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Game Info:

Tangledeep
Developed By: Impact Gameworks
Published By: Impact Gameworks
Released: February 1, 2018
Available On: macOS, Windows, Switch, SteamOS/Linux
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: None
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $14.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you, Impact Gameworks, for sending us your game to review!

In the forested labyrinth of Tangledeep, all of nature, both the flora and the fauna, are sustained by a force called ‘Flow’. Some can channel this unseeable power into magic. Others can’t even tap into its minutest nuances, but all life is connected through it regardless. Adventure, treasures, and who knows what else awaits those desiring to explore Tangledeep’s paths, where monsters lie at every turn. For you, as the heroine, that day is today. Traverse each floor. Battle new foes. Earn new skills. Time will tell if the nefarious thieves you meet truly are simple bandits or schemers with far more menacing goals. Time will also tell if this game is even worth putting on your crummiest boots for.

To give your fantasy trip a personal touch, Tangledeep opens by inviting you to customize three key features on your avatar. First, she needs a name. Second, she needs a job class, and third, you’ll need to decide on two support abilities to help affect how she upgrades. Naming her is a cinch. There’s even a name generator for the indecisive sorts. Choosing support abilities isn’t too hard, but picking a job class is a heftier matter. You must select one out of twelve jobs. Nine are available from the start, which includes: Brigand, Floramancer, Sword Dancer, Paladin, Budoka, Hunter, Spellshaper, Edge Thane, and Soul Keeper. The last three (Gambler, HuSyn, and Wild Child) remain locked until certain requirements are met. Quite an intimidating choice, isn’t it? Well, if it eases your mind, Tangledeep gives in-depth descriptions of each, and you’re allowed to job swap for a fee. Mastering multiple roles is in fact encouraged in this game. Every job has its own set of abilities and tier traits. What’s even nicer is that none of them have an overly exhaustive amount of special moves, so it really doesn’t take long to unlock what’s offered. That being said, I wouldn’t consider all Tangledeep jobs equal. You’ll see why soon.

Just like any long trip, a traveler must pack essentials, and this game is no exception. The town you start in and can teleport back to acts as your main hub. There you can buy food and armaments, safekeep your stuff in the bank, learn weapon masteries, switch job classes, and receive rewarding little side-quests. You’ll need weapons to fend off monsters. Assorted foods and drinks for nourishment. Armor and clothes for protection and special effects. Then there’s a whole smorgasbord of extra stuff as well. Thankfully, your pockets are as fictionally deep as traditional gaming goes, so horde all you want. Many basic items can be bought from the town merchants who rotate their stock every so often. However, the nicer goodies are better found in outlet stores or scavenged from monsters. Every item has its own benefits. Thus, it’s up to you to decide which things are more important in accordance with your play style and job class. Otherwise, you can sell your useless junk or upgrade it in the town dreamscape. As you brave Tangledeep’s floors, you’ll also be earning gold, experience points, and job points. Gold is gold. You buy stuff with it. Built up experience points upgrades your character level, and job points you spend on learning attacks specific to either your current class or your weapon of choice. It would be in your best interest to learn all you can.

Tangledeep
Highlights:

Strong Points: Unique Gameplay, Good Soundtrack, Fun Class System
Weak Points: Sometimes Uninteresting Areas, Frustrating Difficulty Spikes
Moral Warnings: Karma mentioned, New Age based philosophy, a Casino, Loads of Magic

Tangledeep’s regions are quite nice. A few noteworthy places include the main town hub, the outside of the thieves’ den, and the entrance to the old temples. Those places possess a surprising amount of detail for being composed of blocky color bits. The layered leaves and grass were particularly exquisite. However, most floors in Tangledeep feel rather uninspired. Don’t get me wrong; the first level or two of a swampy cave or an abandoned fortress is fine, but after five levels of the same environment, with the same sprites shuffled around, the areas start getting stale. It feels randomly generated by a computer rather than given an artist’s loving attention. Of course, that’s a nitpicky matter. The creature designs are fun, and the painterly loading screens are an unquestioned highlight. Finally, the music is unsurprisingly excellent. Unsurprising because Tangledeep’s original conceiver and designer is in fact a game composer. A subpar score would have been shocking otherwise.

