Tangledeep is a 16-bit dungeon crawler made with the intent of exploring old themes and gameplay that have been lost to time. While nostalgia may be a key component in many players’ experience, there are also frustrating details and a lack of story that keep this game from being a truly great experience. Still, Tangledeep is a game with a lot of love put into it, and while it may not be for everyone it’s definitely a testament to the love of old school games.
Side Note: While reviewing the game, my save data was lost for some reason or another. I did some research and I found that this is a known issue on Steam involving corrupt data. As I had made significant progress in the game, I decided that I would just review it with what I had as opposed to starting over from the very beginning.
Here is the biggest issue with Tangledeep. For being a game based on old school RPGs and having elements of D&D campaigns, it lacks a true story-driven experience. There is a very light story given to you at the beginning of the game. You hail from a town deep within the Earth and you take on the role of an Adventurer exploring the Tangledeep, a labyrinth-like dungeon, in search of riches. Along the way, you meet colorful characters, such as the bird-like bandit lord, Duke Birtbeak.
The rest of the game plays out like this with no real story and very little to drive on your need to explore further. As a huge RPG fan, I found this to be quite a bit of a disappointment.
Again, this is another aspect of the game that made the game feel less complete. Since this is supposed to be part RPG, part Dungeon Crawler, I was expecting big personalities and loveable characters that would join me on my journey. The only real constant characters were those found in the town square and random characters that you might meet in the dungeon, and they only serve to sell you items or give quests. Furthermore, you take on the role of a female adventurer who can take on several classes. There’s no real background given about her or why she has set out on this journey.
You have your typical classes such as Paladin, Hunter, and Spellshaper along with classes that take on different names but are essentially identical to other RPGs. There are nine in total, and each one comes with unlockable skills. As is typical in most RPGs, you are able to name the protagonist whatever you want. However, I was disappointed that you could only pick one female as your base. No varying genders, no different races, and they’re all essentially the same person.
I believe this was probably done because you are able to change classes in the main hub throughout the game. Three of the classes are locked and must be discovered in the dungeon. Once you unlock it for that save file, you are able to change to that class. From there you choose some extra stats and then your adventure begins.
Movement is really different in this game. I think they were going for like a tactical, D&D, pen and paper sort of vibe as every action, including walking, is considered a turn. You move your joystick in whatever direction you’d like and then push the action button to move. You will see enemies moving as you move and staying in place when you don’t make any actions. It took a lot of getting used to and can cause you to die if you make a mistake during battle.
The dungeon itself isn’t anything spectacular as most of the visuals are similar and make you feel like you’re just exploring the same rooms over and over again. It’s such a shame because the art is done well in that 16-bit style and while playing did make me feel like I was back in the early 90s, it really keeps the game from being as beautiful as it could be. This is especially clear in the areas that aren’t generated and you can see the extra love and attention they’ve received.
Pictured: Part of the randomly generated dungeon.
This is most likely because the floors of the dungeon are randomly generated and different each time you start from the bottom, which will happen a lot depending on the difficulty you choose. The easier mode allows you to keep your character but you lose half of your loot, JP earned, and XP. The more difficult mode results in perma-death meaning that once your character dies, you lose everything except for banked loot and town progress. The hardcore mode takes it a step further and completely erases the save file. Now I know what you are thinking, you lost your game because you were playing in hardcore mode. I can assure you, I was playing on beginner mode. I know this because I kept dying– A LOT.
The game gets really difficult really quickly. Even after receiving my first pet companion to help me fight in battle, I kept dying after being swarmed with enemies. This is especially clear in the first boss fight as the boss does vasts amount of damage while his minions swarm you. Even after defeating him, I took a step forward just as one of his bombs went off post-mortem and killed me. Fortunately, I was able to get back to that area and claim the loot.
This is probably one of the strongest points of this game as the soundtrack truly feels like it came from an old RPG game like Final Fantasy or Legend of Mana.
Another strong point of this game was the visuals. As stated before, the pre-rendered areas of the map were absolutely beautiful and very reminiscent of old-school 16-bit video games. They’re clean, crisp, and done well. Unfortunately. as mentioned earlier, a lot of that gets lost since the majority of the game’s maps are randomly generated. That means the dungeon itself has to be kept fairly simple. While that sounds good in practice, it greatly takes away from the visuals as the maps have to be kept simple and almost barren.
While Tangledeep is a visually appealing nostalgia trip set to a beautifully composed soundtrack, it isn’t perfect. It’s clear that the creator has a deep love for RPGs and Dungeon Crawlers, but I feel like some risks taken didn’t quite pay off like they may have hoped. The difficulty curve is a bit sharp and the lack of story really doesn’t make me feel connected to the world I’m in. I don’t care about any of the characters, and I felt like I was just wandering around aimlessly.
Add to that the bugs that are still present in the final product, it really didn’t make me want to pick it up and play more once I lost my save. What I did play seemed fun, although there was a lot to get used to. When you are presented with a challenging game you accept the occasional defeat, but I feel it does a disservice to your audience when you don’t address game-breaking issues that take away the will to play. Still, fans of old-school Dungeon Crawlers and RPGs might feel right at home with this game if they also enjoy D&D styled tactics. If you’re up to the challenge, Tangledeep is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.