‘Crypt Of The Necrodancer’ Waltzes Into Full ReleaseFiled inside: Reviews
The quirky and addicting Crypt of the Necrodancer has finished its run through Early Access on Steam and is now available as a full release.
The game is a curious collision of roguelike and rhythm game—a dungeon crawler that tasks you with thinking quickly and maintaining a strong beat as you go. The result is a game that engages not only your attention (believe me, don’t play this while you’re trying to watch TV) but forces you to plan elaborate strategy in a limited time frame, as opposed to simply reacting to stimuli as you go.
Previously, there was only an opening movie to provide you any context to the game—the full release now includes cutscenes between all the zones to give you more insight into the characters and the narrative, sparse though it is. Initially you play as Cadence. Against the wishes of your uncle, you travel to the Crypt of the Necrodancer to search for your father, who disappeared two years prior after visiting the Crypt to find the Golden Lute. Upon attempting to gain entrance, Cadence falls through a weak patch on the ground and is rendered unconscious. The Necrodancer finds her and removes her heart—making her a slave to his rhythm. Cadence is able to retain control of her faculties, save for the face that she has to move in time with the music that surrounds her.
The result is a procedurally-generated dungeon that features some awesome tracks, filled to bursting with baddies trying to make sure you don’t reach the bottom of the Crypt. Thankfully, not every denizen of the Crypt is out for blood, and the power of the Necrodancer makes enemies behave in predictable patterns. Initially armed with nothing but a dagger and a shovel, You’ll dance circles around or through your foes, collect gold, purchase upgrades, and probably die…a lot. It is a roguelike, it’s to be expected.
The game’s controls are limited to the arrow keys exclusively, and I find myself hardpressed to think of a better way to manage the player’s interaction with the game. Since the dungeons are laid out on a grid, it’s as simple as pressing a direction to hop one square in that direction, following the musical cues and a handy metronome on the bottom of the screen as guides for when you should take action. Jumping into an enemy will attack with your currently equipped weapon. Certain blocks can be dug away with your shovel by moving into them, and there are a number of traps and environmental hazards to avoid. That’s the wonderfully simple meat of the game.
As your inventory expands, you can activate other effects by pressing combinations of the arrow keys, also following the rhythm. If you’ve collected an apple, for instance, you can heal one heart by pressing Up and Left simultaneously. Rocking an awesome crossbow? Reload it by pressing Up and Down. Cast a Fireball spell by pressing Up and Right, or drop a bomb by hitting Down and Left. Your equipment is also displayed on your HUD in a position relative to the keys necessary to use it, while also being grouped with similar items. It’s a triumph of simple, but effective UI that not only removes the necessity of constantly referring to little boxes to see how to utilize them (though the necessary information is always displayed on each), but provides all the information you could need without obscuring your view one iota. If I had any complaint about it at all, it’s that I often don’t realize one of my spells has recharged and is available for use again, resulting in lowered efficiency—hardly a gamebreaker.
You’ll encounter piles upon piles of equipment to aid you in your journey, some of which can drastically affect how you play the game. You start with a basic dagger that deals one point of damage per hit, has a range of one space, and can be thrown to attack distant enemies (though you’ll be left unarmed, so be careful). There are more than ten different types of weapons in the game, however, many of which also have different varieties that deal more base damage (Titanium weapons deal 2 damage per hit), react to your current multiplier (Obsidian weapons), do more damage as your health drops and can heal you after a certain number of kills (Blood weapons), deal high damage after picking up gold (Gold weapons, duh), or deal massive damage, but are broken should you take damage (Glass weapons).
Spears, for instance, function exactly like daggers, but sport a range of two tiles. Broadswords swing in a wide arc, allowing you to hit not only an enemy directly in front of you, but ones diagonal to you, as well. Longswords function like spears, but can strike both the tile in front of you and the tile past that simultaneously. Bows sport massive range. Crossbows similarly attack at range, but can pierce armor and enemies, but must be reloaded after three shots. The Blunderbuss attacks in a cone, but knocks you back when fired, and must be reloaded after every shot. The Rifle has the longest range of all and pierces enemies, but must be loaded before being shot. Whips can strike a single enemy in a wide range to the left or right of the tile in front of you. Flails can strike all enemies in a wide arc surrounding you (five tiles starting on your left and ending at your right) and knock enemies back a tile in the process. Rapiers can strike the tile in front of you for normal damage, or lunge forward a space to deal double damage. Lastly, the Cat O’ Nine Tails attacks similarly to a flail, but deals the damage as you move, rather than standing still while attacking.