Traversing Up, Down, Left, and Right in Tangledeep involves the traditional W, S, A, and D keys on the keyboard. Of course, if you prefer, you can always click on the space you desire to reach. That works too. Keep in mind that every space you pass counts as a turn. You also attack by clicking on monsters. Most actions are triggered by clicking, actually. From navigating inventory menus to choosing your armament, the mouse is all you need, but it’s important to note that there is a whole slew of shortcut keys available. That is, if you’re willing to memorize all of them. They can toggle your weapons, activate specific moves, and open inventory windows. I chose to stick with just the clicking, but how you wish to play is up to you. Controller options are also available if you have one. There’s no denying though that Tangledeep’s control scheme is well put together.

Before I discuss gameplay, I want lay a little disclaimer that I am not particularly familiar with this type of game. Thus, much of its stylings I experienced as a newcomer, so with that established, Tangledeep’s gameplay appeared as a unique hybrid to me. Its battle system runs on turn-based RPG logic, meaning the player’s moves are done in turns like chess. Walking to a space, drinking a healing draught, or twanging your trusty bow counts as your turn. Then, Tangledeep’s monster populace gets their chance to wander, stalk, and bite before your next move. However, this game fused this RPG style with its more direct cousin the action RPG. Action RPG battles occur as they happen whenever and wherever they happen. In turn-based, the player travels the land on one screen but upon touching an enemy icon, they’re whisked off to the battle screen. Such gaming procedures stall traveling progress until the player’s victory or escape. Refreshingly, Tangledeep’s creators altered this tradition. The fights do still hinge on turn taking, but they don’t wage on a separate screen. Where you walk is where you slay, and surprising as this may sound, this merging of styles produced the most fascinating sensation for me. I’d frequently forget the game’s turn-based nature. I would unknowingly play at urgent speeds that really weren’t necessary, but my mind was so well tricked into treating it like an action RPG, I’d go rapid fire anyway. It was almost like magic.

Mark my words, though. If you want to survive in Tangledeep, you must slow down and take the game’s mechanics into account. Three meters on your bottom screen must be watched like a hawk: your health meter, energy meter, and stamina meter. It goes without saying, but the health bar is most crucial. Getting smacked around until it hits zero predictably means death, but death in Tangledeep comes with severe consequences. How severe depends on the selected game mode, which we’ll discuss later. Energy and stamina bars are important too, since the majority of your special moves cost one or the other. Lose all of either bar, and you’re defensibly crippled. Food and your flask are your go-to healing methods. Read the inventory labels, though. Different foods replenish different meters. Just remember that eating takes one turn, and you can’t eat again for a few more turns. Oh, special attacks require wait time too, so don’t just spam them willy-nilly. The last form of replenishment you have is bottled concoctions. Like food, you use up a turn to ingest one of them, but unlike food, you don’t have to wait to eat again.

Tangledeep
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 79%
Violence - 7.5/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

My initial travels in Tangledeep had impressed me thus far. It’s been fairly difficult with the occasional tough beastie, but nothing too tough. I enjoyed it overall. Then time marched on, and it was over time did the game’s flaws really start to kick in and kick me. You see, the game doesn’t give you much in the way of defense. Unless you can keep your distance, you’re basically a damage sponge. Even then you’re gonna get shot. This all comes to one dismal outcome. If you’re ambushed, you’re toast, and if your job class restricts you to up close combat, you’re dead already. Sometimes the game even shoves you into a den of enemies you’ve never encountered before with no warning! I tried to wisely run from such situations and fight another day. Unfortunately, for some stupid reason, someone decided some enemies should be able to drag you right into their faces. That rendered some escapes impossible because they kept drawing me away from the exit! Then I’d die, . . . horribly. To the creative team, I have to ask, ‘Are . . . you . . . KIDDING ME!?!’ Listen, you don’t have to give enemy-tell-alls, but at least give us non-omniscient mortals a sporting chance. Introduce your new enemies in singles or pairs. That way we can experiment and live, thank you very much! Of course we players can level up, upgrade weapons, and bring monsters we captured to fight for us (a pretty neat feature, I must admit), but that doesn’t help much. It just makes our deaths slower. Pair that with all those food restrictions you insisted on, and you can do the math. I’m glad not all portions of Tangledeep are like this, but these difficulty spikes are grossly unfair.

