One genre that has seen a big resurgence in recent years - particularly in indie games - is the roguelike, and some have been popping up on the Switch eShop as a result. Crafting lengthy, well-designed games takes countless man-hours of good work, something that smaller developers will struggle with given limited resources and experience. The roguelike, then, allows for a relatively small amount of game content to be stretched out much farther than ever before, even making gameplay limitless according to some. Tallowmere is just about the purest roguelike that you can play on the eShop right now, and if you can get past the sub-par presentation there’s a pretty good game here.
Gameplay in Tallowmere follows the format of a 2D action platformer, although there’s far more emphasis on action than platforming; you can tap the jump button for an infinite number of jumps which functionally enable you to fly. You’re tasked with getting as deep into the randomly generated dungeon as possible, picking up loot and slaying enemies you come across along the way, as you gradually get stronger through level ups and loot drops. When you die, all progress is wiped and you start a new run over with the same stats and starting weapon, while your score from the run is added to a high score board.
Combat is simple to pick up and utilize, but it’s extremely difficult in practice, a bit like a 2D Dark Souls. You start every run with a short ranged axe, but can expand your inventory to a whole slew of swords, knives, bazookas, magic wands and more. Each weapon has a distinct feel, but they all roughly use the same playstyle. You also have a shield that can block most frontal attacks as long as you hold ZR, though you move slower and can’t jump as high when the shield is up.
What this all adds up to is an extremely basic combat system that prioritizes raw skill over flair or complexity. Rather like in Dark Souls, everything here is based around timing and strategy. If you just charge in and spam your attack, you’re going to die pretty early. You need to get a good feel for when to press forward or when to retreat, and how and where to block, which takes several runs to really click. It can be frustrating at first, but once the combat comes together it can be great fun clearing out rooms and becoming increasingly more overpowered as you face an equally increasing number of dangerous foes.
Combat is just part of the game, and a deeper form of strategy is there with earned loot drops. Most rooms will have a merchant or some treasure chests, both of which will have new gear for you to equip. There’s a seven star rating system that ranks gear, with more stars equaling more powerful loot. The strategy comes in with the kind of passives and bonuses that different items bestow. Considering the variety and intensity of the monsters you’ll be facing, it’s a good idea to establish a diverse array of both armor and weapons so you can be adequately prepared to meet any challenge. The loot drops are random and usually feel genuinely empowering, which gives each run a great sense of progression as it moves forward.
Between fireballs, acid clouds, lightning bolts, buzzsaws and spikes, it’s pretty easy to go from full power to bleeding and stunned in a matter of seconds. For those of you that find the difficulty to be too harsh, you can choose to sacrifice up to nine kittens in the hub world on each run, with each kitten adding ten points to your overall health. The catch is that your score upon death will then be put on a separate board, depending on how many kittens you decided to butcher. And for those of you that wish to add more difficulty to the game, you can talk to the Grim Reaper and have a series of Punishments added to your run that do things like make enemies hit harder or prevent you from gaining health. These don’t net you anything new, but at least your score on the board will reflect your masochistic accomplishments. These difficulty modifiers are a welcome inclusion to a challenging game, allowing players of all skill levels a chance at playing in the way they desire.
That’s not the only purpose that the hub has, however; randomly appearing warp points in rooms will allow you to return briefly to recharge before taking on another layer. The eponymous Lady Tallowmere resides here, and she will fully heal your character free of charge if you talk to her. A demon statue allows you to level up if you have enough experience points and there’s also a merchant who will sell you different goods each time you visit, which you can buy with coins picked up from slain enemies. As the only safe spot in the game, this is a good place to come catch your breath.
Those of you that still aren’t satisfied with the amount of content in the regular gameplay loop can participate in a series of challenges from another NPC in the hub. These will task you with getting to a predetermined floor while doing the run locked to a specific weapon, or with a high spawn rate for certain enemy types. These are still randomized in terms of room layouts, but they can add a nice extra flavour to proceedings that sufficiently mix things up. In addition to this, there’s also an in-game achievement system, which acts as the only thing that doesn’t get erased in a run. Doing things like dying in a particularly spectacular way or reaching a certain floor may unlock an achievement, and though they don’t do anything completionists will no doubt enjoy the extra challenges.
All of this together makes for a game that has a lot of content in concept, though it does tend to run into issues with repetition over time. Sure, there’s a lot to do, but it’s rather like small changes are being made to the same basic concept. Also, it can be rather soul-crushing to have a bad room spawn and lose all that good work on the character that you spent so much time on, and this makes it difficult to start once again from square one. This would be negated somewhat if there were some sort of overarching progression in play — like more goodies becoming gradually unlocked as different runs played out— but, alas, there’s little to show for hours of play.
Co-op gameplay also factors in — up to four players can play with any assortment of controllers — and it definitely works in the game’s favour. There’s an element of competition to proceedings as you work out who gets what loot, which adds a fun extra layer to the base game. Co-op also has the double-edged sword of making things a lot easier. This naturally levels out as you move deeper, but it’s worth mentioning that the early parts of a co-op run can be a bit boring as you steamroll through the pathetic opposition. Even so, having a buddy jump in can help break up the monotony of repetition in a meaningful way; co-op is certainly a welcome inclusion.
As for the presentation, Tallowmere leaves much to be desired. The graphics and animation are just about as basic as they could possibly be and the UI elements utilize a no frills plaintext approach. There’s little artistic flair, and while the utilitarian look gets the job done it feels rather unfinished. This is unfortunately an ugly game to behold, and the soundtrack doesn’t hold up any better. A sad collection of bland, loading screen-esque music backs the experience, deflating any sense of tension or special moments that could be present with the right tracks. To its credit the music fits the visuals, but that’s not saying a whole lot. Make no mistake, the gameplay of Tallowmere is solid, but the aesthetics struggle to hold up their end of the bargain.
Tallowmere is a solid budget roguelike that offers approachable yet deep combat and a fantastic amount of replayability, at the cost of becoming stale with time due to repetition. Although that core gameplay is rather fun, the visuals and soundtrack are offputting, and fail to adequately present the much better underlying game mechanics. We’d mostly recommend Tallowmere to fans of the roguelike genre, or for those looking for a pretty good game at a low price. There are definitely some blemishes and shortcomings that prevent the experience from being anything memorable, but you’ll probably find enough entertainment here to justify the purchase.