There’s been a flood of indie games riding on the waves of Kickstarter and Steam’s Greenlight and Early Access schemes recently, and among the resurgence of roguelike dungeon crawlers is Crypt of the Necrodancer, a charmingly titled game that is perhaps one of the most unique games put out in recent memory. Combining an old school 2D dungeon crawler with the music genre, it’s a daring title that is as infectious as it is difficult.
The premise of Crypt is ludicrous but secondary to one’s enjoyment of the game. You play as an adventurer who sets out to find her father, who has gone missing in a mysterious crypt. She happens upon her destination by tripping and cracking her skull on a rock, but is brought back to life mysteriously. With a second shot at life, our adventurer discovers upon entering the crypt that its murderous inhabitants, along with herself, are bound to do battle in cadence with the pulse of dance music.
Crypt’s unique gameplay is both irresistibly fun and difficult to master. Everything you do in the game, from moving to attacking, must be done to the beat of the stage music. Each level, which is randomly generated, is filled with a huge variety of monsters that are all trying to simultaneously boogie and kill you. The goal is to make your way to the end of each level, take out its mini-boss, and advance to the next one. Along the way you can collect an assortment of weapons, armor, power-ups, and spells.
Of course, being a game heavily reliant on music, Crypt wouldn’t be worth playing if it didn’t have a plethora of good tunes to do rhythmic battle with, and it delivers in spades. The game is filled with dance-oriented tracks of various genres such as techno, blues, metal, samba, funk, and so on, and all of the songs are solid compositions in their own right. Combined with its colorful visuals and the way all the characters in the game sashay to the beat of the music, even when beating you to death, its hard to play Crypt without a smile on your face. It’s a testament to how infectious Crypt of the Necrodancer is when, after playing the game for several hours, I found myself unknowingly doing everyday things like walking and eating in similar rhythmic fashion to the characters from the game.
What’s rather surprising about Crypt, cool music and characters aside, is how difficult it is; Dark Souls difficult, in fact. Like the notoriously teeth-gnashing inducing hack and slash, there’s a very specific way to go about combating each of the game’s numerous enemies. For starters, they all move in a different way; some monsters move on the upbeat of the track while others move on the downbeat, and others move every two or four beats. They also have specific attack patterns; for instance, the skeleton enemies alternate between moving and attacking every beat, while the minotaur mini-boss charges at you and must be dealt with by circumventing his charge and attacking from behind. Different tactics must be used for every single foe, no matter how weak they appear, as failure to do so will result in you losing loads of health very quickly. There is no recovery period from being attacked; if you find yourself caught in a tight space between two or more enemies,chances are you won’t make it out alive.
Such is the game’s difficulty that it took me two hours to beat the first zone. To put this into perspective, each of the game’s four zones, which consist of three levels and a boss fight, can theoretically be beaten in five to ten minutes. However, dying in the middle of any of these levels will force you to retry from the very first level, with none of the equipment you accumulated so far.
As such, the bulk of my time was spent dying and retrying levels over and over again, and it is solely because of Crypt’s expertly crafted gameplay, graphics and music that I was more than willing to keep hammering away until I finally beat it. Crypt of the Necrodancer is an extraordinarily difficult game, but it is such an uncommonly well made game that 99% of the time, your failures are your fault.
There’s really only one clearly identifiable area where Crypt falters, and that is with the lack of variety in character animations. Your player character, for starters, doesn’t move any of her limbs when moving or attacking; she just bounces from spot to spot, with her entire body completely static as she does so. Attacks, regardless of what weapon you’re using, are merely represented by a brief slashing effect.
Similarly, enemies themselves lack distinct attack animations. In certain cases this can make the game necessarily difficult, as without a distinct sign that an enemy is about to attack, the only way for a player to find out is through trial and error. A good example of this is the skeleton mage enemy, who alternates between using a wind spell to pull you towards him and then attacking you as soon as that happens. One instant, you’d be standing in front of this foe, and without any sign that he’s about to attack you, you’ve just lost a huge chunk of health. Of course, with enough practice, all of Crypt’s enemies can be overcome with careful play, but the developers should definitely think about adding more animations to enemies so that players can have a better idea of when they’re in danger. It may not seem like a big deal at first until you realize that when half your mind is focused on staying on beat with the music, it helps to have better visual representation of what the other half has to do.
Overall, however, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a solid game that is easily recommendable to just about anyone. Although it consists of twelve brief levels, each of these levels are randomly generated and, if you want, can be played to your own custom music, rather than the game’s own soundtrack. The game’s ability to map out the rhythm of whatever song you select from your music library is great, but it’s highly recommended that you select songs that have distinct rhythm and manageable tempos (My attempt at playing the game using Fredrik Thorendal’s Herr Faust, for example, ended in complete disaster). This well-thought out element of the game ensures that players will have potentially unlimited amounts of replay from this indie game, and with Steam Workshop support, there’s so much that can be done within Crypt’s simple but effective gameplay. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a fine, fine game that serves as yet another example of what game developers can do when they are free to take creative risks and try new things out, and as such, it deserves both your time and money.
+Highly inventive gameplay
+Challenging but fair
-Lack of variety in character animations