Developer Impact Gameworks’ debut title Tangledeep is a graphical homage to the 16-bit SNES era of video games touting true roguelike gameplay. A true roguelike should have procedurally generated levels, turn-based gameplay, and permanent player character death. Many games have roguelike elements or “rogue-lite” gameplay—never fully embracing the true spirit of roguelike. Tangledeep not only embraces it roguelike, it revels in it.
While Tangledeep is technically turn-based, it uses a system that isn’t exactly conventional. Each time your character moves or performs an action, the surrounding enemies can then perform their action—except there is no end turn button, with actions taking place one after the other. To put it simply: you move, they move. While not a new concept, it works great for Tangledeep as this allows the action to flow in a way that isn’t possible with traditional turn-based gameplay. It also allows the action to move as quickly or as slowly as you’d like, thus maintaining a sense of strategy for big fights while not slowing you down tediously for shorter encounters.
There are three ways to play Tangledeep: Heroic Mode, Adventure Mode and Hardcore Mode. In heroic mode if your character dies, she stays dead. Any advancements you’ve made to the starting town will stay, but you’ll have to start with a new character (mostly) from scratch. This may seem daunting to some, but with this challenge comes great satisfaction. If you’d rather play with less stress, Adventure Mode treats death less harshly, respawning your character in-town sans some gold and experience (called “jp”). For those who want an extra challenge, Hardcore Mode deletes all of your progress on character death, making you start with an entirely new save.
There are 12 different classes to choose from in Tangledeep, with 9 of them available initially. These classes, called “jobs”, follow most normal role-playing archetypes with fun variations thrown in. Each of these jobs have a hand in determine the challenge you’ll face while navigating through the wilds of Tangledeep, with some classes making things a bit easier than others. You can even change jobs for a fee (or with certain items) while keeping your previous jobs’ skills. This allows an insane amount of customization and depth. Want to merge a Floramancer and a Paladin? You can do that, and more.
Enemies in Tangledeep range from the annoying to the downright menacing. Navigating and surviving enemy attacks and their projectiles sometimes feels like it requires both strategy and twitch-like precision—and it is very fun. The procedural generation is done well, making Tangledeep fun to explore repeatedly. There are also lots of secrets to find, items of differing magical (or not-so-magical) properties to loot and loads more that will make you want to come back to it. There are environmental hazards such as lava that burns and mud that sticks you in place, and navigating moving hazards in the world made me feel like my character was in some horrible clockwork deathtrap. When these obstacles become too much and you need respite, to sell items, etc. you can always travel back to the starting town via town portal.
There is a light-heartedness that is pervasive throughout the town, with NPCs that are happy to take your money. Of course, none of them really seem keen on stopping you from your inevitable death—instead pleasantly offering wares, side quests, advice, and other services. You can plant trees from seeds you find on your adventures to later harvest food from, and even corral enemies you’ve captured (after bonking them on the head with a mallet, of course.) You can even get these monsters to accompany you on your adventures if you get them to like you enough, and they can be some pretty handy allies. Item descriptions carry this light-heartedness into the dungeons, with fun references to other franchises and other jokes that were so randomly humorous as to catch me off guard.
You can get healed in town, but if you need healing while in a dungeon, you’ll need to rely on your refillable health flask or cook some food to help you out. Cooking in Tangledeep uses a system of combining foodstuffs reminiscent of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with a recipe journal and a way to instantly remake your favorite recipes. Instantly combining the ingredients is great, and a huge quality of life improvement over Breath of the Wild’s system while retaining a bit of experimentation.
Visually, Tangledeep harkens to the days of Squares’ supremacy in console role-playing games. With an aesthetic that would fit alongside classics like Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana, the graphics in Tangledeep are striking, from the characters to the “tiles” that make up the game levels. More ambient animations would have been a nice addition to make the environments feel more lively and to emphasize the already beautiful levels. Tangledeep’s soundtrack is great and would sound right at home in one of the aforementioned classics. Even the UI seems like an homage to these retro games. The character menus look like they could fit right into a game like 1994’s Final Fantasy 3, but without any of the sluggish clunkiness of those older games. Mostly everything in Tangledeep is smooth and polished.
I do have some general complaints about Tangledeep. The biggest is that often I would find myself using the incorrect weapon. It is easy to accidentally switch off of your preferred weapon and there are not enough visual clues to show which weapon you are attacking with. When you attack, it will briefly flash an icon of the weapon you are using above your head. This is the only visual indication save for a faint outline around your equipped weapon on the lower right part of the screen. Even while trying to keep track of this, I would still find myself somehow attacking with the wrong melee weapon. Also, a lot of the information in Tangledeep is presented in a way that is over-dense. Even with experience with this sort of game and playing the tutorial floors, I felt like the information was too dense instead of easing you into the gameplay, and I was overwhelmed for my first few hours.
Tangledeep can be challenging, but that comes with being a roguelike. The you move/they move gameplay creates great action that is enhanced by everything from its lovingly crafted characters to its old-school style soundtrack. Tangledeep is a great debut that not only embraces the roguelike formula, but comes sublimely close to mastering it.
Tangledeep is available now on Steam and GOG.