Andrew Aversa’s website defines him as a composer, sound designer, and software developer who came to Kickstarter with an interesting proposition. He wanted to create a game that was “inspired by the very best games from the SNES golden age,” proposing a procedural generated 16-bit dungeon crawler with rogue-like elements and a highly customizable job system. On March 21, 2017, Aversa’s Kickstarter began with the goal of raising $15,000 for development fees. Something in his proposal caught the attention of the masses, because a month later his Kickstarter campaign finished with $32,157 between 1,211 backers, reaching more than double his intended goal.
And thus, Impact Gameworks and its flagship game Tangledeep were born.
The first choice I had to make in Tangledeep was to choose the difficulty: Adventure, Heroic, or Hardcore. Each mode has no discernible differences in enemy difficulty, but drastically changes what happens after your character runs out of health. Adventurer mode is the most forgiving, sending you back to the starting town and removing your progress towards the next level without sacrificing your current level.
In Heroic Mode, your character dies if they run out of health, but your influence on the world remains. Anything you put in the bank or unlocked in the town stays available for future characters, so while you’ll still have to train your next character up from level one, each run-through should be slightly easier than the last one. Then there is Hardcore mode—if you die, everything dies. The whole save file starts over as if the hours you put into the game were just a sad, fevered dream. For my playthrough, I picked Heroic Mode, mainly because of the neon yellow text on the screen telling me “This is challenging, but also the intended way to experience Tangledeep!”
The next choice was to choose between the various jobs. At the time of this review’s publication, there were ten jobs available (one of which was in beta), though on the Kickstarter page Impact Studios promises an even dozen by the time Tangledeep leaves early access. Each job has nine or ten distinct abilities, some giving passive bonuses while others could be activated for various effects.
But the most interesting thing about the job system was that you can pay to change your job at any time while keeping the abilities you learned from the original job. Want to summon a big snake-like vine to attack enemies as a Floramancer, but also set traps like the Hunter? Go for it. Want to mix the stable playstyle of the Paladin, but throw a luck element into it with the Gambler? Whatever works for you. Mixing and matching job abilities becomes one of the defining elements of gameplay once you’re perfected the fundamentals. I decided to go with the Floramancer, which focuses on summoning vines and other plants to attack enemies on your behalf, while also getting defensive bonuses for standing near said vines.
But the variety of ways to push through the dungeon does not stop with switching between jobs. Jobs do not limit the weapons you can use and each weapon functions in a slightly different way, augmenting your playstyle even further. With four weapon slots you can carry the best weapon for any given situation, or just carry four of the same weapon with vastly different bonus effects. And just like the weapons, the gear you equip holds a variety of options, from stealth to better item drop rates, or to leaving acid in your wake and so much more. While the items you find in the dungeon are largely up to chance, you always have the option of selling your random loot at a shop in the hopes that they have the thing you actually desire.
Like one might expect while playing a game created by sound designers, the music for Tangledeep captures the retro feel the game is striving for while being in and of itself good music. The opening levels have an adventurous, lighthearted air about them, perfect for a brand-new adventurer. After longer sessions I found myself humming along to some of the catchier numbers.
The graphics are a nice throwback to SNES games, with the 16-bit sprites bouncing in place and text boxes making up most of the non-combat interactions. Impact Gameworks’ kickstarter promised a “charming, super-polished” experience, and I feel that while they are not there yet, what I have seen so far makes me confident that they will be by the time the game leaves early access.
When I first started playing I was a little underwhelmed with the graphics, but the more landscapes I wandered through and monsters I fought, the more I came to appreciate the world for what it was. I always considered 16-bit an art style of necessity instead of preference, but it is clear from playing Tangledeep that Impact Gameworks is pushing the boundaries of what the 16-bit art style encompasses. Maybe that is Tangledeep’s previously-mentioned charm.
Whenever there is a game that is controller accessible, I tend to take advantage of that. But Tangledeep is one of the few games I have played with a controller option that I felt more comfortable using the keyboard and mouse. I found it much more convenient to simply click on the item or ability I wanted with my mouse or hotkey, instead of shuffling through various menus with the controller. That’s not to say the controller system is bad, it’s just not a necessity to enjoy the game.
Overall, Tangledeep’s Kickstarter success is no fluke. Setting out to pay homage to the various games of the SNES, Impact Gamework’s aesthetic choices feel intentional and well-executed. Between the interesting class system, the plethora of items, and the various difficulty settings, Tangledeep offers a lot of replay value for a game that has not officially launched yet.
Tangledeep is in early access on Steam for Windows and Mac. Its expected full release is in December 2017.