Who knew agri­cul­ture could be this sav­age?

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$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

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