After more than a year in Steam’s early access program, Crypt of the Necrodancer has finally been released. I must admit – reviewing Crypt of the NecroDancer was more difficult than I originally anticipated. Not because I had writer’s block or trouble describing the mechanics – purely because after playing a game that trains you to press keys to a beat, it’s quite hard to write at a decent pace! In fact, if I’d not taken a break between playing and writing, I’m sure this paragraph alone would have taken over an hour to complete!
Crypt of the NecroDancer is a unique mix of two popular video game concepts: rogue-like dungeon crawlers, and rhythm games. Your goal is to navigate procedurally generated dungeons collecting loot, killing monsters, finding secrets, and purchasing upgrades along the way. Crypts are designed on a grid and moving one space at a time, you must combine strategy with observation in order to succeed. The controls are ridiculously simple. Want to smash that wall and maybe find a secret? Move towards it. Want to open that chest? Move towards it. Want to fight that enemy? Move towards it. It’s a simple, yet effective technique that makes the game easily accessible whilst not detracting from the challenge.
In most rogue-like games, enemies move when you do. This allows time to anticipate their moves and plan your strategy accordingly. Crypt of the NecroDancer is similar in concept, but differs in execution. At the bottom of the screen is a “beat bar,” which shows a heart pumping in time to the beat of the music. With each beat, you are able to make a move, but of course with each beat the enemy also takes an action. With this simple change, the opportunity to strategise is severely impacted. Miss a beat and that enemy attack you were hoping to anticipate will have already landed. Luckily enemies all follow a set movement pattern, making them easier to learn and respond. Of course, as you proceed through the levels, the tempo increases, enemies become stronger, and their moves more varied… but if it didn’t get harder it would be boring, right?
This time sensitivity is further enforced via the addition of a coin multiplier. Triggered on a kill, it’s maintained by continually moving in time to the music. This clever push-your-luck system plays on your greed while teaching you to keep moving to the beat – even when you don’t strictly need to. I lost count of the number of unnecessary deaths caused by trying to maintain my rhythm when, had I paused for a second, all I would have lost was a multiplier!
Clearly, Crypt of the NecroDancer isn’t a very forgiving game. You start each game with very little and must find or purchase new equipment in order to make progression easier. Luckily each crypt is host to a number of chests, altars, and monsters, most of which provide you with items to help you progress.
There are two types of currency in the game: coins and diamonds. Coins are gained by killing monsters and can be used to purchase items from shops scattered throughout crypts. Coins and items don’t carry between games, so it’s best not to be too frugal. Diamonds are a little rarer and used to purchase upgrades that affect the gameplay itself. This is where Crypt of the NecroDancer gives you a reason to keep playing (aside from fun, of course). Crypt runs are usually only five to ten minutes long, but in between runs you enter a hub area. It’s here that you spend your diamonds, practice fighting enemies, change your character, and so on. Upgrades purchased in the hub area are permanent, but well balanced. Instead of allowing you to directly purchase new armour, weapons, or magic, you purchase the option for them to randomly appear inside chests. This gives the sense of progression, which alongside your increasing skill and knowledge makes subsequent crypt runs easier and easier.
Replay value is further enhanced by the ability to unlock additional characters. Each has a different style of play that makes for a unique experience. For example, Dove is a peaceful character who is unable to attack monsters, while Bard is a more traditional roguelike player, and can move outside the beat. There are ten different characters to play, each of which changes the way you play.
Graphically, Crypt of the NecroDancer isn’t anything outstanding. Utilising 8-bit styling, it runs smoothly and effectively, and presents all the information you need to play the game well. The soundtracks on the other hand, are amazing! With three variants to choose from, Danny Baronowsky (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac) has done an exemplary job of giving the game an upbeat, fun atmosphere. If, for some reason, you don’t like the soundtracks that come as standard, you’re also given the option to import your own music and have the game match the beat of that instead.
For such a simple concept, there’s a lot of content in Crypt of the NecroDancer. Enemies are varied, boss battles are interesting, there’s loads of progression, and the music is sensational! Spread across just twelve levels, Crypt of the NecroDancer provides a decent challenge with all the right incentives to keep playing. It’s tough, but provides excellent mechanics to help teach you how to beat it, thus ensuring that the only way you should die is because you made a mistake.
Do yourself a favour and buy this game!