Tallowmere has a somewhat disconcerting start. Without any introduction to pre-empt your reaction, the game loads straight into a dungeon entrance where your character is carelessly waving an axe around above their head. Dangerous it may seem, but you are the latest adventurer to brave Lady Tallowmere’s punishingly violent dungeons.
Chris McFarland is the developer behind this action roguelike-inspired platformer, and players can now overcome its perilous dungeons on Nintendo Switch, thanks to Teyon. Procedural generation promises that successive experiences will never be the same, meaning that while players can learn how to bring the enemies and bosses that they encounter to their knees, you are never entirely sure what the game will throw at you in each room.
There’s no real explanation for what’s happening in Tallowmere, but I guess it’s never really needed. Wander around the dungeon’s entrance and you will learn soon enough that Lady Tallowmere can heal you, the Wandering Merchant from whom you can buy items to help your character’s chances of survival, Samuel who presents you with specific challenges to overcome, and The Punisher who can add optional punishments to each run to make them more challenging – such as enemies dealing double damage or preventing healing potions from spawning.
Oh, and there’s Esmerelda. She guards a basket filled with kittens, and, in a somewhat dark circumstance, you can choose to sacrifice them one by one. This merciless act will reward you with extra health for however many lives you cut short, but will see your score placed on a different leaderboard. The more kittens you kill, the easier the dungeon gets. It’s that simple.
It is hard not to spot that there are smart ideas that underpin Tallowmere, but where the experience soon starts to suffer is in the level design. The plan is that the dungeon’s rooms start small and, as you explore ever deeper, they steadily become larger and more challenging. With the reliance on procedural generation though, the way that they are structured never feels particularly remarkable nor memorable – a complaint that is aggravated further thanks to a graphical style that is similarly lacking.
At least the weapons are entertaining, the Righteous Katana warping you around the screen as you endlessly hack away at your opponents, or, for those that like to attack at a distance, there’s always the rocket launcher and grenades. Treasure chests will reward you at random with these, and there’s also sturdier armour and shields to increase your survival chances. With regular waypoints letting you teleport temporarily back to the entrance to heal, restock, and otherwise take a break, souls that you gather from your felled enemies can also be traded at demon statues to increase your health, attack power, and elemental resistances.
It’s dangerous to go alone as a wizened old man once said, and, while those that can summon enough courage to play Tallowmere solo can do so, but the game also has a local co-op mode for up to four players. Whether a Joy-Con pair, split Joy-Con, or a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, it is arguably more entertaining when throwing more hapless adventurers into the dungeon’s perils.
There is much that Tallowmere gets right, with one of the game’s mightiest battles seeing you work hard to slay a three-headed hydra that’s sat in an acidic pool. It’s a shame, then, that these moments are outweighed by the game’s shortcomings, the patchwork level design and randomised enemy placements resulting in an experience that’s never balanced in your favour – faltering as both a rogue-like and platformer. But, slaughter some kittens to lend your character more health, and there’s rib-tickling fun to be found in mucking around with the weapons that you accumulate.