Who knew agriculture could be this savage?
$14.99 Developer Aeiowu, tumbleseed.com Requirements OS X 10.10 or later
The serenity suggested by TumbleSeed’s clean look and pleasantly bouncy soundtrack doesn’t arrive until after several hours and dozens of deaths. If your moment of zen ever materializes at all, it will only be after you make peace with the fact that the power and glory of the natural world wants to kill you.
After an ecological disaster unsettles its mountain home, the titular tumbleseed is tasked with cresting the summit in order to restore balance. Rather than guide our monocular pip directly, however, players handle a long, taut vine that stretches across the bottom of the screen: the W and S keys control the left end, the arrow keys the right, and TumbleSeed’s delicate physics do the rest. This teeter-totter mechanic snakes the tumbleseed ever upward, through five biomes littered with deep black pits and teeming with deadly wasps and slithering serpents.
TumbleSeed’s novel control scheme is wrapped around a larger structure that merges the economy of grand strategy games with the bareknuckle terseness of a roguelike. Scattered through each procedurally generated forest and tundra are freshly tilled plots in which to plant your active ability: “Heartseeds,” for example, replenishes health, and “Thornvine” sprouts an arrow-tipped tendril that’s used to attack any maggot or moth in your path. The rub is twofold: abilities cost “diamonds” to cast, and there are limited plots in which to do so. The skills at your disposal change with each climb up the slope and can be swapped on the fly, keeping your tactics and strategy fresh over the course of a broadly repetitive experience.
For all its originality and charm, however, TumbleSeed is hardly broad in its appeal. The controls are finely tuned, but even savvy players will careen wildly into the abyss on occasion, especially as the game overly relies on fast, aggressive enemies to flush players out of safety. True to its roguelike label, failure comes early and often, and always sends you back to the foot of the mountain, with nothing to show but a bit of extra knowledge for your trouble. TumbleSeed is exacting and punitive, but players who take the village elders’ advice to heart — ”Roll patiently and persist” — will find themselves blossoming in due time.
the bottom line. Players of a certain temperament will find TumbleSeed’s subtlety of movement and nuanced strategy beguiling. For the rest of us, it remains a joyful toy, highlighted by confident design and charm. Either way, it’s one of the most striking games of the year. Joseph Leray