I look down at my Peeps. I have assemble quite a crew of them now, but dusk is upon us and many of them are stressed and hungry. I know it is too much to ask, but we need to push through. There is still a lot of work to do. We need more stone and ore to finish the upgrades to our buildings, the food supplies are running low, and there are multiple crystals that still need harvesting. It comes quicker than I expected it…the shriek of the creatures of the island coming out to feed. I put a stop to the work immediately and order the Peeps to defend their homeland. We have worked so hard over these four days, we are not going down without a fight.
While the Peeps valiantly defend their structures and supplies, I start tethering weather together to create thunderstorms with powerful lightning that I use to help attack the creatures. Despite my, and the Peeps, best efforts, things are looking bleak. They are dropping one by one, slowly dissipating in a blue light. “No!” I exclaim, feeling almost helpless. In a haste I move one peep to the tavern and use a gust of wind to get them their quickly. Next, I try to move my strongest Peeps to fight the biggest creatures. Victories are coming, but few and far between. More and more Peeps are fading from the island, having fallen to the creatures. When a victory does come, the Peep is so tired and hungry it becomes despondent. It can no longer go on. Slowly, a Peep walks to the edge of the floating island and looks down into the abyss. “Please don’t” I say quietly frantically searching the sky for anything I can combine to make a rainbow. I don’t find anything, and when I look back, the Peep is gone.
Sunrise comes and the creatures of the island make their way back to their home. All that is left for me to do is survey the damage. Structurally we are looking ok. In fact, better than I expected. But as I continue to survey I realize why. Among the structures and topography of the island, I cannot find a Peep. Not a single one. They defended their island, and paid the ultimate price, because I asked them to. No, I demanded it. I hang my head and close my eyes. Damnit. Then I hear it. Just a faint sound. I bring my head back up, open my eyes, and jump from cloud to cloud surveying the island once more. Slowly, my eyes settle upon the tavern. Standing outside, looking up at me and waving, is the Peep I sent their last night during the battle. It looks at me, earnestly, waiting for its assignment. The next thing I hear is the unmistakable sound of an egg falling from the sky. I nod my head with approval. “ We are going to be ok, little guy. We are going to be ok.”
“Who are you talking to?” my wife asks.
“Ummm, my Peep” I say as I slide the PSVR off of my face. “See, he is the cute thing waving at us.” I point to our television screen and give a small wave back at the Peep.
My wife just chuckles, shakes her head, and goes back to her book.
On the surface, Tethered is not the kind of game I should like. I am not good at strategy games, especially real-time strategy games, and the idea of trying to manage the responsibilities and tasks of all the Peeps seems overwhelming. You take on the role of the last Spirit Guardian who is attempting to help the Peeps reclaim their homeland (a chain of 13 islands) from the Evil that has imprisoned the other Spirit Guardians. Each island provides a unique take on the similar formula of gathering resources, unlocking and building structures, fighting back the creatures that come out to feed at night, and continuing the cycle until you earn enough Spirit Energy to release the Spirit Guardian. Seems pretty straightforward. So why did I play so many hours (8, 10, maybe more at this point) of a game I should not like? Because it is really, really well done.
Tethered hooked me at the tutorial. The initial island walks you through the basics of the game in a streamlined way that made me believe that even I, the horrible RTS player, could be successful. The simplicity of the controls, amplified by the use of PSVR, had me navigating the island, and assigning tasks to Peeps in no time. You look down on each island from the clouds, and you just need to look at another cloud, hit X, and it will warp you to your new cloud with a different perspective on the island. The importance of this movement cannot be understated, especially when you get to later islands. Having the ability to gain a new perspective on the island will reveal secrets and items that you could not have seen from other positions. In addition, it allows you to more easily tether your Peeps to tasks. What is tethering? Well, I am glad you asked.
The gameplay mechanic that obviously inspires the game name is called tethering. In many ways, this is just assigning a Peep to a task. All you need to do is look at a Peep, hold down the X button, look at what you want to tether the Peep to, and release the X button. The Peep will intuitively do the required task. So, you send a Peep to stone, it will mine the stone and bring back resources, send the Peep to an egg and it will sit on it to hatch it, and the list goes on and on. While in other games this mechanic would not be worthy of its own paragraph, that fact that most of the work is done by looking (since the game is in VR) and it works well, the controls become intuitive in no time. The only time I struggled with this was when I had multiple Peeps close to one another, it could be challenging to get the specific Peep I wanted. The tethering mechanic is utilized so extensively in the game that a deep RTS game suddenly feels accessible; but that does not mean the game is simple.
Once you have the basics down, you start to jump down the rabbit hole of everything you do have to manage in the game. You have to keep your Peeps fed and busy, a starving Peep is ineffective and a bored Peep will lose purpose. There are a number of different resources to harvest which can be improved to increase yields, a small group of unique buildings to construct which can be improved to garner specific abilities, your Peeps can be promoted to different specializations to improve their skills and proficiencies in different areas, oh, and you can master the weather. Managing all of these areas allows you to earn more Spirit Energy towards unlocking another Spirit Guardian, but it also allows you to build defences because they mostly come at night…mostly.
Once dusk hits, you need to prepare your Peeps to defend everything they have worked so hard to create because the creatures of the island come out to feed. They kind of look like slugs, but they will destroy buildings, eat resources, and attack your Peeps. Basic Peeps can fight back with clubs which are effective early, but as the days go on, you need to have upgraded defenses to include things like bombs, giant crossbows, armor for your Peeps and harness the lightning of thunderstorms to keep the creatures at bay. Once morning comes the creatures slink off and it is time to rebuild and restock.
The contribution of well designed sound to the VR experience cannot be understated and I probably spend more time on sound in reviews than a lot of people. The soundtrack of this game is, frankly, spectacular. The ambient sound that plays as you are managing the world is a wonderful mix of instruments and styles that help you feel like you are in the world. For lack of a better word, the music just fits. One part of the sound design that is done exceptionally well is the use of sound cues. Since you are jumping around the island and always looking at different perspectives, sound cues are built into the game to help you recognize when and where significant events are occurring. This works so well in VR because a text box or menu popping up in the midst of play is far more distracting than it is when playing a typical game. It did not take long for me to immediately recognize the cues and begin planning my course of action as I moved to a cloud closer to the event.
One of the hardest areas to talk about in VR games is graphics, especially in PSVR. Does this game look as good as it could if it were designed for PS4? No, probably not. There is some screen door effect, but when the PSVR unit is dialed in, the art direction of the game shines through. The islands are initially demure, but as you breathe life back into them, colors begin to flourish and the world feels like it is coming back to life. The Peeps look great (I really want a stuffed one), are typically easy to identify (at a distance it can be challenging to figure out which specialty Peep is where), and are extremely emotive. Maybe most importantly, the game runs fantastically with extremely smooth framerates, no issues with motion, and great controls.
Tethered is a game in a genre I typically do not like, but the excellent aesthetic, charm, sound design, and experience won me over. However, I am still really bad at it (it is not uncommon for my rating in each area to be a “D” when I complete an island the first time). So, where does that leave me? In a position where I want to improve at Tethered, and win over the hearts and minds of all of the Peeps on all of the islands. Without a doubt, Tethered is one of the best games I have played this year, and for me, the best experience I have had in PSVR to date.
Tethered was reviewed using a PSVR code provided by the publisher. You can read additional information about PSVG’s review policy on our disclaimer page here.
If ever a review need a review done quick, it is this one. Look for it, as well as gameplay, to be posted soon!