I love my old 16-bit retro video games. A lot.
And I can’t say for certain if it’s simply because they’re what I grew up with or if this era of games did something so right that they transcend the hardware they were made for.
I’m sure for me personally the answer is a mix of both.
At the same time it’s still easy enough to see that the classic platformer formula still really works. To the point where terms like ‘retro inspired’ and ‘pixel artwork’ have become common hooks in the modern gaming scene.
Old timers, next gen gamers and Indie developers have wholeheartedly embraced this retro gaming trend and it feels like it’s here to stay.
What still continues to surprise (and delight) this retro gamer is the desire of talented and capable developers who put the primary focus of their vision on original 16-bit hardware.
Tanglewood is a pure blood Sega Mega Drive and Sega Genesis video game.
A little about Tanglewood:
“TANGLEWOOD® is a brand new and original game for the SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis…”
“A true 16-bit, nostalgic platforming experience running on genuine SEGA hardware, that will make fans of SEGA’s golden era feel warm and fuzzy.”
“Set in a fictional world, the game follows a young creature, Nymn, who is separated from the family pack after the sun sets. Unable to get back to the safety of the underground home, Nymn must find a way to survive the night terrors and get to morning. TANGLEWOOD’s world is a dangerous one after dark, and Nymn must use skills of evasion, special abilities, traps and trickery to defeat predators.” – TangelwoodGame.com
Before I get into some finer details of the game (without spoilers) I’m going to try and find the words to express how much fun I’m having playing Tanglewood.
You play the game as a ‘fox like’ creature named Nymn who is very endearing. Nymn doesn’t have dialog and the plot is simply help Nymn survive the night and find home. Yet despite this simplicity I found myself getting attached. The more I struggled solving puzzles and after each narrow escape from the jaws of some beast the more Nymn mattered to me.
It’s not often that I feel such a strong emotional connection when playing any video game. And I was genuinely amazed at myself when I started to realize how invested I felt in Tanglewood.
For example, I really like Sonic the Hedgehog. There is a lot of fun to be had in the classic Sonic games. But I can slam that Hedgehog into a pit of spikes all day long and not feel the slightest emotional response except a mild annoyance that I’m going to have to do that part again.
Of course I managed to bring Nymn to an unfathomable number of savage deaths. But each time death found us I was in fact trying very hard to save poor Nymn. I found that I really, very badly, wanted to safely guide Nymn home.
Tangelwood is always engaging and you’ll always be eager to find out whats next.
Although, I promise, you’ll not be able to anticipate where this adventure is going to take you.
The drive to carry on is fueled by a game that offers both a level password save feature and checkpoints through out each Act. While Tanglewood can be challenging and difficult it is not punishing. Unlike many platformer games from Sega’s 16-bit catalog, when you return to Tanglewood for another session you’ll be picking up where you left off instead of starting right from the beginning. Which is a refreshing change and helps keeps the wonderful story center stage.
The creator, Matt Phillips, found his inspiration for Tanglewood from games like Limbo, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddyssey, Flashback and the Lion King. If you’re familiar with these games then you’ll have some idea of what to expect from Tanglewood.
But make no mistake Tanglewood has it’s own direction and a very strong identity.
An intuitive understanding of the games mechanics will guide the player while Tanglewood’s mysterious lore will slowly unfold as the player progresses.
Despite his appearance Nymn is not actually a fox, but ‘fox like’ and where this adventure takes place is not on Earth but someplace ‘Earth like’. Tanglewood is set on a world with two suns and two moons. Factions are distinguished between the day dwellers and night dwellers. While an extinct race wiped out by it’s own enslaved Djakk beasts have left behind many shacks, tree houses and contraptions that were once powered by small round creatures called Fuzzl’s. Fuzzl’s posses a varied array of powers which can be bestowed onto Nymn. Which in turn help Nymn navigate the games many puzzles and often aid in escaping the creatures of the night.
The core mechanics of Tanglewood will have you running and jumping through each level searching for Fuzzl’s that need a ‘helping paw’ and then figuring out how to return each Fuzzl to its near by nest. Once a Fuzzl is returned you’ll have earned the use of it’s power for a short time. You’ll then have to figure out how to use this power to advance through the next portion of the level.
Combine borrowed powers and the ability to interact with flues, boulders, logs, winches, creatures (both big and small), a labyrinth like forest and even a demon Tanglewood will feel fresh and terrifying every step of the way.
Check out the official Big Evil Corporation Tanglewood Trailer:
Below is my own longplay of Tanglewood recorded direct from my Sega Genesis. I managed to collect all Fireflies to unlock the good ending. And it really is the ending I needed! But don’t spoil the game for yourself. Play Tanglewood and enjoy it firsthand.
If you enjoy retro video games you owe it to yourself to pickup Tanglewood. It’s an incredibly detailed, polished and fully realized video game. And despite coming from a small Indie Developer Tanglewood is so much bigger than I could have ever dreamed.
I don’t normally put a number on the games I talk about but for Tanglewood I’m compelled to give is a full on 10/10. As far as human kinds reach for perfection can extend Tanglewood has thoroughly earned this perfect score.
Or purchase Tanglewood on Steam.
Tanglewood Cover Art by Luis Martins.