Tangledeep is one interesting roguelite, to say the least. On one hand, its brutal “explore, loot, (attempt to) return” loop can be addicting. On the other, some of its most enjoyable mechanics are hidden behind convoluted explanations and systems, making it not as accessible for the broader audience. Tangledeep certainly won’t be for everyone, but for the more dedicated roguelite fans, it’ll scratch a familiar itch that will keep you coming back for more.
Initially, Tangledeep was a Steam early-access title (like most roguelites today), and like most early access titles, this Switch version benefits from the months of refinement the game has received since it went live back in 2017. For starters, the Switch version hits you with a ton of text-heavy dialogue and tutorials that will surely feel overwhelming. The first few hours of Tangledeep are certainly the hardest to get through, just because of the sheer amount of information you’re given right off the bat. It can be a rocky start for sure.
You’re given a brief explanation of the world you’re about to dive into, followed by a character/class selection screen. On this screen, you’re given 12 unique heroes that you can choose to start your journey with, 3 of these being teased with outlines of what they might be, but you won’t be able to access them just yet.
Every class is totally different from the others, and what’s nice is the addition of how difficult each character will be to play. These range from a forest-like mage who is pretty easy to control. She comes with a variety of ranged and close quarters abilities that make her rather versatile and nice for newcomers. Then you have other characters that should be reserved for the more seasoned players of the genre. These ones generally hit harder but require a certain finesse if you plan on using them long term. Again, each character has a simple brand of “easy, average, difficult” though, so it isn’t hard to find one you want to try.
After this screen, you’re given a choice of a plethora of passive skills but must narrow your decisions down to two of them. Honestly, I probably stared at this screen the longest my first time through, primarily because none of them seemed any less vital than the others. These options span from gaining more HP every time you level up, to earning more job points, to better loot drops. Honestly, all of them are great and really make you think about what kind of build you want to run with. Then, things get interesting.
Once you choose your basic loadout, you’re brought to a difficulty screen, which is something most roguelites don’t often include. Part of the premise of this genre is their difficulty. Now, I’m not saying it’s game-breaking, and the general roguelite loop is still very present, but the options definitely change your experience in a very unique way. The “average” way to play is their “Heroic” mode. Basically, upon death, you retain whatever you have done within the town, but you must choose a new character, i.e. Permadeath.
Adventure mode, lets you keep the character and loadout you chose at the start, but at a steep, very “roguelite” cost. Upon dying you’re teleported back to town with your character intact, BUT you lose half of your experience points, job points, and half your money earned during your run. Very roguelite indeed. Lastly, Hardcore mode resets EVERYTHING. Any progression made in the town, any items stored in the town, and any progress made with your character is erased completely.
After all of those decisions are made you’re dropped into the main HUB of the game. This beautifully intricate area has a ton of information that it throws at you all at once and this is when things begin to feel overwhelming and hard to monitor. There are hints of Stardew Valley here, as well as a Pokemon-like mechanic that has you “collect” monsters from within the Tangledeep. You can cook food to give perks to your character, you can sell or buy new gear and items, there is an NPC dedicated to giving you side-quest type errands. Basically, your usually roguelite/JRPG elements that will scratch any fan’s itch.
Finally, it’s time to enter the cavernous, procedurally generated dungeons of Tangledeep. Within these sprawling areas are hidden rooms, a multitude of progressively harder monsters, and loot to collect. SO. MUCH. LOOT. Those that just hold down the A button will be able to continuously move your character around the grid-like map and explore to your heart’s content. This method is fine, but it will eventually get you backed into a corner surrounded by monsters.
Instead, I’d advise taking a moment and learning the right way to progress through these maps. Each monster moves with your character. If you’re standing still, the monsters are too. If you rush towards them, they rush you back and then it’s just a matter of mashing the attack button until one of you dies. However, if you treat it like the turn-based JRPG’s of old, you’ll see there is a much bigger scheme at work here.
Like flicking on a switch you’re given endless amounts of time to plan your route and position yourself accordingly before running into a fight. It’s here that Tangledeep begins to shine. Pushing a direction with the joystick points your character that way, but it isn’t until you press A that they will actually move. You can hold A to keep them moving, but again, once monsters pop onto the screen, it’s time to let go and take a second to plan your attacks.
As you progress you earn experience and job points that start to unlock the depth of character customization. This wide array of abilities, again, varies based on which character you chose, but there really isn’t a bad one to get. The control scheme for all of these though, can get pretty muddy, and it’s easy to forget to use most of them in the heat of battle. It’s nice that you can customize their placement, but the way to access them is awkward. I don’t understand why they let you cycle through weapons with a press of the L1-R1 buttons, but the same didn’t happen with the abilities you can purchase.
The environments vary in design, but some blur together, while others truly shine. There is a very strong classic SNES vibe with the 16-bit art style, and the HUB area really stands out visually. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the forest areas, among others. Certain levels become confusing because everything looks too similar, and this can lead to some frustrating backtracking if you aren’t keeping tabs on which direction you came from. The soundtrack is a nice throwback to the SNES era as well. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along to Tangledeep’s tunes even after your Switch is put away.
Overall, Tangledeep can be a rewarding experience, even if it doesn’t come off as overly accessible to the broader audience. The ability to change difficulty will certainly draw in the more skeptical buyers though. I wish Impact Gameworks had found a different way to explain a lot of the game’s mechanics. Getting through the hefty amounts of text early on can be a major buzzkill, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who’s eyes glazed over as I attempted to read my 20th text box.
Some of Tangledeep‘s mechanics could have been smoothed over more as well. I wouldn’t call this the best Switch port on the Eshop right now, navigating its multitudes of menus can be a drag, especially when you’re in the middle of a dungeon. That being said, if you can manage to make it past the first few hours, there is certainly a good amount of fun to be had with this title. Sadly, the tangled mess of text boxes, menu screens, and muddied mechanics make this a title not suited for your casual gamer.