On the surface, Tangledeep might seem like yet another very generic addition to Nintendo Switch’s vast eShop offerings. 16-bit graphics? Check. Turn-based combat? Check. A vast RPG-driven world to explore? Check. Myriad subsystems and mini-games scattered throughout? Check, check and check. But Impact Gameworks' pixel art adventure is more than just the sum of its parts; it's a throwback to what made RPGs addictively tough 25 years ago while introducing just the right amount of modern enhancements. The result is a roguelike odyssey that makes for an ideal fit on Switch.
Tangledeep’s name is a fitting one, because there’s a lot to take in and it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed the sheer amount of choice and depth at your fingertips. There are 12 classes to choose from, each with very specific skills and weapons, with a handful locked away until you’ve progressed further. Tying a specific difficulty to these classes is the first masterstroke, where the sword and shield of a Vanguard will offer new players a more balanced approach, while the speed of the Bladedancer will demand far more dexterity in combat.
Battles are turn-based, but presented in more of a real-time format. It sounds confusing, but you can move about and attack freely, but with every action counted as a frame. The monsters you encounter in the titular world above also manoeuvre in a turn-based fashion, but do so in tandem with you. It makes every battle, even with the smallest of creatures, a dance of sorts where flanking an enemy is just as important and leaping in for a killing strike. Even using consumables will take effect across turns (with some even forcing you to only consume one piece of food at a time).
This being a roguelike, your progress in the world comes with an expected element of danger. Permadeath looms in myriad forms depending on your chosen difficulty, and as you explore more of Tangledeep’s procedurally-generated dungeons, the treasure only gets more tantalising and the enemies more challenging. But there’s just so much more to this game than exploration and combat. Your town has an almost Stardew Valley quality to it, providing a source of quests and challenges as well as a means of selling and buying new items and gear. You can even plant seeds you find out on your travels, which, over time, grow into trees than provide fruit-like items to add to your inventory.
As such, Tangledeep’s opening hours are a strange mixture of challenge and tutorial. Its help system is thankfully quite dense, but can be a little too text-heavy, asking you to assimilate a lot of information early on. Still, once you do dig into Tangledeep itself and start exploring, you really get a sense of how far the rabbit hole goes. You get to choose from one of three difficulty settings, which define the nature of the world you’re about to contend with.
Adventure mode is the most forgiving, designed to temper the sting of permadeath. If you die, you’ll return to a hub-like town and you’ll lose half of your money, half your JP (Job Points, for increasing your skills in certain areas) and half your XP progress. It’s a harsh punishment, but it’s one fitting for a roguelike that doubles down on the risk of its reward-filled world. Those with a little more flair for danger might prefer Heroic mode, where permadeath kills your character build outright but saves any banked goods and additions to the town. Of course, there’s always Hardcore mode, which permanently erases your entire save if you die. Gulp.
There’s so much detail to take in, especially when exploring the peaceful overworld, with Impact Gameworks having found an aesthetic style that invokes the days of Secret of Mana and other SNES-era JRPGs while adding just enough detail to feel like a product made with modern sensibilities. Even running in handheld mode, every monster and every corner of every dungeon looks fantastic. The fact you can capture and tame any hostile creature and turn it into a pet introduces an unexpected Pokémon-style twist to proceedings.
The problem is, fittingly for a game with such title, Tangledeep can often get too tangled with intermingled systems and deep mechanics. Even following the contents of your combat feed – which tracks each action during a turn, located on the bottom-left of the screen – can be a challenge when you’re trying to get a handle on the numerous and seemingly random difficulty spikes. As such, it’s difficult to recommend this to someone with no prior experience of roguelike RPGs, because even with its heavy-handed tutorials there’s just a little bit too much going on. Hardcore fans, on the other hand, will lap it up.
While its difficulty spikes can be a little tough at times (and the sheer amount of information presented quite overwhelming, especially to genre newcomers), it’s impossible to not appreciate just how much has been crammed into Tangledeep’s roguelike crevices. From taming monsters and turning them into pets to the ever-changing layout of its dungeons, this is a roguelike RPG for players who yearn for a return to SNES games of old. It’s smart, deep and rewarding, but be warned: this is an adventure designed almost exclusively for seasoned players.