☆ Review: Tangledeep - "Beautiful but hard, like Jessica Rabbit with a machine-gun" ☆ #GameDev

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Tangledeep is a rogue-like procedurally-generated dungeon crawler video game from Impact Gameworks and whilst it has fantastic potential, for me in its current state it does fall short of greatness.

The story of Tangledeep begins in the small underground town of Riverstone, you play a character who has never ventured beyond the walls of Riverstone and decides to head off into the realms of Tangledeep to finally reach the surface, something that no-one before you has ever done. Along the way, hacking through scores of enemies and eating loads of cheese and cookies.

If you have played a game in this genre before, you’ll know what to expect. It reminded me a lot of Fatal Labyrinth on the Mega Drive but obviously with much higher quality graphics and…well just a hike in quality in every department, really.

For those of you who haven’t played this genre before, the style here is that of a turn-based combat system but with a main town ‘safe’ place which holds the merchants etc.

That allows you to stock up on items, heal up and bank some of your (extremely) hard-earned cash before venturing once again into the hordes of enemies.

There are heavy RPG elements in that you can change the class of your character, choose between dozens of weapons, level up a skill-tree to unlock different abilities, and cook lots of tasty-sounding food.

The parts of the game that stand out are many, the graphics call to mind the SNES-era Japanese RPGs which some may say represent the golden era of gaming, vibrant, bold and nostalgic.

The sound in the game is the perfect accompaniment, some sections reminded me of Shining Force, others of Zelda, all of which flow perfectly within the overall aesthetic of Tangledeep.

The item and weapon systems offer a lot of scale to be altered to individual player’s game styles and the control system (I used mouse and keyboard but a gamepad is also usable) is nigh on flawless.

I’d like to say at this point that for the first hour or so of playing Tangledeep, I was completely enthralled. As I battled my way through the first few floors, heading upwards and discovering treasures and getting into deeply tactical boss battles, it dawned on me how the game seemed initially to be both the perfect entry point for newcomers to the genre whilst also offering a system deep enough to appeal to hardcore gamers….that all changed after about the sixty-minute mark. The main problems that I found with the game sadly weigh heavy in this review.

After about an hour, the difficulty didn’t just spike, it punched me in the throat, dragged me into a Morrison’s car park and kicked me in the face so hard that my television changed channels. It happened so suddenly that I thought that I had maybe missed some vital item that would help me along the way.

The game has a great function that allows you to teleport back to the main town so that you can convalesce and sort out your approach to stand more of a chance, but after again being transported back to the boss that I was stuck on and instantly being violently inserted into myself (after which, depending on the difficulty one of two things happen. Permadeath or having some gold taken from you and all the experience points that you have gained in your current level removed) and re-spawning, shaking and alone in Riverstone, I discovered something in the game that became the deal-breaker for me, personally.

As I retraced my steps back through the game to reach my previous point, I realised that most of the enemies showed up as ‘worthless’ on the screen when I was attacking them and so didn’t drop any experience points when they were killed. This meant that only a few enemies on the higher levels would give me any experience at all, and even then, if I didn’t manage to gain a level before reaching the boss, upon being defeated I would lose these precious experience points and have to begin again. It became apparent that I would have to really grind my way through, playing the same couple of floors over and over if I had a hope of moving forward through the story. This conjured up the exact same feeling in me that the Dark Souls games did.

As mentioned, the game is procedurally generated, although each floor after initial generation stays the same. So when you die….and you will…you work your way through the same layouts time and time again.

I couldn’t make it past the 8th floor, I’m not sure how many floors are in the game but I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface which was a shame as I was genuinely enjoying discovering the different enemies and environments as I worked my way through (I forgot to mention how great the item descriptions are in the game, they really imbue your character with a personality, rare in these games).

I know that I’m banging on somewhat, describing my play-through in detail but I really want to drive home that in its current state, Tangledeep is not for the casual adventurer, this is a game that demands either chess-like foresight in the combat or an enjoyment of grinding. Sadly, I hold characteristic and so I was left in a sort of limbo where my skill-set would not allow me to proceed in the game and I didn’t have the heart to bounce between a couple of floors, killing the same enemies to gain progress incrementally.

If we compare this style of procedurally-generated game to that of say, Nongunz, whereby each time you enter the main arena of the game, everything is different and there is always the possibility of the enemies dropping rare items and constantly rewarding you with experience points so that you can work your way up to the bosses, it’s a very different kettle of fish.

This could well be the developer’s intention or perhaps in its current early access state, the balance issues haven’t been ironed out. Either way, Tangledeep is presently for a very niche market of players should you wish to spend more than a couple of hours in its admittedly well-realised and charming world.

I know for a fact that I will return to this game a month or so down the line, as I’ll be very intrigued to see if any of the issues I’ve mentioned have been dealt with or if perhaps the sheer cliff-wall that is the difficulty curve is the developer’s goal, it’s something that I’m genuinely intrigued to see play out. Perhaps if I re-reviewed in six months, this review would read very differently. Until then, this isn’t a game I will be revisiting soon.
I want to keep my hair!

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Just Falls Short Of Greatness)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

Game Link: Steam
Dev Link: Impact Gameworks

Reviewed By Britt
(from @kingdomofcarts)

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