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Tangledeep Review — Colourful Retro Roguelike




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.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure



RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 5

A Conflicted Beginning

The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.

Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.

As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.

Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 1

With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).

Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.

Gunplay To Die For

Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.

Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.

The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.

Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 2

Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.

The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.

The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.

However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.

A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast

The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.

Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.

With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 6

To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).

Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.

A Slipshod Structure

Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.

Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.

Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 8

On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.

Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

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