The Tribulation Entanglement is a pixelated platformer by Anxious Neck Games, noted for its interesting art style and punishing difficulty. It makes a clear call to retro games like Metroid, with simple gameplay mechanics and a focus on challenging platforming.
My time with The Tribulation Entanglement was unfortunately frustrating. I’ll start with the gameplay. The input is your standard WASD keys for movement, a pause button, basic attack, “sub” attack, and a jump. Opening the game, an interesting portrait passes across the screen, assumed to be the world (note: this happens EVERY TIME you open the game), then you’re greeted with a start screen and immediately problems arise. What is the start button? Pressing space or enter, the typical start buttons, don’t work, and I wasn’t told of the buttons beforehand. After banging my hands across the keyboard I find that it’s the H key. This is not the select button, however, to click “New Game,” or “Continue” (which shows up even if you’ve never played before, by the way), you have to press the L key. L is also jump within the game (why not W or the spacebar?), J is the basic attack and K is the special attack. My first assumption when viewing the game I thought it would be a slow artsy game, but the game turned out to be an intense platformer.
Gameplay is brutal. The learning curve is steep, especially if the player isn’t used to the unconventional keyboard inputs. When you die, you start at the point last time the game automatically saves (you can’t save whenever you want). This means you could go past three level scenes, die at the very end, and start at the beginning of the three scenes. With other games, like rogue-likes or souls-esque games, dying is part of the “fun,” as the player is encouraged to improve with each iteration. The problem here is that there is no form of “getting better,” just remembering the cheap tricks that the game has (I guess remembering is a form of getting better, so maybe my words are contradictory). There is no leveling up system or variation of weapons. Destroying enemies doesn’t reward the player in any way, so the only real goal of The Tribulation Entanglement is to get to the other side. This turns interesting enemies to kill into a nuisance as they push you backward into a pit of spikes.
There was one spot in The Tribulation Entanglement where I spent a whole hour trying to get past. It wasn’t because I had to be better or anything, there were just these situations where actions wouldn’t trigger the same way every time. Players enjoy mild repetition because it allows the to judge the outcome of the next event. Unfortunately the falling spikes and breakaway blocks activated at unpredictable times. There was a section where I had to jump across a series of blocks that crumbled away when you touched them. I was under the impression you had to jump as soon as you landed on them, but for some reason the player character would fall with the block instead of jumping. Turns out you have to run for a millisecond across the block then jump to actually make it across. That was probably the most frustrating part of the game. The balance between intensity and calm was out of place. With a lot of modern games we are used to something steadily getting more difficult, then brief moment of easiness to give ourselves a rest. In The Tribulation Entanglement, the beginning and some other areas are really intense, but are spaced out by long empty hallways, or walls of breakaway blocks. The game lists the series of blocks “exploration,” but it’s a linear game; it’s more of a time waster to get me to spam the attack button.
Through all the frustration at least the art was interesting. There were some creatures that were really cool, I just wish I knew more about them so I had context of their place within the world. There’s this larger creature that floats around and is suppose to be friendly, but I don’t know why it has anything to do with me (and I guess if you attack it the very beginning, it triggers the game’s hard mode, which I wouldn’t prescribe as a good way to change game modes). The environment is all like shredded meat and body parts, with creatures of this conglomeration emerging from the muck. It’s what made me interested in the game, I just wish there was more substance to it than “Ooo, look, isn’t it creepy?” Spooky, yes, but if this floating head pushes me off the edge one more time I’m going to be the scary one.
The music was empty and monotonous. It kind of fit the creepy vibe of the game, as it gave a sense of eerie wonder as to what might happen, but it ultimately was lacking and I had to play with it off at some points because its constant beeping was so distracting. The sound effects were okay, but not appropriately mixed and stuck out when they went off. Sometimes they wouldn’t even trigger, as some monsters made a sound or a death cry, and some made no sound at all.
Overall the gameplay was challenging, finicky, and short. There was no real story and the art didn’t help the player understand what was happening, even though it was kind of interesting. The audio was minimal and just added to the stress level as you tried to reach the end.