Every once in a while, a game comes along that oozes charm effortlessly. The world, the artistic choices in graphics and character design, the characters themselves, and the story. Throw in VR and the extra level of immersion makes everything even more charming. Especially when your viewpoint is one where everything is at a doll house scale.
In Tentacular you play the title character, who is a gigantic, kind-hearted beast with only two? Tentacles. You occupy an omniscient, god-like view of the world. The only part of yourself visible in the game are two purple tentacles with big, pink suckers. They are also the only things that allow you to interact with the world of La Kalma island.
Beyond the cuteness of the world, Tentacular adds a mystery concerning your origins to the mix. This mystery and your interactions with the human characters add a warm emotional engagement to what is, essentially, a puzzle game. Not only are you on a quest to solve your secrets, you also have to tackle the more mundane things like finding a job.
The game contains over fifty levels. Most of them contain puzzles, while others are like a big play area where you can build structures and devices. The puzzle-focused levels are the ones that primarily push the story forward, and you’ll be picking up objects that to you are like big toys but are actually full sized construction items like girders and big cement weights, as well as shipping containers, rail car tankers, buses, and even an alien spaceship!
Tentacular Means No Hands
Like most puzzle games, the first few levels function as tutorials so you can learn how to lift, grasp, move about the environments. The tentacles can lift heavy objects, but they are also flexible. Imagine have two limbs that are sticky on the underside with the suckers, but overall are also like slinkies. With these two mechanics and no opposable digits, there is a bit of a learning curve to handling objects.
As you progress through the game, Tentacular introduces new game play elements. For example, at a certain point, magnetized balls become available. You then must figure out how to best use the magnets along with girders to solve puzzles. These require some lateral thinking and experimentation on how best to solve a puzzle. A good example of this is where you must place an ocean tanker up in the air by resting it on top of a combination of girders and magnets.
The play area is your virtual sandbox. With the aid of a matter converter device, you can create a variety of items, such as building materials, shipping containers, furniture, and even people. Then you can take those items and design your own town on the nearby island. More items become available as you solve puzzles.
The real charm of the La Kalma Island is the graphical design of the buildings and characters. Everything is done with cell shaded objects in bright primary colors. Your home is a small island with a home and a lighthouse. The city is another island and contains a downtown area, a residential section, a park area, a band shell, and streets. It’s all very homey and charming.
The Charming World of Tentacular
Even more charming is that the city is not static. It is teeming with activity. Cars and buses drive around the city. Pedestrians are out and about town, walking around, or chilling down by the shore. The characters are very cute, think Animal Farm type characters. If you tap them gently on their heads with the tip of your tentacle, they will talk to you. They speak in a pleasant gibberish with their dialog showing up in speech bubbles.
While the speech bubbles are cute, the dialog mechanic becomes a little tiring as you must either continually tap the little people to get the next line. Fortunately, you can also use the trigger to do this as well. Further, in the options, you can adjust the speech to display all at once or in typewriter mode. There are several main characters you interact with, your friend at home and a scientist who gives you your new tasks are the main ones.
You can navigate within a location fairly easily, but you cannot travel between locations. To change locations, you use a cute game mechanic, a hovering switch box. You flip the switch open and then pull down a lever to go to a new location. However, you can only jump from one adjacent location to another. So, going from home to the play area, you must jump to the city and then to the play area. So navigation can become a little tedious. Firepuncd only provides limited VR comfort options. Most significantly, there is no option for smooth turning – most puzzling.
The goofy aspects of manipulating objects with tentacles, instead of hands, are both challenging and fun. The dexterity of the tentacles often mimics the current state of VR interactivity. This is a game for all ages, though younger players may find some puzzles too difficult. If there was ever a game that would benefit from a shared viewing mode, this is it.
Going Big And Clumsy In VR
Overall, this is a real charmer of a game. It plays with the real scale of a world in VR to create an engaging experience. Oft times I found myself smiling like one would with a Nintendo Mario game. Tentacular is available on Meta/Oculus and Steam VR.
*** A Meta key provided by the publisher ***
Endearing cell-shaded world
Unique gameplay mechanics
No smooth turning option
Can’t freely roam
Have to repeat entire conversations