Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer, by Brace Yourself Games, is an interesting animal. A rhythm-based, rogue-like (which is to say, a dungeon crawling game with randomized levels) game, it is centered around the mechanic of moving to the beat of a song played, either a prearranged piece written for the level or a piece selected by the player which the game analyzes and parses. It can be played using standard control arrays like keyboard, with a gamepad, or with a dance pad, like Dance Dance Revolution. Unique among the rogue-like world, very rare in the fantasy world, and charmingly designed with an 8-bit aesthetic, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a successful hybrid.
The game itself begins with a short cinematic showing the story thus far – in short, an adventurer has her heart quite literally stolen by the eponymous Necrodancer, and undaunted, continues her quest bearing up under her new limitations. This character, Cadence, then journeys through a series of levels and faces countless enemies on her quest for “answers.”
The gameplay is unusual and although the controls are more or less the standard for an above-view rogue-like using the arrow keys, Necrodancer’s central gimmick requires that you move only on the beat. This is aided by a beat analyzer at the bottom of the screen that shows you when movement is allowed, but it still takes some getting used to. Eventually, players will find themselves getting accustomed to the practice of moving on the beat, and learning the really unique angle of the game; one pointed out by designer Ryan Clark on his website- that the game can be played perfectly.
Given that all the enemies have set movement patterns and many have ‘tells’ that indicate when they are going to move and attack, you can win every time.– if you think fast enough. Moving on every beat isn’t required in the base game, but it’s necessary for building high scores, so the pressure is on. Thus the game, far from being the standard random challenge put forth by roguelikes, is actually a rigid set of rules you can take advantage of. This, as the developer points out with what I imagine is a certain amount of glee, means that if you lose, it’s your fault.
Bearing those high points in mind, those seeking to criticize the game will find some grounds, unfortunately. It is still in Early Access, although it is now in beta and Brace Yourself plans to complete the game this year. That means there are certain rough patches and lack of polish in places. Game balance is still being figured out. Semi-regular patches provide new content, but can be frustrating to keep up with. Finally, there’s the criticism that any theoretically perfectable game has an upper bound on its potential for challenge, but having played a considerable amount of Necrodancer, I have yet to reach it – and the game can be maddeningly difficult at times.
But with all that said, Necrodancer is a fun and colorful game with enchanting music and gameplay. It has a number of different modes, including a daily challenge, and different characters that all have different rules for play that can be unlocked as you master the game. The final game has a lot of promise, but in its existing state, the game is quite worth the asking price, and only seems to be getting better. This is a crypt worth plundering.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is by Brace Yourself Games, and is available through Steam Early Access for $14.99 on Mac, PC, and Linux. It is appropriate for all ages.