On a system rife with roguelikes – from the bone-crushing difficulty of Has-Been Heroes to the strategic masterpiece Into the Breach – and RPGs alike, one recently released title strives to perfectly meld the two genres together, wrapping them together in a 16-bit inspired package.
Tangledeep, brought to the Nintendo Switch by indie developer Impact Gameworks, promises to deliver a roguelike RPG experience filled to brim with content. Twelve classes, multiple weapon and armor types, item modifiers, crafting, pet raising, gardening, and more all await you within the bounds of this adventure. Melding these elements together in a cohesive way would prove to be a challenge for even the most seasoned of triple-A developers. But Impact Gameworks rises to this challenge, realizing their vision and making Tangledeep not only one of the best roguelikes on the Nintendo Switch, but one of the best games, period.
Jumping into the Tangledeep for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. The game wastes no time throwing you into the complicated RPG fray, as you start out with the seemingly simple task of building your character. At the start of the game, you’ll have several character classes to choose from, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. And you’ll get to browse all these abilities, reading up on their effects, range, damage calculations, and other features before selecting your character. Reading through a list of 10+ abilities across 8+ classes right out the gate may be overwhelming at first, but it also shows how much Impact Gameworks respects its players by giving them all the information they need to understand what tools they will have at their disposal.
Beyond choosing your character class, you’ll also need to choose a primary game mode and a few optional perks to include with your character. Being a roguelike, the recommended ‘Heroic Mode’ features perma-death for your character, but gracefully allows the progress you’ve made in town (we’ll get to that later) to remain. The two other game modes either remove permadeath entirely, or go the full-monty to wipe all progress – character and town alike – when you die. Meanwhile, each character gets two optional perks from a set list, which include things like increased hp gains, lower cooldowns for certain items, increased damage at low health, or even an extra quick movement ability to add to your hotbar. All these features added together with class system leads to an incredible amount of customization options for your character, ensuring a huge amount of replay value from run to run.
And while we’re here, I should note one thing: Runs in Tangledeep are not typically 1-hour affairs. Being an RPG at its core, the majority of my runs ended up being 5+ hours each, with lots of time and effort put into each of my characters. The persistent town available through Heroic Mode mitigates some of the losses you face when losing a character, but you can fully expect to put dozens of hours into the game before coming close to finishing the story.
The story itself is lightly told throughout your adventure, but all hinges of the nature of the eponymous Tangledeep. All people in this fictional world live in a vast underground world, in little settlements and villagers all separated by a strange, ever-evolving wilderness. Called Tangledeep, this wilderness is filled with monsters, artifacts, hidden alcoves, and other treasures, which constantly shift and move around travelers, so no path is ever the same from run to run. Adventurers in this world believe there to be a surface world located beyond Tangledeep, which no one has ever reached due to the increasingly dangerous threats that lurk on the higher floors. The player character is one such adventurer who ventures into Tangledeep for fame, fortune, or discovery and finds themselves wrapped up in the machinations of a fellow adventurer who believes they have the answers to the mysteries of Tangledeep, but a resolution that comes at a terrible cost.
The core gameplay involves tackling each of Tangledeep’s twisted floors, themed biomes each with their own unique hazards, enemies, and other hidden mysteries. Players move through each stage through a squared grid, tracking their path with an in-game map and only able to see their character’s line of sight. Particularly twisted floors may leave only a few squares visible at a time. Movement itself is performed either 4-directionally with the d-pad (slower, but more methodical) or by holding the analog stick in one of eight directions and holding the A button (faster, but more risky). I personally found moving with the analog stick tricky for the first hour or so of gameplay, but the speed of movement it offers greatly improves the pace of the game, and the 8-directional movement allowed me to squeeze between gaps that are impossible with the d-pad.
Littered throughout these stages are various monsters, ranging from giant bugs and beasts all the way to nefarious bandits and long-abandoned robotic drones. Battles are fought in a turn-based manner, and can be either swift or slow depending on your playstyle / the difficulty of the monster in question. Performing a melee attack requires only the click of a button (or just running directly into a monster), while ranged attacks may be made by hitting Y and selecting your target. Players may also choose abilities from a hotbar on the lower portion of the screen, which may inflict status effects, create stage hazards for the monsters, summon pets, or move your character into a more advantageous position on the map. These options, combined with additional offensive and defensive items, provide a huge variety in combat styles which can vary whether you are facing one or hordes of enemies. Also lurking on each floor are named champion monsters, who have larger stats, special abilities, and other perks compared to their more mundane counterparts. These monsters are especially dangerous, and were more often than not the killer of my characters – be on your guard should you cross one.
As you battle your way through each floor and unlock its secrets, you’ll need to keep track of several resources – hit points, stamina, energy, and consumable health items. While hit points are fairly self explanatory, stamina and energy are two additional resource banks that are used to cast abilities. Some characters may lean heavier on one or the other, but most use a healthy mix of the two. Defeating enemies sometimes drops refills for either resource, but you’ll still need to keep a close eye on how much you have consumed of each, lest you be caught off guard by a large group of monsters – or one of the more powerful champion monsters who lurk in the shadows. One final piece of resource management are consumable food items. These can be used to restore hit points, energy, and stamina, or to grant some other beneficial effect. However, all food is tied to the same cool down time (usually between 8-16 turns) so you have to be careful when and how you use them. Characters also carry a refillable flask of healing water that can keep your hit points up, assuming you find enough fountains to keep your supplies up.
