Aside from “Open World Survival Horror”, few genres have been done to death more than the rogue-like, with randomly created worlds replacing crafted levels and promising greater length to a game with player death a constant threat. There’s a literal flood of titles that have “rogue-like” as their adjective du jour, so to stand out among them takes a lot. That’s the challenge facing Tangledeep from Impact Gameworks following a successful Kickstarter campaign last year. Does this title rise above, or does it delve too deep into its own web?
Like any good classic title, Tangledeep doesn’t spend too much on its story. You play a young woman tasked with clearing out the horrors of the forest for your animal friends. You begin each attempt in your camp where you can buy and sell gear, talk to your friends, and leave things behind for your next attempt after your inevitable end. There are bits and pieces of lore scattered through the world, and there are conversations with the various bosses you encounter, but there’s nothing that really resembles a plot and the game seems to like it that way.
As is standard in the genre, Tangledeep is meant to be played with the perma-death mechanic turned on, although you can choose to forgo that if you’d like to more easily experience the games later content. As you progress you’ll need to gather money and gear that can be stored for future attempts, with certain classes gaining larger bonuses from different weapon types. That means that while your knight might not be able to make use of the legendary bow you just found, you’ll die and your next character could be an archer that can use the bow to progress deeper. This creates an almost additive loop of finding gear, dying, and passing that gear on to the next character to find more gear and get further and further.
As mentioned, certain classes gain bonuses from different weapon types and the classes run a massive spread, each with strengths and weaknesses. There are classes based more on magic, ranged, or melee classes, as well as combination classes that let you mix up your tactics. That’s all well and good but the game really starts to open when you mix and match classes, unlocking a few skills and bonuses from one then supplementing that with another. This allows you to make custom classes, either fusing two different style types like an archer that can cast fireballs, or buffing like-minded classes such as a sword-dancer mixed with a knight for extra damage. Experimentation is encouraged and rewarded and finding a class-mix that works can create incredibly powerful characters.
Gameplay is almost carbon-copy of any old-school rogue game. Were it not for the graphics, Tangledeep could easily pass as a mod for something like ADOM, Nethack, or Tales of Maj’Eyal. You move the character around the grid-based world, with each move counting as a turn. Similarly, enemies move around when you do, giving the combat a tactical feel as you maneuver for the best position. Most enemy attacks will happen instantly, but more powerful ones will often need a turn to prepare, and if you’re paying attention you can move out of the way for an attack of opportunity. On the flip-side, entering your inventory to quaff a potion or swap a piece of equipment will also cause a turn to pass letting enemies get the drop on you. Successful combat requires measuring your moves before you take them, and being ready to adapt to any changes, and finishing a big fight through proper planning is really rewarding.
Outside of combat, there’s also your character progression. Every victory awards you job points which are spent on skills, and experience which will let you level up and make yourself stronger. You can also find food which will offer you bonuses, or save it to cook together to make legendary dishes that can make you even stronger. Seeds for various tree types can be planted, granting you a head start with various food items that restock every time you die. Most interesting is the monster-capture mechanic, where greatly weakened monsters can be brought back to town and turned into traveling companions. Capture a particularly strong beast and you can turn it back on its former allies to wipe the floor with them. All of these progress from character to character, all of which feeds back into the gameplay loop perfectly.
Graphically the game has gone with a very old-school 16-bit look and manages to nail it nearly perfectly. The visual style of the game makes it look exactly like a long-lost SNES title, with a lot of inspiration from Secret of Mana or Teranigma. The lead designer cut his teeth on the similar title Dungeonmanns so the high quality is no real surprise. If there is a drawback, it’s the lack of animations, with every sprite only having a small handful at most. Every class has its own unique animations, which gives them a lot of character, but every enemy only seems to have one or two that you’ll see repeated and re-used over and over.
The audio is definitely the hidden treat in Tangledeep. Sound effects capture that 16-bit feel nice, with a lot of crunch and explosions, but its the soundtrack that draws you in immediately. The lead designer is Andrew Aversa, who also goes by Zircon on Youtube, and he’s made a great name for himself doing game music remixes, never mind his work on titles like Soul Caliber, Monkey Island, or Super Street Fighter 2: HD Remix. Even better there are guest tracks by Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana) and Grant Kirkhope (Goldeneye, Banjo-Kazooie, just a tonne of games really). The music perfectly captures not only the mood of the game, but also that great feeling of an old RPG, and really elevates the title to the next level.
Overall there’s really not that much to complain about with Tangledeep. From gameplay, graphics, and soundtrack this is a completely solid title that offers hours and hours of additive, easy to play enjoyment. If you’re in the mood for a competent, well made, and totally engrossing rogue-like, than this is definitely one to pick up.