Okay then. What if you adjust the difficulty? That setting is determined the second you begin. Before you start questing, Tangledeep offers you three modes: Heroic, Adventure, and Hardcore. They don’t determine enemy strength or spawn rate. Rather, they determine your punishment for failure. Heroic mode, said to be the intended way to play, means you lose everything except for the items and money you saved in the town bank. You’re forced to start the story afresh with a new character, but at least the stuff you saved helps you onto your feet. Adventure mode is more forgiving. Note though that ‘forgiving’ doesn’t mean painless. Death cuts your money, experience points, and job points in half. It will sting, but you get to continue where you left off. Then there’s Hardcore Mode. Oh, boy. Prepare to cower. In Hardcore mode, death is as final as it is in real life. We’re talking a complete save slot wipe. Not a trace of your journey will exist, and considering Tangledeep’s habit of throwing awful curve balls, you can guess which mode I prefer. As capable as I am, how am I expected have fun if I die and retread the same ground over and over again? Not that I hate challenge, but that’s a recipe for repetition - and repetitious it is. Adventure mode all the way, baby!

Tangledeep’s wilds aren’t dangerous due to monsters alone. There are ethical issues to consider too. The trivialized portrayal of magic for instance. It’s not just ‘abracadabra’ and ‘hocus-pocus’ this game uses. Its magic system is given a source, and that source is that ‘Flow’ every animalistic, humanoid there blethers about. It’s painfully obvious that ‘Flow’ was birthed from New Age philosophies. If even Star Wars’ ‘Force’ talk bothers you, Tangledeep won’t do you any favors and then some. Job classes like Floramancer, Spellshaper and Soul Keeper are witch, spiritist and medium roles relabeled. Attack moves in Budoka and Sword Dancer jobs use eastern, mystical energy called Chi. Even a physically centered job like Hunter utilizes astral projections. Not to mention the abundance of useable magic staffs and spellbooks lying around. Thankfully, if you avoid occult spellcasting as I do, there are plenty of other attacking methods that are plenty efficient without compromising your conscience. Other problems include mentions of Karma, a casino, and a few residents sporting devil horns. However, Tangledeep does have its moral merits. Not one crass word was carelessly tossed. Outfits remained conservatively tasteful, and attacks come in bloodless flashes and bumps. It’s mostly the New Age enchantments you should be worried about. It’s not what you see nor hear that’s the trouble. It’s what the NPCs are doing and what the game encourages you to do that’s troubling.

Same as a familiar story, a video game fantasy adventure isn’t something new, yet the most rehashed story can find refurbishment via a fantastic telling. Does Tangledeep do the same? From a story standpoint, I’d say no. It’s safely generic. For its gameplay, I’m divided. As I mentioned earlier, my past gaming experiences hardly included turn-based RPGs. I’ve long been aware of its basic mechanics and the genre’s most popular titles by reputation. That doesn’t mean I know if Tangledeep does enough to separate itself from its peers. That judgment call I’ll leave for true turn-based veterans. However, as a turn-based newcomer, I say Tangledeep’s journey was mostly enjoyable. Creature and character designs were colorful. Its gameplay mixed urgent yet unhurried action in a fine blend, but the frustrating difficulty spikes, often un-inspired scenery, and saturation in witchcraft did sour my experience - sometimes significantly. Road bumps aside, Tangledeep did beat a comfortable trail for adventurers with a mild hunger. Just remember to mind the ‘flow’, occult, and casino. They’re ugly ditches.

 

About the Author

Hannah Colvin

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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