If you’ve played seminal PSN title FlOw, then Art Style: Penta Tentacles (or Rotozoa outside of Europe) will immediately conjure up familiar feelings. With its focus on floaty cellular organisms and watery backdrops that make you feel like you’re studying life through a microscope, Penta Tentacles certainly feels like the Art Style brand is trying to stamp its own mark on the idea which ThatGameCompany handled so well.
Taking control of a single cell organism, the player must float around the stage and absorb the other life forms using their coloured segments. The organism can be spun clockwise or anticlockwise by holding down the corresponding button and matching them up with competing organisms of the same colour causes appendages to grow. The longer the limb becomes, the more care has to be taken when flailing it around since hitting one of the wrong colour will rob you of energy (which, if it falls low enough, will end the game). More importantly it will also cause the limb to break off at the actual point of contact, meaning if you’re unlucky enough to have it collide with the base of the appendage, then you have to start its growth all over again.
Hit the target number for each limb and it’s on to the next stage to try and repeat your success. Points are awarded for completion and the time taken, adding a perfunctory scoring element which sadly lacks any online component.
By constantly spinning the organism in one direction the player can build up a vortex which will destroy all other organisms on screen. This mechanic is slightly baffling since the aim of the game is to match up with the organisms rather than destroy them all. Additionally the time it takes to fully charge the feature means you’ll probably have been hit by another organism and have to start again. Since you’re awarded a bonus for completing a level without using the Vortex, it might as well be forgotten about and the levels can be cleared much more easily without it.
This basic premise of Penta Tentacles doesn’t evolve (no pun intended) much further from the initial idea. While it does mix things up by altering the number and position of tentacles on the player’s cell, it still manages to feels the same no matter how many colours you have on the go. Although the other organisms consist of different types (some are fast, some chase you, others run away from you) none of them grow or expand in real time like FlOw or PC title Osmos. There ends up being no real sense of competition or urgency, something the aforementioned leaderboards having online capabilities may have gone some way to addressing.
All that remains is floating from one part of the screen to the other and giving you tentacles a quick spin to absorb something. It may offer a certain level of serenity, but it also means there’s no real sense of accomplishment from clearing a level. Rather than being sedentary, as you expect the were aiming for, it quickly ends up becoming boring and totally forgettable.
What redeems the game slightly is the minimalistic style and simplicity which not only looks nice, but does a reasonable job of distracting you from the fact that it’s very much a one trick pony with little challenge. This is perhaps the one Art Style game to date where the series’ approach of making things too straight forward hasn’t paid off, ultimately making Penta Tentacles a disappointment given the game it tries to emulate.