Crypt of the Necrodancer
The rhythm game is a versatile beast. With the core concept of control in a rhythmic pattern, this simple foundation can be tweaked and applied to almost any game. Bit.Trip Runner did it as a platformer, Space Channel 5 did it as a Simon Says dance game, Dangan Ronpa utilised it within a murder mystery. Now Crypt of the Necrodancer, brought to us by the one-man studio Brace Yourself Games, explores a new corridor with an old genre: roguelike dungeon crawlers.
For those too young or those who didn’t have a PC in the 90s, the roguelike is a punishingly hard style of RPG. A single character or party traverses through a randomly generated dungeon, picking up equipment and slaying enemies along the way. Death is utterly final: if you fall, your game is over and you return to the title screen to try again, all levels, equipment and progress lost. This type of gameplay can often be frustrating and unfair, but Necrodancer modernises in many clever ways. The diamonds you find in the crypt are retained, for example, allowing you to purchase permanent upgrades and improve the equipment found in chests. Exploration is encouraged too: Cadence comes equipped with a shovel at all times, those sweet, sweet diamonds hidden away inside dirt blocks that must be dug out rather than just dancing your way along the boring old path.
For those still finding things too hard, there is a Dancepad mode – yes, you can play this game with a dancepad – boasting fewer enemies and better starting equipment, and Hardcore Mode for the people truly wanting that old-school grind. Trainers are available to fight enemies and bosses at your convenience. It’s an appealing, clever take on the genre which lends itself nicely to the ‘One More Run’ mentality rather than trying to be the gruelling games of yesteryear.
But what about the Dancer part of the Necro? Against a soundtrack composed by Danny Baranowsky (he did the music for Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac), our heroine Cadence must move along with the beat, dodging and fighting enemies while gathering gold and diamonds. The story is negligible – Cadence goes to crypt in search of truth, undead wizard does weird magic to her heart, okay go – but the concept of using only the arrow keys to move and attack on a simple beat allows for a kind of flow which is missing from many games. Critically, lag appears non-existent even with a screen full of enemies: the last thing anyone would want is to get their combo messed up because of an unexpected delay, and this has obviously been taken into account.
Where the game falls down is in the same areas that most roguelikes and rhythm games tend to. A single misstep can ruin everything, the game demanding excellence and punishing severely when it is not achieved. Being forced to move on a constant beat can be fatal when impatience takes over, spelling your doom again. The grind of going through the first few levels over and over – though this is mitigated by the crypt being separated into four zones – can also wear on the patience, forcing the player to endure tracks over and over again.
As a whole, however, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a very compelling product. A game such as this can easily become clunky and frustrating if overdone, but the simple, almost minimalistic controls and art helps to keep the player coming back for more. As an alpha, there’s plenty more to come during development – more characters, the ability to import your own music, more daily challenges – but it says much for a game to seem this polished already. Whether you prefer your dungeon crawling gruelling and long or as a quick fix, Crypt of the Necrodancer is certainly a game worth pulling out your dance pad for.
- Evocative music and great sprite art
- Compelling gameplay
- Occasionally frustrating difficulty
- Not a game that can be played for hours