Customizable difficulty and gorgeous art and music help make this brutal mystery dungeon-style RPG an adventure worth tangling with.
By default, Tangledeep will tear you down. This challenging RPG’s intended play style involves permadeath, where you create a character, explore a randomly generated dungeon in turn-based, mystery dungeon style, and then painfully start over whenever death comes. If you’re new to the roguelike style or just brazen, you’re going to die a lot. I sure as hell did. But what kept me coming back to Tangledeep was the fact that, when you die, Tangledeep offers legitimately helpful tips to help smooth out your experience—and that’s in addition to the layers of difficulty customization. With the onslaught of similar styled games out there, Tangledeep might not stick out with its turn-based gameplay and exploration, but it nobly sets itself apart thanks to its variable challenge and mostly clear explanations and hints.
In terms of challenge, Tangledeep doesn’t mess around. Carefully plotting your movements and attacks is paramount as every action you make constitutes a turn that lets every enemy on the map also make a move. Keeping an eye on your health and stamina meters is key, as even in early areas, enemies can gang up on you and make escape difficult. Careless play leads to an abrupt end. Even as I trotted out my umpteenth character into the wilds of the dungeons, I kept learning as well as experimenting. Numerous classes offer up varied play styles. There’s the Brigand class, where you can focus on melee attacks while bouncing around the map using special abilities that obscure your position and confuse enemies. The Floramancer is more ranged as you lay out traps and summon helpful friends to do battle for you. One that struck my curiosity was the Edge Thane, a sword-focused class that uses songs to buff and string together attacks and abilities. More involved and challenging classes involve a focus on long-distance bow-and-arrow play, magic spells, or hand-to-hand combat. A wealth of customization lets you craft your preferred character and play style.
Right off the bat you have three difficulty modes: Heroic, Adventure, and Hardcore. Heroic is the intended playstyle, featuring permadeath but also some surviving persistence from run to run. Adventure lets you play the same character even after death while Hardcore destroys your save file after your character dies. Past that, you have modifiers that vary from gentle aids like regenerating health and stamina outside of combat to maniac challenges such as more enemies and less experience points. If there’s an issue with all these variations and tweaks, it’s that they are positively baffling at the outset. Across all the classes and options, you make these initial decisions without actually setting foot anywhere in the game, and the descriptions, while trying to help, can confuse at first glance just as much as they assist. Really it was only through repeated plays that I learned anything about how to play the game and what options I wanted to make use of.
Getting over that hump is worth it because there is so much to do. Aside from the primary quest of working your way through floors of randomly-generated dungeons, multiple mechanics help flesh out the world. The Monster Corral lets you capture monsters and raise and breed them to help you in battle. Item Dream dungeons are quicker one-off challenges, sometimes with bonkers twists, where you can upgrade your gear. In addition to all that, daily and weekly challenge runs all feed into an online leaderboard system if that’s your bag (it’s not mine).
When dealing with the intricacies of the menus and combat, it’s evident that this game originated with a mouse and keyboard. While the conversion to Switch is ultimately fine, the interface is extremely dense and sometimes feels like a square peg of PC controls being shoved into a round hole of Joy-Con. The fact it works on Switch is impressive, but after seeing some smoother PC-to-console transitions lately, this stood out like a sore thumb for Tangledeep.
While the fantastic art style and spectacular soundtrack (featuring tracks from Grant Kirkhope and Hiroki Kikuta) might call to mind masterful 2D Square RPGs from the ‘90s, the gameplay is thoroughly a take on the mystery dungeon style of roguelike. You work your way through random dungeons—complete with all the nonsense you’d expect for mystery dungeon games. Sometimes the stairs to the next floor are right near the entrance. Sometimes the random number generator will just screw you. The very design is brutal and sometimes unfair.
But when Tangledeep strikes you down, it offers advice, recommending healing items, encouraging pet training, and more. That helping hand, combined with the gameplay modifiers, lets you customize the difficulty in a way I haven’t seen in many similar games. These kinds of assist modes are a running thread through games I appreciate, and Tangledeep’s accessibility is wonderful.
Some elements of these mystery dungeon-type games will always be inscrutable, but Tangledeep does the best job I’ve seen at making it playable for everyone. The Switch version might not be ideal thanks to the clumsy interface, but it’s worth figuring it out because underneath the difficulty and few crusty layers lies a beautiful game with a ton of enjoyable RPG variety.