Thankfully, you can at any point summon a portal to take you back to town. As long as you can survive the requisite number of turns it takes for the portal to appear, you can head back to town, heal up, and dive back in right where you left off.
The town itself acts as a home base and place of respite for your character whenever they find themselves in trouble in Tangledeep. Shopkeepers stand in a simple circle around the center of town, offering to buy and sell food, weapons, armor, and other items you may need for your adventure. You will find a healer who can restore your hit points, energy, and stamina for a cost, as well as bestow blessings which offer temporary buffs, along with a campfire for cooking food into more powerful recipes. Finally, this center square also has an old crone who will give you quests to complete, usually spurring you to locate a hidden area or extra powerful monster within Tangledeep. Rewards for quests range from experience points, job points, gold, or even items and food.
The saving grace of the town, besides offering a place to heal up and unload your plunder, are the persistent elements that carry on from character to character. You’ll find a bank where you can store useful items and gold, a tree farm when you can plant trees that offer food items each day, and a daycare of sorts for captured monsters. Each of these elements can help your next character catch up to your current progress more quickly. The bank gives new characters access to powerful gear early on, while the trees from the garden can be chopped down for a experience and job point reward. Meanwhile, your pets gain experience and skills as the game progresses – meaning a level 1 character with a level 12 pet can make short work of the early floors of Tangledeep, quickly gaining experience, gold, and abilities needed to tackle higher floors more quickly.
This pet system is surprisingly robust, and offers a nice metagame of its own on the side. Pets come in a variety of species and types, and nearly any standard monster can be captured and brought back to town. Getting a pet to join you on your quest requires you to keep their happiness level up, usually through feeding them food. Each species has a favorite food, which you can discover through trial and error. Foods they love will be added to their stat sheet, so you won’t have to experiment more than once. In addition, you can cook special meals allowing you to breed two monsters together (though how much each monster “loves” another will vary), creating a new low-level monster with higher base stats inspired by their parents. Pets can also be taught special skills through a pet trainer you can discover within Tangledeep (who will return to town permanently after being found), which further bolster their usefulness. All these elements are then persistent from character to character, allowing you build up extremely powerful pets over multiple runs.
Teaching pets abilities is just one of the many uses the game provides for your accumulated job points. In addition to your character’s own set of class abilities, job points can be spent on learning class masteries (challenges scaled to your level unlocking special passive bonuses), as well as weapon and armor masteries to gain other passive and active skills. Conversely, you can change your character’s class at any time (for a fee of some gold), mixing and matching abilities from multiple classes. For one run, I found my Hunter sporting summoned pets from multiple classes, which when combined with my standard pet created a veritable army between myself and any enemies, who I could barrage with arrows with impunity. That’s just one of many possible builds that mix and match weapons, abilities, and stats to great effect.
Building a cohesive character also involves curating your gear loadout and stat increases. Each class has one or two character stats that fuel their preferred weapons and abilities. Magic spells have damage based on the Spirit stat, while the skills of the Bandit are based on Guile. Summoned pets, meanwhile, get extra hit points the higher your discipline stat may be, and so on. Figuring out which classes and stats you can combine is a critical part of late game character progression. Meanwhile, many weapons, armor, and accessories in the game come with various buffs, abilities, and stat bonuses of their own. Heavy armor provides better melee defense, but also makes enemies more aggressive. A particular accessory may increase your lightning damage, which is useful for a paladin, who has many abilities based on lightning. Many of the items you’ll find in Tangledeep come with bonuses that have no bearing on your character at all – but that’s okay, because those items can be sold for gold or stored in the bank for a future run.
One final means of upgrading your character – another big source of replayability – is the dream world dungeons. Similar to the item world system found in the Disgaea series, each item is said to have memories of past adventures within Tangledeep. Using a special altar – combined with magic orbs found within Tangledeep – the player can enter the memories of this item, defeat a special monster within, and increase the item’s power. This includes both basic stat bonuses (more damage or defense), as well as adding a random item modifier. These modifiers can also be removed at the expense of one orb, allowing you to slowly customize your gear as you see fit. Finally, special class-specific orbs can be found that will add an item modifier that alters one of your core abilities, adding yet another layer of customization to your character.
Tangledeep is a game that drips not only with 16-bit nostalgia, but also a myriad of complex and interwoven game elements that offer hours and hours of replayability. All that would be moot, of course, if the core combat and exploration mechanics weren’t so enjoyable. Thankfully, Impact Gameworks has created just the right balance of story, difficulty, strategy, consequence, and progression to keep players coming back, even after sinking multiple hours into each character. Tangledeep is without a doubt one of, if not THE best roguelikes to currently grace the Nintendo Switch.