Review: Tangledeep

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It’s hard to describe the unique aesthetic the Super Nintendo had, a sort of warm, soft pixel look that made every game inviting and familiar. You’d be best off seeing it for yourself, either with the originals or faithful imitators like Super House of Dead Ninjas or TowerClimb. Now you can add Tangledeep to that list, not because it’s faithful to the look but because it captures so much of that classic 16-bit mystique. Few games are as lush and charming as this, even as it gleefully kills the fuck out of you.

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You and your bestial kin live deep underground in an idyllic bastion of nature, but the allure of the mysterious surface proves too much for you to ignore. Between home and your goal lies the Tangledeep, a labyrinthine mess of fields, tunnels, thickets, forts, and other locales teeming with danger. You’re only going to survive the trip if you scavenge up some gear, make the most of your many skills, grow some plants, enter some item dreams, and cook a lot of meatwiches. There’s weirdness afoot in the subterranean wilds, and your journey is going to take you straight into the heart of it, should you survive.

Tangledeep shares a lot of DNA with kooky roguelikes like Dungeonmans and Dungeons of Dredmor, but with much of the silliness swapped out for additional polish and depth. At its heart is a turn-based dungeon crawl, with health and magic and stamina to manage as you cast skills and bump-murder enemies for loot. It’s worth mentioning that it plays better than a lot of its contemporaries, especially with a controller, thanks to some clean and intelligent UI design and silky-smooth game flow. Essential information like enemy health and area effects is always visible, and your own items and abilities are extremely clear in their functions.

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That’s enough for a baseline roguelike, but Tangledeep makes good on its name with a dizzying knot of interconnected systems you can explore to find success. The ancient job system of Final Fantasy V and Tactics is resurrected here for the 12 playable classes, allowing you to earn and spend points for the skills you want before swapping to an entirely new class built atop those same skills. There’s also a weapon mastery system to spend those points on if you favor more direct combat. My floramancer was able to compliment her vine summoning and staff magic with area-of-effect elemental spells, making her a match for even large groups of monsters.

Beyond the vast potential of the job system, you’ll find a familiar RPG leveling scheme, randomized gear for five different equipment slots, a cooking system, a pet capture and care system, a simple farming system, and even the item dungeons from Disgaea if you want to fight the dreams of your hat to make it a better hat. And these are just what you can find in the base town, ignoring the side areas with casinos, pet shops, and even more off-beat options for building your legend. There’s so much you can do with your character that it’s easy to lose track of everything at your disposal, yet it’s never so pressing or overbearing that it detracts from the excellent, methodical combat.

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You’ll need to focus heavily on that combat too, because like most quality roguelikes Tangledeep pulls no punches. You won’t often find yourself out of your depth thanks to clear difficulty indicators on the maps and enemies themselves, but you might be surprised at first how dangerous a Tricky or even Average threat can be. Certain design choices like no regenerating health or magic can make combat dicey until you learn to work around this particular style of challenge. It didn’t take me long to adjust but because it’s such a deep and involved game, losing a character stings more than it does in bite-sized romps like Isaac or Gungeon. Patience definitely helps keep you focused on your distant goal, and fortunately the look and feel are the right kind of soothing to keep you in that space.

I really can’t say enough good things about the aesthetic here. It’s not a perfect recreation of SNES graphics but it doesn’t need to be, and it hits all the right notes in all the right places to evoke that sense of wonder and comfort. The sound design is easily its equal too, with bright effects and tracks that hearken back to Secret of Mana and other giants of the genre. Few games are as vibrant as this one, and that joy it exudes makes the deep combat and vast progression systems so much more fun to explore and master. It’s right at the end of its Early Access cycle too, and feels far more complete than some full releases do. Tangledeep is a powerful addition to the roguelike genre, taking the best parts of nostalgia and fundamentals to produce something as enthralling as it is challenging.

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