Get your dancing shoes..
Blending elements of roguelike and rhythm-based games into one cohesive experience can certainly be described as a bold idea. Fortunately, it is one developer Brace Yourself Games executes very well in unique indie title Crypt of the NecroDancer.
The story, such as it is, follows a character named Cadence (yes, this game has musical puns). Cadence finds herself falling into the crypt after which the game is named while out and about looking for her father. While she is unconscious the NecroDancer takes the opportunity to make off with her heart, hence why Cadence must literally follow the beat throughout each of the crypt’s dungeons in pursuit.
Multiplayer: Local co-op
Essentially, the gameplay matches the imperative of the story: the player must move Cadence to the beat of the soundtrack. Skip a beat and movement is momentarily stalled, and the player’s multiplier is lost. The way in which clever concepts such as this are implemented within both the story and the mechanics of the game is one of the finest aspects of Crypt of the NecroDancer.
The music itself is central to the overall experience provided by the game. Composed by Danny Baranowsky, whose previous work as a composer includes Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, the soundtrack is high-tempo, upbeat, pulsating and catchy. It effortlessly propels the gameplay and allows the roguelike rhythm-based combination at the heart of Crypt of the NecroDancer to succeed.
Don’t stop moving.
Each zone the player must manoeuvre through is comprised of three levels, and all of these are procedurally generated. Once they have been successfully navigated, the player encounters a boss fight. Sounds simple enough, but there is a catch – there are no save points, so if Cadence meets an unfortunate demise, the player must start over from the beginning.
The game is presented via a 2D top-down perspective, and gameplay takes place across a grid-style layout. Cadence’s movements are controlled by the arrow keys – or, if the player’s ambitions stretch far beyond a mere keyboard, a DDR mat – one step at a time. In a vein similar to some turn-based games, different enemies move in different ways and certain weapons are effective across a number of spaces. Because the game is procedurally generated, things are never in the same place twice. I soon discovered that beating this game requires mastering a way to beat the movements of each individual enemy, rather than plotting the best route through each dungeon. Running headfirst into hordes of enemies is a recipe for disaster.
Maintaining the player’s coin multiplayer becomes a crucial aspect to a successful run, as items are procedurally generated too. The more coins accumulated, the better items the player can equip Cadence with by making purchases at the shop.
It’s difficult and addictive – once the thumping beats get going, it’s hard to stop. When the tempo starts to increase so does the intensity of the experience. The challenge of having to complete each zone in a single run only adds to this, and with every failure the temptation to just dive straight back in only increases.
A separate mode, called Bard mode, allows the player to navigate independent to the beat. In this mode, enemies only move after the player has taken a step. This makes the game slightly easier, albeit by removing a key component of what makes Crypt of the NecroDancer so original.
Lost in the beat.
Observation, repetition and rhythm are the central conceits to success in this game. It took this reviewer a few goes before getting into the swing of things, having struggled to get very far in my first few runs.
The game is certainly difficult, particularly in later zones and especially when playing as Cadence. Things can get quite overwhelming when the tempo of the beat really starts to increase.
Because everything is procedurally generated, the player must also rely on randomly generated items. Unfortunately, I found that getting a slew of poor weapons and perks at the start of a zone resulted in ruining a run before it even really got going.
The combination of rhythm-based and roguelike game play on offer in Crypt of the NecroDancer is as delightful as it is original. As a result, the game is both challenging and addictive in a way which, in my opinion, allows it to offer a high level of replay value. It’s accessible enough to be enjoyed by fans of both the genres from which it has spawned, and newcomers alike.
There’s never a dull moment: Brace Yourself Games have created an experience where there is a lot to think about in terms of strategy, movement, enemies, traps and maintaining multipliers. However, the constant pull of Baranowsky’s compelling soundtrack always keeps things moving, encouraging the player to think on their toes and adapt to the situation at hand.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.