Home / News / Games review: Tanglewood is a brand new Mega Drive game for your PC

Games review: Tanglewood is a brand new Mega Drive game for your PC

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We’re sure the retail version has some nice artwork on the cartridge

The Mega Drive celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new fan-made game that pushes the 16-bit marvel to its limits.

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Despite all their long years of service few consoles can ever look forward to a happy retirement; the move to a cupboard or charity shop window usually happening swiftly and without chance of reprieve. There is, after all, only so much room underneath the television. But no video game format really dies, not while there are fans that remember it. And especially not when there are some crazy enough to make new games for it, despite the last official release being two decades ago.

Fan-made retro games are actually extremely common, particularly on home computers like the Sinclair Spectrum, C64, and Amiga. But it’s not rare on consoles either and after a quick google we weren’t at all surprised to find fan games for formats as obscure as the Atari Jaguar and Virtual Boy. Compared to that, making a new Mega Drive (or Genesis as it was known in America) game seems perfectly reasonable.

Tanglewood started in 2016 as a Kickstarter campaign by ex-Traveller’s Tales and Dambuster Studios (née Free Radical Design) developer Matt Philips, who has worked on several Lego games and Homefront: The Revolution. Although he had some help from fellow fans involved in other modern day Mega Drive games, such as Pier Solar, Tanglewood is almost entirely his own work, made using original 1990s Sega development tools and programmed in raw 6800 assembly language.

Tanglewood didn’t need to be made that way, it’s just the way Philips wanted to do things. Many indie games today may look retro but something like Shovel Knight, for example, isn’t tied to any particular format and regularly does things no console of the era could manage. But Tanglewood is an actual Mega Drive in every way, right down to the restricted colour palette and equally limited sound chip.

It’s so authentic that not only does the PC download come with a Mega Drive ROM, to use with an emulator, but you can buy a real cartridge that runs on any official Mega Drive or Genesis console from anywhere in the world (although that does involve pre-ordering here and waiting for another batch to be manufactured).

It’s all a work of mad, obsessive love but what’s interesting about Tanglewood is that it’s not the simple platformer you might assume from the screenshots. Whereas something like Pier Solar is a fairly straightforward homage to old school Japanese role-playing games, Tanglewood isn’t quite like anything that existed on the Mega Drive in its heyday. The closest comparison is probably Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee on the original PlayStation, but even then the similarities are mild.

Tanglewood (Mega Drive) – fans do what Sega don’t

Tanglewood is essentially a platform puzzler, in which you control a fox-like creature called Nymn. Although it’s not immediately obvious, the setting is not Earth and Nymn is right near the bottom of the food chain when compared to giant carnivorous wildlife and demonic-looking energy creatures. He’s essentially defenceless on his own and so his only options are to run and to use the various contraptions that litter the game world to neutralise his pursuers.

While the platform elements can get very tense when you’re being chased Tanglewood isn’t trying to be Sonic The Hedgehog, and the pacing is generally slower and more thoughtful than any normal mascot platformer. You can sense some influence from the Lego games in the puzzles, as you push blocks, activate machinery, and drop boulders on enemies’ heads. And while we wouldn’t have minded a few that were significantly harder, the fact that we were never bored or frustrated suggests the balance is probably about right.

The game would’ve been perfectly acceptable if left at that, but there’s several further complications that revolve around little fluffy ball creatures called Fuzzls. If you guide one of these back to its nest then it imbues you with a colour-coded power such as the ability to glide, pause time, or ride on the back of larger creatures.

Tanglewood (Mega Drive) – there’s no sunset for some consoles

This immediately expands the range of possible puzzles, while another wrinkle is introduced in the form of a second fox who you can give a piggyback to and use to jump to higher platforms or help you through water hazards. It’s all surprisingly involved and varied, and while death can come a bit too easy at times Tanglewood features both a modern checkpointing system and old school passwords to save you progress.

The only aspect we’re not entirely sold on is Nymn’s controls, which seem a touch frictionless at times. We’re not clear if this is a mistake or something done on purpose to emphasise his vulnerability, but as a pure platformer this does not rank amongst the Mega Drive’s best. In terms of gameplay complexity and visuals though there’s no question it would’ve been regarded as a classic at the time.

The graphics might look a bit drab in screenshots but the animation for Nymn is great and the way different colour palettes are used in each area works perfectly. There’s parallax scrolling, weather effects, and some especially beautiful sunset sections where Nymn is just a silhouette against a burning sky (and yes, we know the recent Donkey Kong Country games used a similar trick but this is running on a Mega Drive, dammit!).

We’re always wary of neo-retro games that just try to copy what already exists but Tanglewood is fascinating for the fact that a game like this could’ve existed back in the Mega Drive era but nobody thought to make it. But whether you take this as a lesson in changing trends in game design or simply a homage to a beloved console Tanglewood is a real triumph. We’re glad the Mega Drive isn’t dead and we take this as proof that it really can live forever – not only in our hearts but also on Steam.



Tanglewood

In Short: The Mega Drive lives again with a new game that’s both a technical marvel and a surprisingly complex puzzle platformer.

Pros: Incredibly good graphics, animation, and music. Interesting puzzle mechanics and a wide range of additional abilities. Clever level design and well-paced mix of gameplay elements.

Cons: The controls could do with more a little more grip. Puzzles never really evolve into anything genuinely brain-teasing.

Score: 8/10

Formats: Mega Drive (reviewed) and PC
Price: £13.99 (PC)/£54.00 (Mega Drive)
Publisher: Big Evil Corporation
Developer: Big Evil Corporation
Release Date: 14th August 2018
Age Rating: N/A

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