Knowing how each weapon is utilized is key for your survival. While many of them possess obvious traits that enhance your safety (really any weapon that lets you hit from a great distance), the utility of many others is much more subtle, such as using broadswords to damage enemies around corners as you ferry them through doorways. You’ll support your weapon with varying kinds of armor to reduce incoming damage, and with shovels that can allow you to dig through more and more robust terrain. Torches can let you see enemies from further away, or even through some walls to find secret rooms. Different kinds of boots can boost damage, allow you to circumvent certain kinds of terrain or traps, let you move at double the normal speed, and a host of other effects. Helmets can effect your vision in unusual ways, but can also give you psychic abilities, or teleport you away from danger.
Still other equipment affords your character more utility. The War Drum allows you to spend a beat standing still and increases your damage if you don’t move while striking it. Ballerina shoes let you simply stand still without losing your multiplier. Various food items can heal damage. Rings also provide numerous effects like increasing the amount of gold dropped while picking it all up automatically for you, letting you walk through walls, increasing your maximum health, or affecting the number of enemies that spawn on a floor.
The end result is a surprising amount of gameplay variety stemming from such a simple mechanic. Needing to adapt your tactics on the fly as your acquire new equipment is a true test of your mental faculties, how each enemy is approached can change drastically, even by something as simple as being able to deal two damage instead of one with a dagger.
Knowing your enemy is a large portion of that equation, as well—and is one of the more intriguing aspects of the game as a whole. Every enemy in the game has a very distinct pattern to which it adheres without fail. Other roguelikes might have loose behaviors you can try to react to, but in Crypt of the Necrodancer, it is necessary to be able to engage your enemies in specific ways. Green slimes don’t move. Blue slimes shift up and down every second beat. A skeleton moves forward every second beat (indicated by it raising its arms above its head), so you have to time your assault correctly. Save for bats (which move randomly, and are hateful beasts), every enemy can be observed and planned for, and really, no enemy is particularly dangerous alone once you know how they function. It is dealing with several different kinds of enemies simultaneously where you really have to focus in order to come out the other side unharmed—and in that way, even the most basic enemies can remain threatening in the right circumstances.
A red dragon, for instance, isn’t particularly threatening from above or below (it will spit fire at your sideways), but add a few skeletons to the room, and you’ll have to either try to prioritize the skeletons at the risk of them ruining your pattern of attack on the dragon, or try to kill the dragon, but risk hits from the skellies. It really does become a sort of dance—down one, attack up, down one, right one, attack, up one, left one, up one, down one, attack—all confined within a pumping music track.
And the music is glorious, indeed. From the preparation lobby’s chilled out groove, to the forest zone’s more mellow feel, to the fire and ice zone’s rock/electronic hybrid, the game is always pulsing you forward, and made great decisions in getting some of Daniel Baranowsky (of the original Binding of Isaac soundtrack fame, among others)’s tracks, among others. Should the soundtrack not be to your liking, the game generously features the ability to import your own custom music into the game, and uses an algorithm to detect the song’s rhythm. I’ve not yet tried to put any syncopated jazz in yet, but it does a pretty good job of getting things right most of the time.
The game sports a pixellated, but not inherently retro visual aesthetic, which is fairly refreshing for games coming from such small studios that often crutch on a nostalgic look to cover their faults. The game’s visual theme is clear and concise—it’s simple to tell what’s dangerous and what isn’t, as well as what enemy is what kind so they can be easily identified and approached accordingly. The game is colorful and engaging, and has only grown moreso as it moved out of Early Access, finalizing some character designs and adding more dungeon dressing. Add to that mix a solid batch of additional characters, each with their own gimmicks, looks, and sounds, and you’ve got a complete package that is challenging for any completionist, but remains entertaining for casual players, as well.
Crypt of the Necrodancer may not appeal to everyone, but to anyone with even a flitting interest in action games or dungeon crawling, it’s something that warrants a solid attempt. By usurping the usual tropes of other games like it with the addition of moving and acting within a musical frame, the game has created something that sports a unique feel, while also retaining many familiar elements from other games in order to foster an easily accessible game. It’s also a refreshing change of pace to see a game really succeed within the Early Access program, which is all too often plagued by games that go unfinished or without updates for far too long, resulting in a loss of player base.
The game is available now on Steam for a paltry $14.99, and sports Overwhelmingly Positive reviews from the community. Don’t take my word for this one: experience it for yourself. You won’t regret it in the least.