VR games have a unique capacity to connect with you. Stuck in the firm grip of a VR headset, with your eyes glued to twin screens, you might be subject to enthralling, multi-sensory experiences. You could be transformed into a deadly hunter. A God-like being. In Tentacular, you become a giant, adopted octopus looking to contribute to a cartoonish seaside town at the mercy of growing capitalist intent.
The Kaiju-like beast at the heart of Tentacular provides a sense of warmth to this VR puzzle adventure, with its sense of innocence and willingness to take part in the game’s playful, deceptively cute society fostering an immediate connection between you and the game’s world. Embodying the beast is transformative; your arms become giant sticky tentacles, and your view towers over the game’s toy-like town, giving you a sense of restrained power and a child-like approach.
Tentacular‘s hero could crush its surroundings. Instead, it chooses to wave at people, pat them on the head, and help them with a range of activities. While you can cause chaos if you wish, this largely goes against the kind-hearted nature of the beast, which is explored in scattered cutscenes that deepen the lore and world of Tentacular.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, this sweet nature leads to the darker parts of the game’s narrative, as the Tentacular story weaves its way through stacking puzzles and rocket blasts, all the way to a society on the brink of collapse.
Before it gets there, at least, there are plenty of challenges to enjoy in the game’s multi-layered construction and throwing puzzles, which make the most of the PSVR2’s motion sensing and tracking capabilities.
Puzzles in Tentacular largely focus on two distinct actions: stacking, or throwing. Both are controlled via the PSVR2 Sense controllers, which transform a player’s arms into strong, sticky tentacles. These can grab at multiple angles, leverage strength in the lower arms to heft big objects, and in the upper tentacles to nab smaller items – people, boxes, magnets, and other unique construction tools. The translation of real-world movement to in-game action is very sleek, and the accuracy makes for a series of involving, head-scratching, and deeply rewardly challenges.
The framing narrative is delightfully simple: as a contributing member of society you, a giant beast, must use your strength to remove rubbish from the town of La Kalma, and later aid a slightly-deranged scientist, and other loveable weirdos, in building an array of machines and defensive structures for the town.
With only a handful of clues to go on, you’re essentially left in your own creative sandbox, filled with adorably small human implements. To create a shelter against bombs, you may stack shipping crates around a base of sticky magnets. To form a bandage shredder, you’ll explore islands, flicking buttons and twirling ports until you find your solution. A reactor requires you to slowly manoeuvre your ungainly limbs to open a catch, then a lid, then place a heavy core, then shut the lid, and flick a switch – all in measured, precise movements, and with a clock counting each essential minute.
If you’re like me, you may spend a good hour just trying to build a simple pole for a machine:
Regardless of talent, with your two sticky tentacle arms, the world is your oyster.
You can use this power to build a giant Christmas tree out of magnets. Throw a boat high into air. Pick up an alien spaceship, and guide it slowly into the waiting jaws of an analysis machine. If you’re feeling really vindictive, you can throw your favourite citizens into the ocean, or into the far horizon. Or you could pet your nearest puppy, and show it how much you care.
Neither of those last two actions will do much – but they sure are fun.
In the later stages of the game, you’ll expand your tentacle-y repertoire with new tasks, such as building and launching rockets by grabbing and flinging items high into the sky, using all your real-life might to impress with accuracy and power.
The game is best played while standing for this reason, as you’ll need to leverage every limb and body part to ensure a smooth success – and while this does mean frequent exhaustion, it also makes the action feel far more tactile, and wonderfully ridiculous. Throw yourself in, best tentacle forward, and you’ll find the loop of puzzling and eventually stumbling onto a silly, over-the-top solution, deeply satisfying.
It helps that Tentacular rarely takes itself seriously, instead preferencing wild physics, tongue-in-cheek drama, and a surreal world to tell its warm, occasionally horrifying tale.
Slingshots and simplicity
Tentacular thrives on its simple, impactful narrative, and in the balancing of this story with complex, often hilarious puzzles that require precise input and experimentation. Borrowing its wacky physics from predecessors like Octodad, Tentacular features an array of delights, in its world-building, the lovely characterisation of its towering protagonist, and in transforming players to suit the world of La Kalma.
While the precision needed to complete puzzles can be an occasional frustration, particularly when certain building placements require a pretzel-like twisting and bending of arms to solve, the coordination between the PSVR2 Sense controllers and player input reduces this friction. Some situations still require a fair bit of elbow grease, lateral thinking, and ingenuity to solve, but throwing everything at a brick wall (sometimes literally) will usually get the job done, and in flashy fashion.
In that regard, Tentacular does a brilliant job of encouraging punishment-free experimentation. There is a countdown clock in the game, but it only counts up – and players are free to spend their time analysing and building. If something doesn’t work, it’s easy to just flick a switch and start again. There’s even a tiny little man in a ‘hint house’ that will push you along the way when the going gets tough.
Whether it’s using a power pole as a slingshot, launching unwilling citizens into space, or just messing around with rocket physics, Tentacular stretches your mind as much as it stretches the capabilities of VR. It is not necessarily the most novel experience in the now-mature genre of VR games, but it does an effective job of weaving together a cohesive, coherent, and transformative experience for players, pairing a solid yet minimalist narrative together with satisfying and balanced logic puzzles.
Four stars: ★★★★
Platform(s): PSVR2, PC VR
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: 22 February 2023
The PlayStation 5 version of Tentacular was provided and played for the purposes of this review.