TumbleSeed is a vertically scrolling, physics-based rogue-like developed by a team composed of Benedict Fritz, Joel Corelitz, Greg Wohlwend, Jenna Blazevich, and David Laskey.
I am not good at playing TumbleSeed. After playing for several days, my highest score is a pitiful 311. I have not experienced the upper half of the mountain or discovered all of the seed powers. There are many other surprises in store but the game is simply too difficult for me.
I feel that it is important for me to state this information at the beginning so the reader can understand my limited experience with TumbleSeed. Despite some frustrations and significant obstacles I experienced in my time playing, I believe that TumbleSeed is an endearingly original game that is uniquely challenging for even the most experienced fans of roguelikes.
In TumbleSeed, you play as a small seed named TS who was prophesied long ago to be the one seed to save the mountain from the “Under Dwellers,” evil creatures that rise from the ground creating holes in the mountain that threaten the lives of the seed people. In order to complete this prophecy, TS has to follow “The Way” by rolling all the way to the top of the mountain and planting itself there.
TS is not alone. A mysterious group called the “VineGuard” accompanies TS on its adventures. The VineGuard provides TS with support and guidance by granting TS new powers, abilities, and a sanctuary for when TS needs a break from rolling up the mountain.
Other seed-like characters exist all throughout the game in towns and rest areas. Some characters have dialogue boxes that provide the player with tips on how to roll or comments about how the “The Prophecy” and “The Way” are a load of baloney. There are buildings TS can enter like the Library or the “Quest Room” that give the player more information on the origins of the seed people and the Mountain, and quests the player can complete while rolling up the mountain.
More can be found when taking a break
In the rest areas, areas between different mountain sections, there are buildings TS can enter and characters that provide TS with the opportunity to grow (usually by spending or betting crystals.) These characters are all well written for each of their roles and are meant to be guiding spirits on TS and the player’s journey.
The story and the characters of TumbleSeed are simple and do not need to be anything more than what they are: a narrative for the player to understand why they are a seed tasked with rolling up a dangerous mountain. I find the story to be interesting and entertaining, but it is nothing to write home about.
The music and sound design match the whimsical art design beautifully. TumbleSeed handles HD Rumble in a remarkably powerful way as well.
The songs that play whenever you are climbing up the mountain, in a village, or in a building, fit perfectly with the theme and feel of the game: simple and cute. The forest area is accompanied by sounds that feel wooden and inspire the feeling that you’re in an actual forest.
The sanctuary areas dwelled by the VineGuard are mysterious but reassuring. I have found myself humming along with the songs in the jungle/swamp area of the mountain. The music is minimal and relaxing, especially when you need it most. The sound design of the game is top notch as well.
Hitting an enemy with a thorn sounds punchy and satisfying. The bounce that TS makes when it is hit by an enemy is full and impactful. Whenever TS falls into a hole, you hear TS harshly tumbling down back to the checkpoint. The game uses sound in a way that makes actions feel real.
Speaking of feeling real, the way TumbleSeed uses HD Rumble is impressive. When TS rolls to the left or to the right, you feel the vibration in the controller it is rolling towards and away from. If TS is rolling softly in either direction, the rumble is soft and subtle. If TS rolls quickly and impacts the wall or an enemy, the controller gives off a strong rumble as if a marble was rolling down your hand and was stopped abruptly. It is certainly a satisfying and unique feeling.
Stellar art direction
The art design of TumbleSeed is by far my favorite aspect of this game. The colors are solid, vibrant, and soft. The character models are simple but are unique from each other. Buildings are crafted with small details like flags flapping in the wind, or small designs in the wood. The light from the sun pours through the canopy, making for lighter areas of the background than others.
Enemies are bright, colorful, and unique to not confuse the player. The beginning of the game shows a large view of the mountain the player will be climbing, and while it is simple and minimal, I believe it is gorgeous. Each area of the mountain is designed differently from the rest with their own unique details. The forest area has tree stumps with tiny worms sticking out of it. The desert area has desert flora like cactuses and other succulents.
TumbleSeed does not try to impress with flashy 3D models or high graphical fidelity. TumbleSeed impressed by being simple and cute.
