TumbleSeed Review — A Refined Balancing Act
Even though it's not without its problems, Team TumbleSeed and aeiowu's "rolly roguelike" TumbleSeed is one of the most unique gaming experiences in recent memory.
TumbleSeed is a truly unique experience, which is very rare in the modern indie gaming scene. Heralded as a “rolly roguelike” by its developers, the game has players ascending a mountain while also trying to balance a seed on a platform, avoiding holes and enemies. While some of the game’s repetitiveness can get in the way, the interesting ideas on display here make TumbleSeed a very good, calming, and fresh experience for fans of rougelikes or others genres.
In TumbleSeed, players must dodge a variety of obstacles and enemies in the four main environments as they collect crystals and traverse new locations, ultimately trying to scale a mountain. To do this, they control a platform (with both sides being controlled by either control stick) to make differently-powered seeds roll away from obstacles. For a better idea of how this works in practice, check the trailer above.
When I started TumbleSeed, my first seed was quietly sleeping in bed. I noticed I controlled a platform, and that each stick on my controller lifted that platform up. I grabbed my seed, waking it up, and looked for a way to get out. From there, I noticed that there was a door situated at the bottom of the room. I lowered my seed through the door, and came out into a village of other seeds.
It felt very odd to move my seed this way, but not unplayable by any means. It was never a perspective I thought about for movement before, but it actually works surprisingly well. I rolled my seed around like a marble, and was soon deemed by the town the one to ascend the mountain and save it from the creatures attacking it.
The controls can take a while to get used to though. I had to spend a couple minutes after I initially started my game adjusting my sticks’ dead zones to find the most responsive experience for me. Once I tailored the controls to my liking, I noticed how engaging TumbleSeed plays as I carefully kept my eye on my seed as it made its way up the mountain. Some players might be turned off by the initial difficulty curve of the controls, but those who stick around will find something unique that balances all of its features to create a very relaxing to play at the same time.
I soon was accompanied by other seeds, each with their own abilities. The starting pink seed has the ability to plant flags in certain predesignated spots; these flags serve as checkpoints if one’s seed falls down a hole. Another more boulder-looking seed spawns crystals, which serve as an ammo of sorts for each seed’s ability. These crystals can also be strewn about the environment as one ascends the mountain.
There is also a seed that has a basic short-range attack after it crosses those spots, and another seed that slowly refills the health gauge. No matter how many times I died, I always initially respawned with these four.
Players can also fall into many caves on the mountain and choose a new seed to add to their collections. These seeds can do anything from giving the player a more powerful attack to turning invisible.
These additional seeds disappear if one dies though, making every climb up the mountain different. There are over 30 different kinds of seeds to ultimately pick and choose from, and the small gameplay tweaks each seed brought kept each run fresh.
Eventually, players can also merge seeds into new ones, although getting rid of some of the more necessary seeds can hurt later parts of one’s run. The new seeds are interesting, although I did find myself playing it safe and mostly sticking with the earlier ones unless I needed to attack an enemy that was blocking my way.
The sound design effectively adds to the atmosphere. While the soundtrack could get a bit repetitive upon repeated deaths, it was still well composed.
Each seed also makes a slightly different sound as it rolls across the platform, which was a great, minute way to give each seed their own identity in addition to their designs. The visuals, combined with the superb sound design make TumbleSeed a very pleasing game to play once you get an hang of the controls.
Players can take three hits before they die, ending their current run and sending them down to the bottom of the mountain. I found the early areas to be a little too challenging with this shorter life bar. I kept getting hit as I was getting used to the controls, leading to many early deaths that made TumbleSeed more frustrating than fun. You can increase your health with the heart shaped seed, which can make later areas easier, but also all the more devastating when you die and plummet back to the bottom.
That is where TumbleSeed’s biggest problem stems from. Going through the same area again and again can become repetitive and boring, even with the procedural generation.
The environments can be gorgeous to look at, but there is only so much that can be done with each segment of the mountain, so the experience began to wear on me during repeated attempts. That being said, these repeated runs were still as enjoyable to play, but the areas repetitiveness visually were still quite noticeable.
TumbleSeed also features a daily challenge mode where players can attempt to make their way as far up the mountain as fast as they can while collecting the most crystals. The top performers are ranked on a leaderboard for all plays to see on the main menu. This was a cool feature, and I could easily see some extremely skilled TumbleSeed players attempting to “speedrun” this usually slower-paced game and display that skill on the leaderboards.
I enjoyed my time with TumbleSeed, even if it did take quite a bit of adjusting at first. After it was able to get over the initial difficulty curve with the controls, I found a slow-paced, lovingly-crafted roguelike.
Roguelikes are a dime a dozen from indie developers nowadays, so it is nice to see the developers put a lot of thought into the game, creating a whole new style of movement for 2D games and delivering a experience that will stick out in my mind even after I move onto other titles.
If TumbleSeed intrigues you at all, I would recommend picking it up. The game is as unique and engaging to play as it looks, just be aware of the steep difficulty curve you will most likely run into once you get more serious about passing the starting area. Games this original don’t come around to often, but its always a treat when they do.