The brainchild of one-man studio Impact Gameworks, Tangledeep is at first sight a wonderful throwback to the 16-bit SNES RPGs of the 90s, particularly reminiscent of Secret of Mana. Set in a verdant and magical underground world full of weird creatures and talking animals, you must roam through Tangledeep: a route to the surface through procedural maze levels.
As a roguelike dungeon crawler it is quite challenging, especially on heroic and hardcore modes, where permadeath resets the character, or all progress (hardcore). There is also the adventure mode for more roguelite casual play, though some roguelike enthusiasts might say the inclusion of this mode makes the game more of a roguelite.
Influenced by roguelikes such as Tales of Maj’Eyal and Dungeonmans, Tangledeep may not be as full-on hardcore as those games, but then it doesn’t have to be, aimed as it is at a broader audience with the nostalgic SNES aesthetic. It’s an accessible roguelike rather than a roguelite, delivering a full experience beyond the challenge for challenge’s sake.
Offering nine initial classes or “jobs” to choose from, with three more to be unlocked as you progress through the game, there is quite a bit of variety. These nine initial jobs are called Brigand, Floramancer, Sword Dancer, Paladin, Budoka, Hunter, Spellshaper, Edge Thane, and Soulkeeper. It’s only possible to play as a female character, which fits the game world.
Some of these jobs have fancy names, but they’re basically just the usual RPG classes dressed up in a way that suits the setting. For instance: Brigand is basically a Barbarian; Floramancer is a Druid; Spellshaper is a Mage; and so on. These names do add some flavour to the characters, but let’s call a spade a spade.
It is possible to change jobs whenever you want and mix their abilities to create the custom hybrid build you envision, but there will be some trial and error involved. As of the latest patch, the jobs and abilities are a bit more balanced now, as melee-based jobs were more challenging than ranged-based jobs at first.
The simultaneous turn-based combat plays more tactically than the real-time hack-and-slash of Secret of Mana, and after the first boss it becomes gradually more difficult and requires more planning before facing certain herds of creatures. It also requires a fair amount of grinding before reaching advanced levels, otherwise your character will keep dying.
The difficulty has nothing to do with hand-eye coordination, but rather with the careful and attentive micromanagement of the health, stamina and energy bars that are drained by the enemy attacks and the use of skills. The first impulse is to try to play the game as if it were an ARPG, but the turn-based combat requires more tactical thinking as you progress.
There isn’t much of a storyline beyond finding a way to the surface and the “rumors,” which are told by an NPC in Riverstone Camp, where the game starts. These rumors consist of finding creatures or bosses to kill for rewards, and have little to no story elements. So if you are looking for a story like Secret of Mana or Chrono Trigger, you will be disappointed.
But the worldbuilding and atmosphere of Tangledeep make it distinctive enough that in the absence of a fully developed storyline the game is still highly engaging. The atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the wistful and smooth soundtrack composed by the developer, Andrew Aversa, who is a professional composer as well as a game designer and programmer.
The UI is far from optimal, especially with vendors, requiring you to switch between sell and buy dialog windows, instead of merging the two. Stacking a number of items to sell can also be very clunky. It’s hard to tell if these are issues of engine limitations or just poor design, but the developer could take some time to optimise the UI now that the game is released.
The game has very flexible input support, but it seems geared for controllers. Having played with keyboard and mouse, the UI bothered me quite a bit at first, but I got used to it. It is also possible to play with mouse only, but I didn’t bother to try it as it was hard enough to learn how to stop dying with the controls I was used to.
Depending on how you approach the game and how much grinding you are willing to do to stay alive, Tangledeep will offer dozens of hours with a single playthrough, even if you never die, which is very unlikely. And assuming you manage to finish the game without dying, there are the other jobs to try, including those you can unlock along the way.
Tangledeep is thoroughly impressive as the product of a lone designer and programmer with a little help from his artist friends for the 2D sprites. It is fun, challenging, gorgeous to look at and engrossing to explore. Even if you are not particularly into roguelikes, you might find yourself charmed by its constant cycle of exploration, looting and character customisation.
Disclaimer: The writer was provided with a code for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions expressed in the review are the writer’s own and are not influenced by the developer and/or publisher in any way.
- Gorgeous 16-bit graphics
- Wistful and smooth soundtrack
- Tactical and challenging turn-based combat
- Multiple classes with loads of replay value
- Clunky and unoptimised UI
- Difficulty can be frustrating at first
- Not as story-driven as it looks