Review: Crypt of the Necrodancer

It’s been a bit since my last review, but I’m back to write some more. This week’s review is another indie title that incorporates rogue-like elements into a top-down dungeon crawler (big shock), but with a twist: you must move to the beat or face defeat. From Brace Yourself Games, it’s Crypt of the Necrodancer, let’s go!

 

This game is, as mentioned, a rogue-like dungeon crawling game, much like Rogue, but Necrodancer incorporates elements from rhythm games, such that everything must be done in time to the music. Play as Cadence, a young girl looking for answers in an old graveyard, where her digging leads to her falling down into a buried crypt. Deep underground in structures long forgotten, Cadence’s heart is taken by some sort of music-based necromancer, replaced only with the constant beat of a drum. Armed with only your knife and your shovel, dance your way into the dungeon, defeat the dreadful denizens that lurk in there, and drive deeper into the deadly den to discover what lies in store in the Crypt of the Necrodancer.

An animated image of Cadence moving in time and defeating monsters.

Like a lot of the games I’ve talked about, Necrodancer is somewhat retro-inspired in its visual design, using a pixelated art style for everything, including still frames like the title screen and those used in cutscenes. Using the pixel art style for the cutscenes stills adds a certain connected-ness to the brief cutscenes that play, associating them visually with the rest of the game. Beyond the pixel art, the designs for enemies, NPCs, and items in this game are also top notch. The NPCs all have unique designs for their various roles as merchants and helpers. A wide variety of enemy designs, from skeletons and bats to minotaurs and dragons, which also play into the gameplay, but more on that later on. To add more variety, some enemies and items are just re-skins of other enemies and items, meaning that they look the same except for some color variations, and while perhaps on the lazy side of production, this sort of thing is not uncommon for indie titles with limited budgets and time constraints.

For a rhythm game, music is one of the most important thing there is. If the music isn’t good, why go along with the rhythm? That just means listening to more of the music you don’t like. Thankfully, Crypt of the Necrodancer hosts a wide variety of music, with genres ranging from techno and more retro-styled bits to jazz and R&B-styled tracks. Along with that, there are also options in game to use remixed versions of the standard soundtrack, along with using your own custom music for each level, individually customizable for each stage. Necrodancer delivers on pretty much all fronts on music choice. You can listen to the original soundtrack here.

 

As previously mentioned, this game has cutscenes, which implies it as something to show in these cutscenes. Yes, Crypt of the Necrodancer has a story, which is revealed mostly in flashback as you progress through the stages. Past the introduction described in paragraph two, cutscenes occur at the end of each major section, detailing some past memory as to why things are the way they are, or leading into the next fight. The story itself is pretty good, an original take on a story about familial ties and dungeon crawling, but is not required to play the game. The important thing to know, however, is that hitting certain milestones inlocks new characters, who in turn have their stories to tell. By completing one story, you can unlock another, which is pretty cool.

 

For rhythm games, being able to correctly time your inputs for the most advantage is important. For rogue-like games, being able to strategize your inputs for the most advantage against your opponents is important. Crypt of the Necrodancer combines both of these into a single video game experience that is both fun and frustrating at the same time. The difficulty of rogue-like games has you dying frequently, but listening to the awesome soundtrack over and over softens the sting of failure. The game starts you out in a little hub area, which will later have training areas and challenges, but in the beginning there’s not much you can do there. Once you go into one of the zones, this is where the game starts. The music starts and the beats start coming, visualized by a heart at the bottom of the screen with vertical beats coming towards it. To do anything, you must perform the action when the beats are near the heart, putting all of your actions in beat with the music. Performing well increases your multiplier, meaning enemies drop more gold, but one wrong action can reset your multiplier.

You start with a dagger, a shovel, and a bomb, and can find a wide variety of items to upgrade your equipment and fight your opponents. There are different weapons you can use, there are various spells for offense and defensive scenarios, and all kinds of clothing to improve your dungeon delving experience. On top of that, you can find people trapped in the crypt, and once freed go to the hub area and offer services, like selling items or helping you train against specific enemies or bosses. Purchasing permanent upgrades is possible with diamonds, the rare currency found in the crypt, and can improve the possible items you can get from chests or permanently upgrade you, with extra health or a better gold multiplier.

 

The crypt is split into four major zones, each with four subsections. Here is where you’ll face the skeletons and bats I mentioned. At the end of each subsection is a miniboss that blocks the way to the stairs leading to the next area, which is often something like a minotaur or dragon. After all four subsections of a zone, there is a boss enemy of the zone, powerful and music-based. Beating the boss of the zone clears the zone, opening up the next one, like beating Zone 1 unlocks Zone 2, and so forth. This will usually be accompanied by a small cutscene describing some story. As previously mentioned, completing zones will also sometimes unlock new characters, who have different abilities and playstyles. Mix up your gameplay, play as an old man who kicks bombs! Try exploring the crypt as a pacifist! Or a monk who is (deadly) allergic to gold!

 

The main difficulty of Necrodancer comes not from fast music requiring faster reaction times, but from a variety of enemies each with a unique attack and movement pattern. Recognizing and reacting properly to a room of six different enemies is the challenge of Necrodancer, which can be difficult if you start letting habit get to you and just mash buttons. This is where those training areas come in handy. Paying attention to everything on screen, from enemies right next to you to the traps on the floor to even the gold that’s been dropped, keeping all of these things in mind when moving is key to succeeding in Crypt of the Necrodancer.

While a fun game all-around to play, it’s going to take some time to learn and recognize enemy patterns. This, combined with the variety and customizability of the music can have a dedicated player putting a lot of time into Crypt of The Necrodancer. Getting a good run and making progress can take some time, as even the smaller purchases to make your future runs easier might require a lot of diamonds. If you like rogue-like games, check this out. If you like rhythm games, this might be worth a shot for variety. Find it on Steam with mod support, the Playstation Store for both PS4 and Vita, and on iTunes. That’s all for now, see you later.

 

-Dr. Glovegood

Dr. Glovegood

I like gloves. I like games. I'd like to see more of these in the world.

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