Tethered PlayStation VR Review
Publisher: Secret Sorcery Developer: Secret Sorcery Genre: Strategy Players: 1
Age Rating: 7+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
A game which essentially sees you take on the role of God and overlooking a small world inhabited by mogwai-type creatures called Peeps, Tethered is a cute game in which your goal is to keep your little gremlin knockoffs alive and thriving. But that’s not all there is to this strategy game, one that is very in-depth. First and foremost, the graphics and 3D effects of the VR once again proceed to impress, the small, floating islands in front of you looking like a child’s living play-set that you could almost interact with physically, but can’t for obvious reasons.
Your ultimate goal of the game is to release a Spirit Guardian, and you do this by collecting, or sucking up, small blue orbs. There are 13 levels to be played through in total – excluding the tutorial – and at the start of each one you are given a target number of orbs to collect, and it is your job to collect them all in order to complete the level. The levels take place over a number of days, with there being a day and night cycle – not in real time though – and it is your job to keep your Peeps alive long enough to release the Guardian.
The slogan of the game is “Prepare by day, survive by night.” and this is the gameplay in a nutshell. By day you’ll be preparing your small world as a defence against the many sluggish creatures that come out at night. You’ll be building fields to grow crops, from corn to poppies and potatoes; barracks where you can create an armoury and blacksmiths to keep your weapons and tools in ship-shape; a moot hall that allows you to create a tavern where your hardworking Peeps can get some much needed R&R. As well as preparing buildings you can also promote your Peeps that will allow them to work more efficiently. You can promote them to Hero, in which they will be able to slay slugs much quicker. They can become farmers, bringing in more substantial crops and you can promote them to miners, prospectors and woodsmen, in turn bringing in more substantial resources. Resources are important to your Peeps as they are used to create the various buildings in the game, amongst having other uses.
Peeps also have their own vitals that you need to take care of, including their health and hunger. In the game these are called ‘prayers’, and you need to make sure that each prayer is answered as if you leave them for too long, a Peep can go into despair.
Ah, the despair – it certainly left me feeling in despair! Your Peeps fall into despair when they are very hungry, but also when they feel they have no goal in life; keeping them busy helps, but once in despair, a rainbow is the only way to cure them, and should you have no rainbow, then the Peeps despair can lead to quite a disturbing consequence. The game takes quite the dark turn when your Peeps start crying, take on a zombie-like stance, and walk slowly towards the edge of the floating island – only to jump off if you aren’t quick enough to cure them. Yes, Tethered features suicide, so I am surprised that the game wasn’t released with a higher rating than age 7+, and with the VR headset, it makes the moment all the more distressing as your little guy walks closer to the edge, looks at you and then drops off with a scream, his eyes still making contact as he falls to his death beneath the clouds. Needless to say it was a moment that took me by surprise, and it’s even more distressing when you have numerous Peeps simultaneously taking a high dive, with no bungie cord to bring them back up.
In the game it seems as though Peeps can be rather expendable; they start out as eggs that fall at random from the sky, and hatching them requires sunshine or another Peep nesting on top to give it warmth. As soon as they are hatched, you can set your Peep to work. The game is called ‘Tethered’ as that is how you control your Peeps; you give them orders by tethering them to places in the environment, and as long as there are no obstacles, they will happily stroll along collecting the resources you have ordered them to gather. Peeps are rather expendable though as if they fall into despair and fall off a cliff, or die at the hands of a slug, you know there will always be another one to take its place.
By night is where your main goal takes form; as soon as night time comes, you’ll be ambushed by slug-like creatures, each with varying degrees of difficulty. If you are able to defeat a slug, they’ll drop blue orbs which you can then collect to reach your target number to complete the level. These slugs are a right pest, as they will eat your resources and will even eat Peeps. Your only goal here is to survive the night, though with every night survived, the slugs come back bigger and stronger than the night before it. There’s not much in the way of variety with enemies; there is nothing but these slug creatures to battle against and they all look similar, though depending on their difficulty they will have slight alterations, such as spikes, a different colouring to those spikes, or are larger in size.
I have mentioned the use of sunshine and rainbows, and that is because weather also plays a part in gameplay. To say Tethered isn’t hands-on is an understatement, as there is always something happening, weather being another part of it. There are numerous types of weather that can be found, with the basics including rain, sunshine, snow and a zephyr. Each type of weather has numerous effects, with its main purpose being to regenerate resources. Other uses weather has includes using snow to freeze ponds that will then allow Peeps to cross to get to unreachable resources; rain will also give life to withered leaves that then act as a bridge, leading to more unreachable resources. The zephyr allows you to move a Peep to their location at a quicker rate. You can even combine weather to make rainbows and lightening, rainbows being the only way to cure a Peep in despair, and lightening used in conjunction with buildings to activate and use it in some way, or destroy them so you can use the space for something else. You can use clouds to cure Peeps of their faltering vitals and can even use them to help Peeps in battle, the snow having the best effect on a slug by freezing it and allowing a Peep to bash the living daylights out of it without being harmed in return.
As you can tell, Tethered is a very substantial game that does take a lot of getting used to. In the tutorial you make quicker progress than you do in the actual levels, and even though it is only going over the basics of what you have to do, once you get to the main gameplay, it can feel very flustering as you get to grips with the controls. There is so much to remember that some may find it overwhelming; when I played the first time I failed in the first level, and having to remember so much did put me off playing for quite some time, with my partner having to remind me that I do need to review the game and then, thankfully, helping me out of my slumber and playing along with me. I still found it to be a flustering experience, but one that I grew to embrace.
Tethered is also supposed to be a strategy game, though there was no rhyme or reason as to how I played; thankfully the levels play pretty much the same way, with only certain aspects changing from level to level, such as the amount of orbs you collect or the layout of the level. The gameplay gives you ample opportunity to hone your skills, even though I have nearly completed the game and still learning what to do, and trying to remember everything I can do at the same time. There isn’t much variation in the gameplay; even though the level layout changes, gameplay is still always the same, and with the completion of each level taking at least 40 minutes, it may become tedious and repetitive to some players. As mentioned there only seems to be one type of enemy, and Peeps also look similar until you upgrade them.
The Peeps themselves are cute and full of wide-eyed ignorance, so it is a shame then that the game, whilst trying to make you feel despair when they die left, right and centre, that you end up feeling rather detached from them. Besides upgrades making them look slightly different, all Peeps are pretty much the same, with little to no distinction between their characters, even after upgrading. They all have their own name, but even so, they feel very disposable as they can easily be replaced, and instead of despair upon their death, because you know that there will always be another one to take its place, you soon become indifferent and that is not how you should be feeling about their deaths. Having a set number of Peeps for you to keep alive would have solved this, as that would mean you’d have the same Peeps throughout, trying harder to keep these Peeps alive and growing a bond with them, making a death all the more impactful.
For the most part though Tethered is still a must-try game that offers more in the way of originality for the PSVR. Later levels offer more in the way of a challenge and the game does ooze with charm and personality. There’s a lot to be discovered, and perhaps the slightly rushed pace of the levels (you find you’ll try to complete them as quickly as possible to prevent the creatures from becoming too powerful to defeat) has led some people to call Tethered shallow as they have failed to see everything the game has to offer, though if you are a strategic person and are excellent at managing your resources and Peeps, upgrading them when needs be and building the appropriate buildings then you might be one of the lucky ones to see and discover everything there is. A game where patience is definitely a virtue.