Roguelikes aren’t typically the sort of game I think of when I want to play something to unwind to. Their tense nature generally reverses them for something I have to specifically be in the mood to play given how long individual runs in these games last and how crushing defeat inevitably is.
TumbleSeed is different. It’s a roguelike that’s calm and relaxing to play rather than tense and frustrating like so many others. Between its languid pace and positive attitude, it goes out of its way to maintain a fun and jovial outlook that does wonders to stave off the frustration of failure. It’s a small gesture, but it’s done wonders to keep me coming back for more.
The game sees you rolling a seed up a mountain so it can plant itself at its peak. The road to the summit is rife with all manner of danger, however, ranging from insects, holes, worms, and the occasional avalanche. You control the seed via the vine it rests on. You move the vine upward by pushing both analog sticks up in unison, tilting it left and right as necessary to guide the seed away from hazards by only pushing up on either stick. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of, and thankfully, the difficulty lies less in the control method itself and more the application of it. Rolling a seed around figurative minefield of holes is no easy task, after all.
It also make things more manageable by making sure the seed isn’t hyper-sensitive to slight adjustments to the vine’s angle, allowing you to comfortably make tweaks without fear of suddenly sending it veering too far off to one side. But even then, threading the needle between holes while trying to outrun spiders and the like is almost assuredly going to lead to ruin.
You can of course fight back against your pursuers, but it’s always a risky endeavor. Your basic means of defense are spikes that sprout from the seed upon planting crystals, which both act as currency and a resource for your abilities. Useful, particularly since a lot of the basic foes vanish in one hit, but also risky because they all vanish the second you get hurt yourself. Other attack-type seeds tend to be more effective, but not without risks of their own. Projectiles allow you to pick off foes safely and require good accuracy. Mines shake off pursuers, requiring you to keep moving to ensure you don’t get caught in the blast.
You pick up new seed types along the way in underground caverns as well as at towns between each zone. Ideally, you want a good balance of offense and defense. That is mostly up to luck, though, given you can never count on getting the seed types you want. Some runs I ended up with just what I need to easily get through the first two zones. Most of the time I ended up having to settle for what I get and try to make the best of it. Either way, success is never guaranteed. A strong start often turns south, just as a terrible one might just turn the odds to your favor.. Like all the best roguelikes, victory is determined by your ability to adapt.
And as it turns out, I’m not very good at it. I barely got anywhere for the majority of my time with TumbleSeed. My runs usually end quickly due to falling into a bunch of holes right off the bat. My daily challenge runs have been going better than those in the main adventure mode, the latter throwing me into seemingly untenable situations with far greater regularity. In fact, I haven’t been able to make it too far into the second portion of the mountain because of it.
But despite all that, the game’s actually quite chill. It’s challenging, yes, but not so much that failure becomes the focus. Where roguelikes such as, say, Spelunky are about death and the myriad, spectacular forms it takes, TumbleSeed doesn’t linger on it. This is due primarily to two things: one, that individual runs are quick. They feel long, but in reality they’re often no more than a few minutes each, with the game dropping you right back in almost instantly. And two, its upbeat attitude: between the cute art and playful music, TumbleSeed carries a ton of charm. So much so that it’s hard to let frustration and anger take over when everything’s so bright and cheery. Really, the game is such a delight all around that no matter how many times I inevitably met my end all I could do is shrug it off with a laugh. It’s no less difficult than its peers, but far less frustrating and stressful.
The pace has a lot to do with that. While individual runs are fast, the actual minute-to-minute play is slow and steady. Even while escaping the pursuit of spiders or worms it maintains that same languid pace. I never felt rushed. If anything, the times I did try to rush were always where everything fell apart for me. TumbleSeed wants you to slow down and take it easy. In part because you have to due to the delicate balancing act that pushing the seed upward is, but also because that’s the kind of game it is. It’s meant to be a slow and pleasant experience rather than a quick and tense one, and TumbleSeed is all the better for it.