Review: Tentacular

Being a kaiju isn’t an easy life. Born with large, clumsy tentacles, it’s difficult to manipulate small objects. Or people. It does have its upsides, however. There’s a great deal of strength in those floppy limbs, easily enough to catapult a shipping container using power lines. It’s fitting then, that the people of La Kalma want to use your skills and size, for nothing more than some odd jobs, like building construction, or sending astronauts into space.

Over the first couple of hours, much of Tentacular is a simple affair; you’re taught to pick up large objects, move them around, and eventually gain control over precarious magnets to build structures. The citizens of La Kalma have various requests, but to start with you’ll be helping the mayor, who wants to revitalise the town using his magnet technology – crafting buildings which look like an architectural nightmare.

Like many VR titles, Tentacular centres on unwieldy physics, but less from the tentacles you control and more from the items you manipulate. For example, a later stage has you rebuilding a large statue of the town’s founder. You’re given the statue in pieces and must use magnets to hold it together, also using steel girders to create handy supports. By the end you’ll have a monstrosity which looks like its barely holding itself together. There’s a joy in its chaos.

The town requests vary greatly, one minutes you’ll be untangling a chaotic scene where magnets have trapped citizens, and in the next moment you’ll be delicately renovating a house, trying to use the most subtle of touches. The riding between hulking monster of strength and trying to finesse the tiny details is interesting, but can be maddening. As the game progresses you’re given the ability to shrink the magnets, enabling more intricate building, but grasping these tiny objects feels overly cumbersome.

Intricacy is where Tentacular occasionally falls flat. It’s no fault of the design of the task, more the physics often being too unforgiving or unpredictable. A set of tasks will require you to throw rockets through hoops, to test a propulsion system, and there were too many times when accuracy feels impossible. At first it’s funny as the rockets plunge into the ocean or careen wildly, but after many attempts it leans into annoyance.

Thankfully, these moments are fleeting, and usually you’ll be tasked with a sort of sandbox scene where you can reach the ‘solution’ as you see fit, flailing around, knocking things over and generally leaning into the chaos. Outside of the story tasks there is an incredibly satisfying playground mode, which allows you to build and create as you see fit, using all of the objects unlocked throughout the story.

This is a simple distraction from what is actually a very sweet and endearing story about family and belonging. When the game opens we meet our tentacled self through a conversation with the sister of the kaiju, who happens to be human. After the obvious, but still funny, joke drop about the kaiju being adopted, there are some lovely conversations to be had which will tug at the heartstrings.

Above everything though, Tentacular is a game based on farce and comedy. There are aquatic puns aplenty, sharp and snappy dialogue that pokes your funny bone and, of course, the preposterous central mechanic. It’s a feel-good game, one that exists to add some joy and cheer to your day.

The vibrant world of La Kalma feels busy and bustling; it’s a delightful hub world for the tasks, where people go about their day while you bask in the ocean and watch it all. The colours are bright, the ambience is twee and it feels like a place you want to spend time. The designers obviously had a great deal of fun between crafting environmental puzzles and adding in small details which round out the experience.

Bopping the tiny citizens on the head to make them talk never gets old, nor does the experimental drive which comes from playing as a creature of destruction. At one point I was listening to an NPC waffle on, while he hovered in a quad-copter drone and for the fun of it grasped him and launched him into the horizon. He soon floated back into the scene via a parachute to finish talking, but the distraction was a nice piece of improvised fun that can only exist in VR.

Even with the minor annoyances of forced intricacy, Tentacular should find itself as a must-play game. The detailed world-building makes for a wonderfully immersive experience, the tasks vary enough to never become tiring and the game has bags of charm and charisma from character relationships. The life of a kaiju might not be easy, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.