TumbleSeed is pain and pleasure, charm and agony, bliss and sorrow. Even with those seemingly negative descriptors in mind, TumbleSeed is a title that is sure to grow on you (pun fully intended), assuming that you have the patience to let it do so. TumbleSeed is a rouge-lite adventure game, but one that is unlike any other in the genre that I am aware of. You are TS, the chosen seed, and when the mountain you live on is suddenly inhabited by evil creatures, it is up to you to roll your way to the top to save the day. At first glance, you will notice a colorful and charming aesthetic that is immediately pleasing, but under the hood is a surprisingly deep and incredibly challenging structure.
What makes TumbleSeed so damn unique to the genre is its control scheme. Using the analog sticks, players will roll and guide TS up the mountain. TS sits on platform, so you need to balance the movements between the left and right sticks to fluidly move TS along the screen. Raise your right stick up on its own, TS will quickly roll down to the left and vice versa. This is something that you will learn to manage over time, and will not master immediately. Using this control scheme can be tricky, especially considering how many obstacles await you on your trek up the mountain. From monsters, holes, and traps, get ready to fail over and over again. And there is no progression so to speak of, when you die you start from scratch at the base of the mountain, with only your high scores to prove your merits on the mountain.
You are not completely powerless in your efforts however, as there is an assortment of over 30 powerups and perks to help you. You have a base set of four each time you start, and those are heartseed, flagseed, thornvine, and crystal. These are essentially, well, the essentials! There are these soil sort of spots that when rolled over, activate your currently equipped seed. You do need crystals to activate these, and different powers cost different amounts of these crystals. You can defeat monsters to gain more crystals in addition to finding them at random, but you can also use that crystal equip to earn two after crossing over three soil spots. The flagseed equip allows you to make your own checkpoints for when you accidentally take a tumble down a hole, while the thornvine allows you to attach some thorns you can attack with, and lastly heartseed allows you to slowly rebuild your health up. There are many, many others you can find in your adventures, and more often than not you will find them by entering a cavern where you can pick one of two available seed types. There is even a practice arena where you can try before your buy. The variety is awesome, and I know I have not come across all there is to offer.
I do have some favorites from the ones I have got to play with, like the Stormseed, which brings rain down and fills up the holes that so effortlessly take your life. I am not a fan of these holes which have caused me much pain, which is why I love the rain that Stormseed brings because once filled, the rain allows you to glide over these holes without falling in. I also am a fan of Misslespore, which launches a missle at the nearest enemy. What I am not a fan of is the friendly fire of both the various seeds as well as the different perks you can pick up along the way. Misslespore, though great for eliminating enemies, also shoots a scattershot upon exploding which can hurt you as well. This is not an uncommon theme unfortunately. Any weapons with any sort of projectiles can do friendly fire damage, which can be extremely inconvenient. The perks, which may seem beneficial, can actually be quite harmful when you take this into consideration. There is a perk that sees a ghost follow you that can hurt enemies, which I thought would be great, when a moment later it bumped into me, taking my last life out of my hands when I was incredibly close to beating my high score. Same for another perk that drops land mines every 7 seconds, which will make you want to do little to no backtracking. It is disappointing to say the least, and probably my biggest gripe with the otherwise fantastic game, because having a little carefree help along the way would make it a much more enjoyable experience.
What is enjoyable is TumbleSeed’s incredibly charming aesthetic. It’s a beautifully vibrant and inviting look, with lots of colors that pop. It also has a soundtrack to match, with a great sound structure and tracks fit for an adventure. At the end of the day, that’s what TumbleSeed is: an adventure. Along the way you will learn much about how to play and approach various situations. The mountain has five segments, three of which I have made it to at the time of this writing. In between these segments are towns that you can catch your breath at and plan ahead, with the ability to buy new upgrades, trade in others, or even gamble and invest your current gems. These towns are also filled with friendly seeds that are complete with quirky and smart dialog, one of which offers quests to complete. While they don’t always give you a physical reward, they do reward you with further knowledge of the games structure. It was not until about 5 hours in that I got a quest that unlocked a teleportation feature that was a huge relief for me. This allows you to jump to a region at the start, ultimately allowing you to potentially conquer the whole mountain, a feat I think will take quite some time still on my end.
The character design is pretty great in TumbleSeed. Though simple in scope, the flora-folk (or in simpler terms the "seed-people") come off as cheery and hopeful in an unprecedented way. The evil creatures share a similar depth, and while retaining the colorful palate of the townsfolks, they definitely intend to harm you. Some creatures are simple to avoid, while others like the snakes and spiders may make you want to bite your tongue off to avoid making a scene in public. These evil bastards follow you until they are outran or straight up killed, making for quite the pests. There is a great variety, with small and large creatures out to get you every step of the way.
Even though the game is technically all about balance, I think it is slightly imbalanced. The difficulty is not one that everyone will be able to approach, and the friendly fire from perks and powers that should put you in a position of confidence unfortunately put a damper on the experience from time to time. Aside from that, it is a fantastic and rich experience, especially coming from the likes of a small five person crew. It has charm and challenge, with the experience being similar to dropping Captain Olimar and some Pikmin into the land of Lordran. It is not a game that is made for hours of continuous play, but more akin to the oldschool nature of fighting for that latest high score. If others are like me, they will play in a very specific style, which is either defensively or offensively. I chose the former, choosing to avoid and outrun enemies when given the opportunity. I found direct combat to be functionally more difficult than running, and imbalanced due to the highly likely situation of hurting yourself with many of the games weapons. It is up to the player to find a balance that works for them, but as for me I chose to be a stealthy seed.
It is a rewarding feeling to best yourself, and even some of your friends, on the high score board, which also features a daily challenge mode where you get one single shot to go as far as you can. On the Switch specifically, it looks great and plays so comfortably in handheld mode. It is more natural to have TS positioned centered between your hands, which to me makes the eye-hand coordination more accurate. TumbleSeed is a surprising addition to my library, and one that can hold the claim as one of the few rouge-lite experiences I genuinely enjoy. Give TumbleSeed a spin, you never know how much it just might grow on you.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8/10
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