The way you control TS in TumbleSeed is as simple as its story. You control TS with a vine positioned underneath it. In order to roll TS to the right, you press up on the right stick and down on the left, and vice-versa. You tilt TS to get it where you need it to be. In order to move up, you press both sticks up and the opposite for down. You must take into account speed, momentum, and position.
You tilt TS around in order to avoid holes and other environmental threats, avoid enemies, to collect crystals, and to plant these crystals in designated areas. TS begins each life with three hearts. You start over from the bottom of the mountain whenever all three are gone.
While you do all of this, you will also be managing a variety of different types of seeds TS can transform into. The first four seeds that you begin every life with are FlagSeed, ThornSeed, CrystalSeed, and HeartSeed. You need to collect crystals scattered throughout the level, or by defeating enemies, in order to use these seed powers (except for CrystalSeed as it provides you with crystals instead).
For example, FlagSeed allows you to plant a checkpoint for one crystal in a designated planting area. If you were to fall into a hole later on in the level, you would fall down until you reached your checkpoint flag. These designated planting areas are marked by the mysterious eye associated with the VineGuard.
Variety is the spice of life
You can find more powers in sanctuaries dwelled by the VineGuard or buying them from shops in rest areas. There are more than 30 powers in this game, and the ones I have experienced have all been unique (but not all have been helpful). So far I discovered the ShieldSprout, StormSeed, and the RandoBud.
My favorite is definitely the StormSeed (because it fills in the holes around you with water so that you can’t fall into them and get hurt). The game becomes deep in that you have to know when is the best time to use each seed power, how to maximize crystal efficiency, and which powers are best to use for your gameplay style.
TumbleSeed has a variety of enemies and environmental threats that are unique to each area. The initial forest area has these purple mosquito-like creatures that slowly follow you around. The swamp/jungle area has these large yellow worms that move towards you at a fast pace. The desert area has strange laser blockades that impede your movement up the mountain until the laser stops. As you learn to control TS and how to use its newfound powers, you must also learn to handle these new enemies.
It is important to learn to adapt. An Under Dweller can appear ahead of you and cause a hole that was not there before. An avalanche occurs and balls of snow come rolling down towards you. You must always prepare your powers, rolling fingers, and reflexes. Using all these together allows you to avoid enemies, holes, and whatever else the game throws at you. You will lose often in this game as a result of all of these threats, but loading times between deaths is nothing significant.
Never the same game twice
The goal of the game is to reach the top of the mountain and “plant yourself”. TumbleSeed randomly generates its levels. After you pass the tutorial section, everything will be different for everyone who plays the game. You will have different environmental threats, enemy positions, power-ups available, designated planting areas, crystals to collect, etc. This adds to the replayability factor of the game and makes each time you play a new adventure.
For those of us that will have a hard time reaching the top of the mountain, the game has other incentives. Players can compete in a global leaderboard. You compete with yourself and others for the highest score on reaching the mountain. Your distance traveled, time, and crystals remaining determines your rank.
Along with the regular adventure, there is a Daily Challenge game mode. It is a randomly generated level that can be played once a day. Your score is posted along with everyone else’s who played the level that day. The replayability factor of TumbleSeed is significant. You can beat your own score, beat other people’s scores, do the daily challenge, complete quests given to you by a village member, etc. There is a lot for one to do before you even reach the top of the mountain.
TumbleSeed’s randomly generated levels are the main source of my concerns. TumbleSeed exposed me to level sections that were simply too difficult to complete in my first few hours of the game. Holes with narrow passages between them, enemies that would constantly follow you, and lots of spikes.
I might have just had bad luck with the first levels, but they affected my initial impressions of this game. There is no real way to remedy this issue. The developers designed it to be this way.
My time with TumbleSeed has been a rollercoaster of frustration, understanding, and joy. The game is frustratingly difficult at times. This is further amplified by its randomly generated levels. In order to truly enjoy TumbleSeed, one needs patience and persistence.
I have definitely improved since the first time I played. I am a lot more comfortable controlling TS. Now I’m rolling past holes, using my powers, and avoiding enemies like a semi-pro. If I dedicate enough time, I can definitely reach the top of the mountain. I believe the beauty of TumbleSeed is that there is always room for you to grow. TumbleSeed is available for download now on Nintendo Switch via eShop for $14.99/€13.99. Get rolling!