Publisher: Brace Yourself Games
Developer: Brace Yourself Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux (Steam)
Release Date: April 23, 2015
Reviewed On: Mac
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Feel The Rhythm
There aren’t many games out there that can lay claim to audacious design aspirations that Crypt of the Necrodancer has. It is a roguelike dungeon crawler, complete with tile-by-tile movement and stiff penalties of death and even a charming 2D sprite aesthetic, that merges into the very core of a rhythm game. The result is nothing short of magic.
Cadence, a would-be dungeoneer who stumbles across the wrong artifact and tumbles down the wrong hole is seemingly done for at the game’s start. The Necrodancer shows himself and, with the infectious power of sweet beats, brings our hero back to life. The catch? She must move to the beat of the song that accompanies each and every floor of every dungeon she’ll traverse from now on. That means the slow movement that is a mainstay of the dungeon-crawling roguelike is, instead, replaced by a thumping pacing that varies depending on the tempo and the stage the player is trekking through.
This, much like any other roguelike, means that when you move the enemies move as well. Take out the music and it feels immediately familiar. Thankfully that isn’t the case, and music is a vital component of the overall game. You’ll move to the beat, fight enemies to the thumping of bass, use items in that manner and even collect coins while dancing across every tile. Each dungeon has three main areas to traverse followed by a fourth floor that is exclusively a “boss stage”. Players are rewarded with more coins for sustained successful movement to the beat. Bring your sweetest moves and, perhaps, you’ll manage to pay for some of those ever-increasingly pricey goods that vendors sell throughout the game’s four main dungeons. It would be tempting to just not worry with the multiplier, plod through the dungeon and eek out victory yet it becomes so counter-productive later in the game that staying on beat at all times is a necessity.
This might all sound like a bit much really. Players are tasked with not only moving through a dungeon tile set full of enemies that all have differing movement patterns and abilities, but it also needs to the rhythm of a variable electronic score that ranges from deranged bone-rattling bass to high BPM bangers that will burrow their way into your brain. The soundtrack, composed by Danny Baranowsky, brings the thunder like few game soundtracks have lately. There are also two remixed version from FamilyJules7x (a harder edged metal mix) and A_Rival’s EDM mix of the Baranowsky’s original. Here’s the thing about that. All three version of this soundtrack is fantastic. The option to import songs is also available, and I couldn’t help but experiment with much higher BPM music I had laying around on my hard drive to give yet another dungeon run a go.
Steel Thyself, Adventurer
So, because this is a roguelike, players will need to expect a few things. One of those? You will fail and do so often. The hope is that each failure informs future decision-making along with a running mental inventory of just which enemies do what, how to deal with them and so on. Layouts of dungeons will change with each and every death along with the loss of every item acquired. You start from scratch every time.
Equipment consists of weapon, shovel, armor for the body, head, footwear, torch, miscellaneous rings or charms and pick-up items that include things like a compass, dungeon maps that show where the exit is on the floor, bags of holding and more. Weapons require players to take mental note of how many tiles they strike out across as the broadsword covers three tiles in the direction pressed whereas a crossbow covers more space. It is impressive how all of these small things work as hooks to keep players piling back in for more punishment.
The four cardinal directions are where you live in Necrodancer. Up, down, left and right. Items are used through a combination of two directions as well. This means to lay a bomb, for example, you press Down+Left. Every other item can be used by pressing Up + Left. So, not only are players making their way through dungeons full of enemies with disparate movement patterns but also, in the heat of the moment, expected to remember to press certain combinations to make use of many of the game’s items. It might sound daunting but, honestly, works well in practice. Death will come, but each failure will, ultimately, lead to smarter play down the line. If you want it a bit easier hook up a dance pad. The game is made to be a bit easier that way and, frankly, is maybe the best way to experience it.
Not Enough For You?
There are other characters available as well. One of them is the Bard. His play is much like the standard roguelike where moving to the beat isn’t necessary. Enemies will move after the Bard does. Another is the Monk. Want a challenge? He can’t pick up any gold through his run. The moment the Monk touches gold from fallen foes he dies. Dove, a pacifist, cannot kill enemies but instead must confuse them. She can’t use weapons at all. Bolt offers even more of a challenge for those willing to undertake it as the character and all enemies move a double speed. Yikes. Want to really crank it up? Manage to beat all four zones with all the characters and you’ll get to play as Coda. Players can’t miss a beat, enemies and Coda move at double speed, and they can’t pick up gold either.
The game itself is fairly short (if you want just to go by the number of zones — there are four). The replay value, though, is substantial considering the differing characters, co-operative play available, daily challenges, and Steam workshop support. The modding community for this could get fairly insane, and it should be interesting to check back with Necrodancer six months down the line when the community sinks their teeth into it and produces even more content.
Crypt of the Necrodancer would have worked as a roguelike even without the added music mechanic. It is made so much better by the pulsing soundtrack though and the reliance on moving to the rhythm. It is a game that is easy to pick up and play for ten to fifteen minutes though it can easily suck you in for hours at a time. It is an addictive new twist on a classic formula that works in a lot of ways. It only falters when there are too many different types of enemies in the same area and things get a little chaotic. This fusion of two seemingly polar opposite genres works so well that any of its faults are minor at best. The result? Brace Yourself Games’ rhythm roguelike is easily one of the very best indie titles of the year thus far.