I’m not that familiar with the nostalgia for 16-bit RPGs, probably due to the fact I wasn’t around for much of their heyday. But I’ve always admired the challenge they have to offer. Losing has real consequences in these virtual worlds and progression means strategizing before making a move. Recent RPGs I’ve played like the Dragon Age series and even Pokémon taught me to plow through enemies with as much power as possible. With Tangledeep, I learned quickly that strategy is not the best one to use most of the time.
On the surface the concept is simple enough: pick a class and throw either fireballs or slash with any weaponry readily available hordes of monsters to survive the dungeon! Playing other RPGs has taught me strategizing beforehand boiled down to “how much firepower do I need to take down the big spider at the end of the hallway?” Stopping to think about the consequences of my virtual actions was an alien concept – until my character died in a traumatizing slime attack. Upon respawning, I charged forward with my character once more only to die in flames. Literally!
There are options to play on permadeath mode where characters are permanently killed or lose experience and money upon death, but still respawn back in town. I chose to go with the second option since it seemed the most forgiving, but even on the supposed ‘easy mode’ it was still a challenge to balance resources. Did I drink from a flask to heal up or wait for my health to regenerate over time? When an option to learn a new ability popped up which one do I choose?
In the past other RPGs and dungeon crawlers offered me a challenge, but they didn’t always hold my attention. The rich colors and 16-bit style of the world of Tangledeep were cheerful and the monsters were constantly changing. When opening a loot chest I received a warning that the difficulty of the monsters would increase from there on out. At every turn there seemed to be a new challenge or obstacle awaiting me to conquer.
What held my attention is the dungeon felt balanced, and at no point did the monsters feel unfairly overpowering. When my character died, sure, I had to restart from the town. But each death was a fresh opportunity to learn something new and apply these skills to succeed. Either I paid the gold for better equipment or tried a different strategy when entering the dungeon again. Attack, die, respawn, learn, proceed. The only thing that’s missing is rinse and repeat. But that works, too, right?
I’m not usually a fan of dungeon crawlers, but Tangledeep managed to catch my heart. Don’t let its cute 16-bit looks fool you as there’s plenty of challenge awaiting the curious dungeon explorer. At the time of this review the game’s still in Early Access, but I can’t imagine much will – or even can – change before it’s finished. The various challenges are balanced enough so that battles never feel overwhelming. While progression can feel slow at times, the experience alone is enough for me to pick up the controller again for another round. And possibly another after that. And another. Hey, I can quit anytime I want!