as you go along, in the form of new seed forms. Some are offensive, some defensive, and some just help out with traversing the levels. Stormseed, for instance, will fill up holes with water, negating their effect. There are a few seeds that shoot either horizontally or vertically, which are a great way of clearing a screen at the risk of moving around the screen a bit too much to be in full control of your movement. It’s crazy how much you can panic when you see your seed roll full speed near a dozen holes!
These extra seed powers do end up distracting from a lot of the other seeds’ uses, however. The more seeds you have, the likelihood of others becoming neglected increases, depending on your play style. I prefer to play slowly, building up my hearts and crystals, and running away from enemies by going down, rather than racing up. With the abilities mostly tied to these tiles on the board, it’s all about deciding which ability is going to help you the most, or even just building up a few points towards a heart or crystal if there’s nothing else you can do. Even then, there were plenty of times I lost because I was forgetting to lay down checkpoints.
The art style is not only gorgeous but also does a great job of communicating how the game works. Each stage has a different colour pallet and environment, including a deep green forest, a sandy desert, and even rocky canyon areas between them, with different seeds offering different services. There may be even more beyond the third stage, but despite my greatest efforts, I just can’t get any further.
Which brings me to my last point- this game is hard. It requires a huge amount of nerve and concentration, and even patience. That’s not a bad thing, but it may be intimidating to more casual players, or people looking for something relaxing to play. I’d personally like to see a casual mode, if only to just to practice in. As it stands, the difficulty is either a selling point, or totally off-putting.
There’s also a leaderboard to track distance and time with friends and other players, as well as a daily challenge mode to try and rack up a high score in.
Ultimately, Tumbleseed is just a game about concentration and survival. Simple to understand, incredibly hard to master. There’s a variety of different approaches to the levels, depending on your play style and, no matter what, the game will always give you a challenge.