Younger gamers today have a completely different understanding of the roguelike genre from its barest beginnings in the late 70s/early 80s, but Tangledeep seemingly wants to change that. Bringing modern conveniences and a few quality-of-life improvements to a rather formulaic genre, it’s the type of throwback which confidently eschews the twitch-skill action-oriented emphases in the games which heavily borrow from the genre, like Dead Cells, The Binding of Isaac, or Rogue Legacy, but understands that times have changed and that new observations on these standards might need to be established. For the old guard, or those who otherwise understand roguelikes/roguelites beyond their modern incarnations, they’ll probably see Tangledeep as a kind of itch-scratching reminder of what makes those games great..
Originally in Early Access on Steam back in 2017, Tangledeep’s evolution and refinement time grants its Switch port a stunning, even intimidating amount of content for first-time players. There are no less than 12 jobs/classes made available, full of esoteric skills and stats hinted at in the menu, with skill hybridization possible at later levels. Upon choosing a job and naming a character, the game’s early hours will slowly introduce players to its core concepts and systems, including a Pokémon-like pet grooming aspect, seeds which can be grown into a grove of trees for later rewards, mini-quests, weapon mastery, and other multilateral busywork.
The expected roguelike basics — permadeath, procedural dungeon generation, turn-based combat, and utterly cavernous depth — are all well-represented in Tangledeep’s hypnotic gradations of play, but all of it’s couched in a fetching pixel art design. There’s also considerable tutorial guidance built to prioritize ease of entry, though it’s a little unwieldy; sometimes it’s surprising what’s overly emphasized and taught, and what is left for players to suss out on their own. It all amounts to a highly individualized type of game that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it also serves as a great first roguelike despite its sometimes dizzying span of content.
The main game itself is focused on dungeon traversal and fighting enemies in turn-based combat, where each step taken in a dungeon and most player actions cause all time to progress one frame. Succeeding in combat requires wise utilization of 8-directional movement, a variety of class skills, and inventory consumables management, with enemies quickly increasing in challenge and complexity with each ascending floor of Tangledeep’s titular dungeon. Again, the game looks attractive, with the developers going for something of an SNES RPG aesthetic (think Secret of Mana with a finer resolution), though there’s no visible cosmetic effect when equipping gear. It’s a somewhat strange aesthetic choice, since the SNES wasn’t a notable platform for roguelikes in general, but it’s certainly more eye-catching than ASCII text characters moving on a monochromatic screen.
Still, the first few hours of Tangledeep are daunting, especially with the stunning amount of front-loaded information. Your combat skills are in the bottom panel, though you’ll have to memorize their icons over time or constantly check them for a reminder of what they do. Then there are colored gauges for health, stamina, energy, experience, and many other bits and bobs, as well as a combat feed with details and status changes, and on and on. The game tries to provide as much information as possible, though the finer nuances are not always instinctive; for instance, some status effects don’t repeat mention in the combat feed, relegated instead to a tiny icon above your character, which is easy to miss and never pointed out in a tutorial.
Beyond the graphics themselves, the game presents an intriguing combination of charming writing and flavor text, with an above-average script full of amusing dialogue and an evolving town of characters to investigate and chat with. Town portals like those used in Diablo and Torchlight are freely available by default as well, so paranoid adventurers can do their best to avoid untimely death and bank their goods before a tough fight or encounter. There's no save-scumming as a matter of course, but most non-boss-related deaths feel avoidable with mindful planning.
All praise aside, it’s not long before Tangledeep becomes challenging and merciless by leaps and bounds as you progress further through the dungeon. One moment you’re fighting middling mobs, before realizing that a new approaching scrub or elite enemy is exponentially tougher, requiring much more care lest you lose progress. The fact remains that a game at this level of challenge and intricacy is probably not going to have widespread appeal no matter which coat of paint it’s hiding under, and interested consumers should weigh this fact when deciding to purchase. If you’re the type of person who loathes the thought of multiple intricate menus (which can thankfully be navigated by the touchscreen as well), it might be wise to take a pass.
In its default difficulty level, Tangledeep lets you to return to your developing hub world with a freshly minted character with all improvements in the town intact. Captured pets stay corralled, planted trees grow, characters move in, and any banked cash or items can be retrieved. Of course, players can opt for a more imposing difficulty instead, which instantly melts any and all work you’ve put in upon death, just like classic roguelikes. The former definitely seems like Tangledeep’s bespoke experience, but if someone’s itching to make things more official, the option is there, although it seems a little at odds with the game’s personality and design.
Conceptually, it’s easy to admire Tangledeep’s approach, especially as an ardent fan (but admittedly intermediate player) of classic roguelikes. The game is intent to introduce younger generations to the delights of the genre while also keeping careful not to scare them off too quickly. There are some delightful boss encounters that all but require mastery of the game’s combat system, item dungeons which feel reminiscent of Disgaea’s time-sucking abyss of content, cooking mechanics and ability buffs and all manner of optional errata to pursue. In its evolving history on desktop platforms, the game has ably nurtured a plucky community of fans, but combining its challenges and charms with the portability of the Switch feels like a smart decision. Tangledeep is a modern and slick roguelike, while also beholden to a classic state of mind.
Tangledeep releases on the Nintendo Switch eShop on January 31 for $19.99. Screen Rant was provided a Nintendo Switch digital code for the purposes of this review.