Crypt of the NecroDancer Review
Playing Crypt of the NecroDancer is probably the most fun I’ve had not getting past the first level. Developer Brace Yourself Games has created a game which combines genres you probably would never have thought worked well together. I find it tough to really classify it, but I’ll give it a go and call it a Roguelike Turn-based Rhythm Game with RPG Elements. Yeah, that seems about right.
The gameplay is an intoxicating mix between turn-based combat and Dance Dance Revolution. You play an intrepid adventurer who finds herself trapped in the underground catacombs ruled over by the NecroDancer – a cross between the zombies in Plants vs. Zombies and The Flying Dutchman from Spongebob Squarepants. In order to progress in the dungeon the player has to move in time to the beat of the background music, which is helpfully illustrated by a beating heart at the bottom of the screen. With each beat the player can move – and each beat is essentially a turn – followed by the enemies, monsters and creatures that inhabit the depths.
The game embraces the pixelated graphical style that many indie-gamers will be familiar with. That’s not to say it’s lazy in its design – far from it, the game has a style all of its own, and every monster, character and zone is lovingly colourised and given a vibrant life. This is emphasised when, in the middle of a combo of successful beat hits, the ground turns into a dancefloor, complete with flashing lights and strobe.
Combat in NecroDancer is frenetic at first, as working out how each and every enemy moves can be challenging and, at times, frustrating. Moving and attacking in time with the beat gives the player damage bonuses and a coin multiplier for each beat successfully hit. This can lead to incredibly satisfying sequences where timing your moves and your attacks is of paramount importance. At times, when encountering rooms full of enemies, the game becomes akin to Chess – on many occasions I had to stop and think, tapping my character up and down to the beat.
It can take some time to get the combat mechanics down, too: if you and an enemy attempt to move into the same movement square the player will take damage. But if the player moves onto a square the monster already occupies then an attack will be completed. This makes timing key, and knowing that one enemy waits four beats before moving and another waits five can be the difference between success and failure.
Sound is crucial to NecroDancer, and the game arrives with a number of heart-pounding beats and even slower, more relaxed tunes to fight to. Each is illustrated by a beats bar at the bottom of the screen, helpfully letting the player know when they need to move. It’s a great way of integrating the traditional qualities of indie game (and chip tune) music with gameplay and it comes off brilliantly, giving the game a fantastic flow. Players can even import their own MP3s and music to use – something I, as a Spotify user, sadly couldn’t test.
Being a Roguelike, the penalty for failing to move correctly or attack at the right time can often be severe, forcing you to start all over again because an enemy moved when you didn’t expect them to. This isn’t a case of bad design, though, merely an indication of the unforgiving nature of NecroDancer, which takes to the label of Roguelike with gusto.
The game provides you with a glut of ways to outsmart its enemies – from blowing up walls and traps to digging your way through the dirt boundaries to bypass particularly tough rooms. As you progress further and further into the depths of the NecroDancer’s Crypt, the music and beat will change – increasing in tempo and complexity.
NecroDancer thankfully offers a range of items, equipment and pick-ups to help you along the way. Deal extra damage with broadswords, fire from range with crossbows and light up the dark tunnels ahead with torches. Each can be bought from a central hub with diamonds and coins you collect during your adventure. Diamonds are the more meta of the two – they are kept even after death and can be spent on upgrading the player character permanently, something players of Rogue Legacy will be familiar with.
Players will find themselves resorting to guesswork and hoping, like they would do in Binding of Isaac, for that one perfect run that gets you through the least complex enemies with the best gear. To aid that replay value the game offers multiple characters to choose from: Dove, who doesn’t kill enemies but confuses them instead and has no boss battles. Monk, who dies instantly if he picks up gold but gets a free item from the merchant every time he sees him. Eli has infinite bombs, making the game even more frenetic. The Bard doesn’t have to move with the music, and freezes the game when he stands still, effectively turning the game into Chess.
The game’s movement often leads to comical moments where you’re hopping up and down, left to right, even in situations when you’re simply trying to buy an item or navigate a trap or stairway. Sometimes it led me to choose the wrong item or the wrong pickup but, something rare when I play roguelikes, it also made me chuckle, even after deaths ad nauseam.
For those looking for a more hands-on experience, the developers have even included dance mat compatibility, allowing you to literally dance your way through the levels. Some of the tracks I fought to still echo in my head as I walk to work or drift to sleep – as do some of the boss battles I couldn’t defeat or that one time I should have moved left but instead went right. That, in my mind, makes NecroDancer an instant number one.
Crypt of the NecroDancer (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
There’s a reason NecroDancer holds a place in the hearts of the many people who played it before its final release: it’s an incessantly charming indie game that can eat up hours and leaves an impression long after you’ve shut it down for the day.
Acelister - 08:18pm, 20th May 2015
The title of this gives me an 'unt unt unt unt' club tune vibe.