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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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Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average



Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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