Retro video games are a big deal at the moment, whether that involves remaking or remastering old games or delving into the 8-bit or 16-bit aesthetic for a brand-new title. The latter is what Impact Gameworks has gone for with Tangledeep, a game that melds Super Nintendo graphical styles with roguelike dungeon crawler gameplay.
Tangledeep originated as a successful Kickstarter campaign that went on to spend some time being polished in Steam Early Access before being ported over to the Nintendo Switch. The premise involves a female hero who lives in an underground settlement. Those who are chosen feel a drive to explore the titular Tangledeep—a dangerous labyrinth filled with monsters that is the only route to the long-forgotten surface world.
Twelve classes are available in the game, though only nine are unlocked at the start. These classes range from standards such as Paladin or the druid-like Floramancer to more unusual examples such as the Edge Thane and Soulkeeper. Later on, players are able to cross-class to mix and match assorted skills and weapons, but initially can choose a couple of skills and feats to get started. Other passive bonuses are unlocked as they level, along with new skills which can be bought with JP or ‘Job Points’
A lot of information is presented to the player early in the game, to the point that taking it all in at once proves to be difficult. The somewhat clunky and unintuitive user interface and menu system does not help, often leading to difficulty finding a specific screen, option, or item. For example, while restorative food items can be accessed from the menu screen, healing potions only seem to be accessible from the Radial menu.
Another frustration is the movement and control style. Tangledeep uses a strange hybrid ‘turn-based real-time’ scheme. Characters move through a grid-like system similar to old-school 16-bit games or a Dungeons and Dragons map, but on the Switch version moving involves not only moving the analogue stick in the correct direction, but also pressing the Y button at the same time. The result is quite clunky, as players will often find themselves on the wrong tile, which in later maps can be fatal.
The turn-based aspect is not the typical wait-timer one would see in old Final Fantasy games; instead, enemies and traps only move when the player does. A number of skills have turn cooldowns, and most of the healing items are heal-over-time items that take several turns to take full effect. This method is where most of the strategy lies, as the player needs to judge when to apply movement, attacking, and healing to beat the monsters and stay alive.
Staying alive is pretty important, as the punishment for dying can range from losing money and job points in Adventure Mode to losing everything but the items in the player’s stash in Heroic Mode, and Hardcore Mode means that death will erase an entire save file. The latter is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Progression through the layers of Tangledeep’s procedurally-generated dungeons will, as expected, become progressively harder. Luckily, not only does the game have the typical loot drops and NPC shops in town, the Townsfolk in the little village that acts as the hub also offer other services to aid in the protagonist’s quest. These include a farmer who will plant seeds that mature into useful items and a cooking system that can provide more powerful healing and enhancement items. Most interestingly, the game features the ‘Dreamcaster’ system, which lets players choose an item such as a weapon or armour piece to be enhanced by fighting through a short map and beating the final boss. This system becomes very important as players progress through Tangledeep and closer to the surface
For fans of raising virtual pets, the game has the Monster Corral feature, which lets players catch and tame monsters that can then be raised into loyal pets by feeding and grooming them. These pets can later be brought out into the Tangledeep to fight alongside the protagonist when extra muscle is required.
The main quest is pretty simple: get to the surface. Alongside the main quest are several other mini-quests and side-quests which can be accessed through the ‘rumours’ system; these missions usually involve beating a monster or clearing a map with a specific condition. In return, powerful rewards are available, which can make a big difference—particularly early in the game.
Graphically, Tangledeep has much to admire. The game uses the 16-bit aesthetic to great effect, with beautiful colours and interesting sprites to look at. The early maps can get a bit samey, but they liven up fairly quickly, sporting some rich environments and characters.
The music is incredible, offering an amazing retro-inspired soundtrack to the adventures through Tangledeep. Composer Andrew Aversa, a.k.a. Zircon, has admitted to finding inspiration for the soundtrack in classic games such as Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger, and influence that definitely shows, though in a good way.
For fans of old-school roguelikes, a lot is to be enjoyed in Tangledeep. For those who enjoy tinkering with skills, weapons, passives, and feats, the expansive menus and options also offer a great deal of depth to be explored. However, this depth comes with the price of making the experience somewhat unintuitive, which is exacerbated by the clunky movement system.
Players will find a lot to enjoy in Tangledeep if they have the patience to explore its complex systems to discover what lies beneath the surface.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.