It’s not every day that we get a brand new game coming out for the SEGA Mega Drive but Tanglewood by Big Evil Corporation is just that. Joining a very exclusive club of games released long after the console was discontinued, we got to try out and review this new release for the iconic 16 bit console. Staying true to the limitations of 90s game development and being built from the ground up, is Tanglewood a game worthy of reviving your Mega Drive for one more spin, or is it better left in the cupboard, read on to find out!
WARNING THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR TANGLEWOOD.
Tanglewood is a strange game to review, for one this isn’t like a modernised revival of a classic genre like Sonic Mania or Mega Man 11. Nor is this game trying to seem like it belongs in the past but has no limitations those classic games faced, like Shovel Knight or Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. Tanglewood can truly be played on the Mega Drive and that’s one factor one has to take on board when thinking about how this game would score, there is zealous attempt to remain authentic to the past with this game and one has to take that into consideration when playing it.
In Tanglewood players will be taking on the role of Nymn, a young, fox like creature as they must avoid all the obstacles, hazards and predatory creatures lurking in the darkness and survive till the morning. The game is set over 6 different areas and you’ll be finding yourself running through a densely covered forest one moment and then an animal graveyard in the sunset with all manner of creatures presenting a danger to the player, from small squirrel like animals that get vicious when cornered, to large bipedal monstrosities. There’s quite a bit to the game that you won’t find yourself repeating the same ideas for too long. Nymn however isn’t a particularly durable animal, one hit is enough for the player to restart from a previous checkpoint. Thankfully the game has infinite lives so you won’t find yourself thrown to the beginning of the game if there’s a tricky part doing you in. The game has you progressing in a linear fashion from point A to B with the levels broken into a number of acts (Usually 4) starting off in the early morning with Nymn awakening to his surrounding before the dark night coming and all the dangers it brings.
Each area is filled with it’s own little puzzles with some featuring unique enemies such as ground worms that will try and gobble you up to gimmicks like holes in the ground that will jettison our young hero high into the air. Through out the world, players will find these cute, round friends called Fuzzl that grant the character abilities that will help you to access new areas or neaturalise the threats. For example Nymn is able to use the yellow Fuzzl to gain the ability to glide but later on in the game players will be able to use this ability to soar sky high using strong winds to gain higher ledges. Then you have a Fuzzl that allows Nymn to take control of his enemies, one minute they might be chasing you but the next using the power of the Fuzzl to tame them, you’ll be riding them across chasms to avoid a very pointy death.
One issue I unfortunately found playing the game was the controls being slippery. Early on it caused me to lose a few careless lives to spike pits and walls. To compensate this, it seems the designers left a lot of room for the player to skid across the floor with most platforms being long enough you won’t find yourself falling haplessly. However this also meant later portions of the game that tried some more precise platforming left me feeling frustrated, especially at points where I could not see much further in the distance.
The pixel art present in the game is great and so charming with it’s colours often popping out at you with it’s vibrancy. The team has taken care in making sure the areas in Tanglewood continue to standout from each other my personal favourite being the sunset graveyard Deadwood. The player (And enemy sprites) are all completely black but the visual is burned into your head and comes after a rather unexpected moment in the game making it extra memorable. The team didn’t skip out in the character art though as Nymn and a fellow member of the same species both ooze a cutesy charm in how they’re animated and even some of the more vile creatures of the forest look the part, the art of Tanglewood is a definite plus point!
Enemy types help to add to the freshness of the game and while you might see one specific type of enemy in almost every level, there is enough unique ones later on that you will be cautiously adventuring what the next danger might be. Sadly not all of them are fun to engage with and one particular one, a small charging creature called the hogg who begins to travel at insane speeds that are nigh impossible to avoid as he rams you into oblivion. Normally a player could forgive this but there are some cheap enemy placements (In one particular instance, directly above a ladder) coupled with the insane speed he travelled at that lead to some frustrating deaths.
As a big fan of the Mega Drive’s sound chip (The Yamaha YM2612) I was keen on hearing what Tanglewood would have in store for me. Sadly despite having a few catchy tunes, the game tries to rely on a more atmospheric approach, instead relying on the sound effects to create tension or a feeling of dread for the player. You’ll still be treated to an opening track every time you enter a level (And for the boss fights, there is a unique track playing until you beat them) but this all quiets down once you get further in the area.
A surprise that I found myself when playing Tanglewood was the sheer length of the game, first time round you’ll probably find yourself throwing in about 5 to 6 hours of playthrough (Something I wasn’t expecting for a game made for the Mega Drive!) and there’s a bit of replayability in collectable fireflies that are scattered out in the stages, although at the time of this writing I have no idea what collecting all of them does as I finished the game with about 98% collected with no indication of an additional reward. The duration of the game however means the developers had to constantly try and mix it up, there is a moment about halfway through the game where Nymn will team up with another fox like creature that becomes your AI companion who you can carry on your back and use them to access higher platforms that might have a Fuzzl / object you need pushed down. The length however is a double edged sword, you’ll find yourself pushing boulders so often that the time starts to drag and activities that originally felt refreshing might begin to feel like a chore. For the most part the team has done well to try and avoid this, slowly giving you the ability to use the different Fuzzls, an AI companion and different enemy types but towards the end of the game it begins to lose a bit of steam until ramping it up again for the finale.
Overall Tanglewood is a charming game that features likable protagonists, a vibrant world and overall a highly authentic experience for anyone looking to dive into a 16 bit SEGA Mega Drive nostalgia rush. Just when it seems it might start to feel a bit repetitive, the game introduces new mechanics to try and keep the player engaged and despite at points feeling unfair on the player, the unlimited lives and checkpoints often help paper over this and you’ll find yourself coming back to it again to try and overcome the obstacle. For better or for worse, Tanglewood is truly a 90s game, there is no cutting edge graphics or revolutionary idea, nor is it trying to be that but instead a true jump back in time and a neat little puzzle platformer. For any fan of the Mega Drive it’s a must, so grab it if you want to relive a bit of the 90s again!
- Pleasing aesthetics throughout, from characters to levels
- Surprisingly long game for the Mega Drive, clocking over 5 hours
- A true 16 bit experience
- Lack of music is a disappointment
- Controls could be more precise
- Simplistic puzzles eventually devolve into repetition