The early access gaming phenomenon has really taken off over recent years, with enthusiastic gamers buying potential-laden games whilst they are still in development. This is certainly a gamble, with Steam having to tighten rules on early access titles after a series of scams and disappointments, but creative powerhouse Minecraft may have never reached its current position in the industry without giving fans beta access. It’s still up for debate as to whether early access is a positive or a negative on the industry as a whole, but it looks like the trend is here to stay.
It has certainly allowed independent developers a way to raise funds for projects based on early builds, and the business strategy was essential for the successful development of Crypt of the NecroDancer. The game topped Steam sales charts with its initial early access launch, winning the hearts and minds of gamers with its unique premise. After all, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a roguelike with a twitst, combining dungeon-crawling with Dance Dance Revolution-esque rhythm mechanics.
Crypt of the NecroDancer places gamers into the (dancing) shoes of Cadence, a young adventurer searching the titular crypt for her missing father. Along the way, Cadence will find rare and powerful items and unlock other playable characters, all the while moving to the beat of the background music. Indeed, Cadence and her companions cannot move or attack outside of the rhythm of music itself, making precision timing essential for survival.
Keeping time is made all-the-more easy by the game’s stellar soundtrack, however, and players will no doubt keep their heads nodding to Crypt of the NecroDancer’s catchy electronica beats. The songs have a 8-bit style, with grandiose, Zelda-esque riffs and impressive bass sections. It makes the game that much more enjoyable, and the soundtrack is deserving of praise outside of the gaming environment. Better yet, developer Brace Yourself Games allows gamers to customize the music, with the ability to play along to the songs on a player’s hard drive – although sometimes the beat algorithm feels a little off with this custom option.
At its core, however, Crypt of the NecroDancer is more than simply a rhythm game, and dungeon exploration is the real meat and potatoes on offer. The title works similarly to other modern roguelikes, with randomized levels, permadeath, and vital weapon and magic upgrades. The title has striking similarities to The Binding of Isaac, with in-dungeon shops to purchase items, mixing in Rogue Legacy’s permanent upgrade options to improve a player’s chances of survival.
Crypt of the NecroDancer has one option that sets it apart from its roguelike rivals, however, as the title allows for local co-operative play. The co-op mode can be chaotic and hilarious, and two teammates need to stay in sync to survive through the dangerous levels of the crypt. A solo player may sometimes wish for a helping hand, though, as Crypt of the NecroDancer contains fearsome enemies and some fairly tough bosses.
The player is by no means powerless against the monstrous enemies Crypt of the NecroDancer has on offer, though. The title has a turn-based mechanic based around the beats of the music, meaning that gamers have much more control over their combat strategy. This works perfectly with the game’s square grid system, making it easier to map out routes using Crypt of the NecroDancer’s simple yet effective arrow key controls.
This minimalist control scheme certainly works in Crypt of the NecroDancer’s favor. Everything the player needs through their adventure is accessible on the keyboard, with a directional tap controlling both movement and attacks. Even additional items such as bombs, food, and spells can be used by pressing multiple arrow keys at once. It makes the game feel even closer to its rhythm game roots, and Brace Yourself Games has taken the ingenious step of making Crypt of the NecroDancer compatible with dancepads.
The use of only four buttons may lull players into a false sense of security, however, as there are a number of gameplay elements that gamers must keep track of. Standing still and missing beats removes the player’s coin bonus, hindering the ability to purchase essential items from the dungeon shops. Not only that, but missing the beat is sure to guarantee a quick defeat when facing off against hordes of constantly moving enemies.
Indeed, the biggest challenge facing players is the ability to make quick calculations about enemy movements, all whilst keeping perfectly in time with the beat of the music. Each of Crypt of the NecroDancer’s enemy units has a different pattern, and it is vitally important to play the game thinking three steps ahead. It may sound confusing, but getting locked in to the tempo of the level and swiftly dispatching enemies is an incredibly rewarding and satisfying experience.
Unfortunately, Crypt of the NecroDancer is not the perfect roguelike, and there are some concerns about just how long a player will stick with the game in a single session. Each level of the game’s dungeons will have the same music regardless of repeated playthroughs, meaning that players will end up hearing the same four or five songs if they fail to master the rhythm-based gameplay. Although giving each floor its own tempo may help with difficulty, it’s an oddly strict move in a heavily randomized game.
Thankfully, this is but a minor gripe, as Brace Yourself Games does allow the player to swap out songs per level via the options menu. This gives gamers some control over the music they listen to on each level, with the custom music option opening up a player’s own music library. Even with the developer’s musical flexibility, however, Crypt of the NecroDancer does seem to work best in short, sharp bursts. The levels of the dungeons are small, and the randomization of enemies and items means that gamers may get a little tired of the title if they don’t feel particularly inspired by the playthrough they are given. A break between runs may be in order for some, unlike rivals such as The Binding of Isaac and FTL: Faster Than Light.
With the game serving as such a perfect distraction for the fifteen to thirty minute bracket, it’s a shame that Crypt of the NecroDancer is currently not available as a mobile release. The title’s simple controls, sprite-based graphics and compact level size makes it an ideal title to pass the time on a long journey or lunch break. Brace Yourself Games will hopefully have plans for an Android and iOS release in the future, but for now, Crypt of the NecroDancer is only available for the home computer market.
Nothing should take away from what an impressive game Crypt of the NecroDancer is, however. Brace Yourself Games has brought some real ingenuity into the indie game circuit, and the developer deserves great praise for creating an incredibly fun roguelike that’s filled to the brim with addictive gameplay and fiendish enemies. Add in eye-popping, fun sprites, and an earworm-worthy soundtrack, and it’s clear that Crypt of the NecroDancer has easily lived up to all that initial promise.
Crypt of the NecroDancer is out April 23 for PC, Mac, and Linux. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.