By Jared Cornelius
Over the last few years the PC has been the place for interesting and experimental experiences. Games with mashed up mechanics like Mark of The Ninja, Beat Hazard, and Rogue Legacy are all helping redefine genres and included in this beautiful PC renaissance has been a proliferation of the rogue-like genre of games. If you're not familiar with the term it goes a little something like this:
"Rogue-like": A game characterized by mechanics including but not limited to, one life per game, purchasable upgrades, overhead perspective, randomized levels, and grid based gameplay.
Since its late July release my life has been consumed by one of the newest and most creative rogue-likes I've played in some time with Brace Yourself Games' Crypt of The NecroDancer. The premise is amazingly simple yet completely complex and so far has worked out to great effect. At its core Crypt is a rogue-like, with players moving their character through dungeons populated with treasures, traps, and monsters with one life to get through that series of levels. What makes Crypt special is that movement and attacks are all based around moving to a beat, if you need to move towards an enemy or attack doing so with a continuous beat provides you with a gold multiplier so you can purchase better equipment and spells. On face value it sounds easy, but learning the games complex mechanics and timing are imperative to playing well and succeeding in dungeons. Learning the dance moves and attack patterns of monsters is central to the games core mechanic and while patent players will likely learn after a string of failures, Crypt has enough sense to offer players some coaching.
After a few levels players will have to opportunity to rescue captured characters that will provide you with permanent upgrades you can purchase, unlockable gear in the dungeon, and training against the various monsters. The items and upgrades sold in the hub dungeon carry across games making the experience more manageable while training is a must for certain high level monsters. Long term success in Crypt is helped tremendously by learning the patterns of the monsters and formulating a plan several beats ahead.
None of the actual gameplay would be as much fun without the excellent soundtrack provided by Danny Baranowsky. Baranowsky is something of a legend in indie game music with credits on the soundtracks of Super Meat Boy, Canabalt, and The Binding of Isaac. Baranowsky's base heavy electronic beats feel like a welcome departure from the usually grim dungeon crawling music putting an extra-large smile on my face every time the baritone heavy shopkeeper adds his pipes to the beat. Its music that would feel right at home in the mix at a dance club, but with a twist that lends itself well to Crypt's medieval feel. For me the soundtrack was what helped perfectly merge the idea of a rogue-like combined with a rhythm game, the ever thumping soundtrack made each movement I'd take feel deliberate and paced. For some reason if Baranowsky's soundtrack isn't your cup of tea, Brace Yourself Games will let you import your own music into the game, giving you an almost indeterminate number of different experiences to try.
For all of the gameplay and musical charm it exudes it's Crypt's simple pixelated art style that puts a bow on the whole package. From the shimmying skeletons, dizzy armadillos, and grooving zombies the cast of pixel art monsters with unique attacks and dance moves give each enemy a fun and interesting feel. The boss characters especially shine, with such imposing monsters as Deep Blues a jazz themed boss who uses chess based enemies. Even the heroine's simple red shirt and blue scarf give the initial brown and black underground levels a nice dash of color to start. One of my favorite things about Crypt was the simple art style makes for a smooth running game on almost any PC, you won't need to upgrade to a new graphics card as I found the game ran very well on my 4 year old no frills HP PC.
Crypt currently supports gamepad, keyboard and controller support, but unless you'd like to invest $300 dollars in a USB dancepad, I'd recommend the keyboard. The arrow keys are the only buttons that you'll need to press and feel just slightly better than a gamepad. If you do want to use a controller, I'd skip using a 360 controller for a PS3 or PS4 controller as the d-pad is much better for precise tapping.
The story is fairly non-existent so far, with an opening cinematic explaining that a young woman named Cadence has fallen into a crypt while searching for her father. After her fall she's confronted and had her beating heart stolen by the titular NecroDancer. It's really not much of an issue as I've yet to run into a rogue game that featured a robust story, I'd say that in the rogue genre of games, the story often takes a backseat to the game's mechanics. The core of Crypts gameplay is that one more try feeling, getting into a dungeon and doing well spurs you to be even more careful, but that feeling needs to be balanced with the ever present beat of the soundtrack encouraging you too keep moving to keep your multiplier.
Crypt's weakest spot right now is the lack of information on weapons, spells, and gear in the world. For the meager price of 5 diamonds I can purchase a helm that may unlock in the dungeon. The problem is I have no idea what the helm does or will do. The current solution is trial and error or a jaunt over the Wikipedia page making it a minor complaint.
I'd love to actually review Crypt of The NecroDancer, however the game is currently in Steam Early Access, but after losing 7 hours to Crypt I'd say it's not only my game of the summer but a strong contender for my game of the year. Brace Yourself Games currently have three out of four dungeons completed with 4 of 8 playable characters available to be unlocked. They've committed to completing the game by the end of 2014 and have promised more content if successful. As of right now the missing pieces haven't diminished my experience, but made me more excited for the finished product. Crypt of The NecroDancer boogied into my heart and I'm sure the groove will get you too.
Crypt of The NecroDancer is currently available on Steam Early Access for $14.99
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey's coast who feels the rhythm of the night. If you'd like to dance to the morning light, contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis.