Dungeon crawler games have been around for decades, with some of my personal favorites being: Diablo, Warhammer: Vermintide and the original Skylanders. The latest one to release on Xbox One is called Crypt of the Serpent King, by Spanish developer Rendercode Games. Priced at a very modest $2.99 in the United States, it’s hard to have high expectations when compared to more popular games in the genre. Price doesn’t always tell the whole story, and for every expensive turd on the marketplace there are equal or more cheap hidden gems. So where does Serpent King fall in terms of price versus quality? Let’s explore together!
The game plays from a first person point of view and your character can use one melee and one ranged weapon per level. You start off with the default weapon, the hatchet, and are tasked with finding a number of keys (8 or more) which will unlock the door to the level’s boss. Standing in your way are enemies such as rats, trolls, orcs, spiders and snakes, among others. Each type of enemy has their own specific attack pattern and once you memorize it, you should coast through most levels, especially on easy difficulty. The same can be said for the level bosses, all it took was for me to evade and learn their pattern and they stood no match. Each level only has one type of enemy, meaning you won’t fight rats AND trolls in the same level, this was disappointing. For every enemy defeated you will earn XP which is used to level up your strength, endurance or agility. When you aren’t slaughtering enemies or discovering keys, there are treasure chests scattered around the world that contain one of three things: health, gold or arrows. On easy difficulty you can overload your health past 100 percent, but not on normal or hardcore difficulty.
Collecting gold is very important in Crypt of the Serpent King, as it’s used to unlock stronger weapons. If you are playing on easy difficulty and die in battle, you will keep all your gold and XP. At the main menu you can upgrade your attributes, equip or unlock a different weapon and try again. Weapons have two different stats that differentiate them: damage and range. I opted for the halberd, which has long range and a poking attack which meant I didn’t have to get as up close and personal with the bad guys. Ranged weapons were helpful in later levels and harder difficulties, but i was disappointed that there was only the crossbow and regular bow to choose from. Once your character has reached level 10 in all three areas and unlocked all the weapons, there is no need for looting gold, but by then you should be almost finished with the 7 levels.
It’s important to note that your character’s level and unlocks only stay with you in that particular difficulty setting. Meaning once you beat the game on easy and try normal, you have the default weapon, no upgrades and start on level one. On harder difficulties you won’t keep any gold or XP if you die, but you can retry the same level as many times as you want. On hardcore the enemies are very difficult and there is no extra health hidden in the item chests. The game does advertise roguelike dungeon layouts, but the differences were hardly noticeable to me.
Serpent King is not going to impress anyone with its graphics, it goes for a realistic style but looks more like something from the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox era. Thankfully I didn’t notice any issues with low frame rate and the loading times are very quick. The ambient sounds in Serpent King are very creepy and only added to the tension of playing in a dark room. There will be moments in the soundtrack where there will be a loud shriek or noise that makes you think an enemy is nearby, but sadly its just part of the level score. It would have been great if these moments happened when an enemy was sneaking behind you or close by, once I realized they didn’t mean anything they became much less frightening.
The controls work very smoothly except for one aspect, jumping…and this is my main gripe with the game. See almost every key is surrounded by a pit of lava or spikes that you must jump over. The problem is timing the jumps becomes very stressful and many times I had gathered a few keys only to mistime a jump, die and have to start over. This becomes a serious annoyance in level 4 when the key is surrounded by steps, jumping from the steps over the lava was hard to do once, let alone 11 times (there were 11 keys in this particular level). After nearly an hour of trying and one sweaty controller later, I completed all the jumps and defeated the boss. I am still dreading the thought of playing this level two times more on the other difficulties. I also wanted to mention that there is a fantastic map that does a great job of showing your location, the location of the boss door and where you have not yet explored. It’s always on your hud in the form of a mini-map which can be expanded to full size if needed.
For less than the price of a Happy Meal, Crypt of the Serpent King provides some cheap thrills. If this game were $15 or $20 I would urge everyone to wait for a sale, but at $2.99 it’s hard to have any buyer’s remorse. The combat can get repetitive, the jumping is awful, and the difficulty ranges from extremely easy to extremely hard. Despite these faults there is still plenty enjoyment to be had in the game, along with a jenesequa that kept me trying again and again.