Many great games are built on a singular, simple concept. TumbleSeed on the Nintendo Switch is an experience that takes a basic mechanic and stretches it as far as it’ll go– some might say too far.
Imagine a horizontal line stretching from one side of the screen to the other. Sitting on top of the line is a small seed. Each side of the line can be raised or lowered independently to create a slope, allowing the seed to roll from side to side. Now, imagine having to use that system to avoid obstacles like holes in the ground and meandering enemies. That’s TumbleSeed in a nutshell.
Of course, the game piles on a few more complications for the sake of depth. It’s possible to change the type of seed on the platform, and that seed can be used on various crop plots scattered around the course. One seed may unlock the ability to place temporary respawn points on the course, while another causes your seed to grow protruding spikes, protecting it from enemies. These abilities are powered by small crystals spread about the course, usually in tough-to-reach or out-of-the-way areas, which introduces a fun risk/reward scenario.
Both sides of the horizontal line, which are controlled with the left and right analog sticks, move very slowly. The seed is subject to momentum as well, meaning that once it gets rolling, it can be tough to control and correct. These two factors make it necessary to tackle each course very slowly and methodically. Slightly miscalculating or overcompensating practically guarantees failure.
Speaking of failure, you should get used to it now. TumbleSeed is an exceptionally difficult game that can lead to hair-pulling and Switch-chucking. Unfortunately, the difficulty ramp is steep and unforgiving, even early on. Within 20 minutes, I hit a wall and each course took considerable effort and concentration to complete. The sudden difficulty spike gave way to rising frustration, especially because it felt unfair and unearned. TumbleSeed is a game for the patient, dedicated, and masochistic.
That’s not to say that TumbleSeed isn’t fun. Difficulty and frustration aside, I had a blast playing the first few hours of the game, and found myself returning for quick-hit play sessions between meatier titles like Mario Kart and Zelda. It helps that the maps are procedurally generated, offering a modicum of variety from one round to the next.
Unfortunately, thin mechanics can only be stretched out for so long, and in TumbleSeed, the simplistic concept just cannot sustain a full game. Though the levels and enemies change, I couldn’t shake the feeling of Deja Vu. After all, I was doing the same thing, level in and level out, with very little in the way of variety. Compounding the problem is that the various seed types didn’t impact gameplay in deep, meaningful ways. I stuck with the same three or four seeds throughout and rarely felt the need to experiment with others.
The world of TumbleSeed is consistently beautiful. Enemies and obstacles look like they were cut out of construction paper, with bright and bold colors that would feel at home on a children’s toy. As a bonus, I experienced no framerate drops or serious glitches while playing the Nintendo Switch version of Tumbleseed, though I did encounter my first two Switch game crashes, both of which spat out an error message and booted me back to the main menu.
TumbleSeed lives and dies by its simplicity. It’s a pick-up-and-play, easy-to-understand game that’s fun in short bursts, but doesn’t add the necessary depth to sustain itself long-term. There are better puzzle games on the Switch, but at only $15, Tumbleseed is the perfect game for those that want some quick-hit self-flagelation.