Classic game shows are a guilty pleasure of mine, especially those that are based on words. I find myself watching hours of Password, Wheel of Fortune, and $100,000 Pyramid (particularly episodes with Betty White), trying to figure out the letters of a word or the best way to communicate a concept in the fewest number of clues. Never did I think that this passion would actually help in this bizarre, black-and-white dungeon crawler called Cryptmaster, where words and letters are the name of the game.
Man of letters
Even among all of the indie games showcased at the Day of the Devs booth at GDC 2023, Cryptmaster was the odd man out. First off, it’s a dungeon crawler in the vein of old-school Might & Magic or the modern Shin Megami Tensei Persona Q series, where you move around a tile-based map in first-person by moving in one of the cardinal directions. Then on top of that, pretty much everything you do in the game requires you to type in words to perform actions and to solve word-based puzzles — interacting with objects, attacking enemies, and opening chests. There really isn't any game like this. (And trust me, I’ve Google searched and everything.)
The demo starts off with a narrator with a dark, creepy voice who I think is a necromancer that has revived your corpse from another location in the Underland. He soon revives you and your party of adventurers, including Joro the warrior, Syn the rogue, Maz the bard, and Nix the mage. And just to make it clear that words matter, Joro has the most health since he has more letters in his name.
It’s unclear if you’ll be able to extend your party’s health, but each character has a hidden word beneath his or her name. If you’re able to figure out what it is, this will unlock additional abilities in the character’s skill tree. To help you out, beating an enemy or opening a chest has the chance of dropping letters that will fill in the blanks of the word. You can also randomly guess what it is, though that has the chance of the narrator humorously berating you for whatever you type. I typed in “poop” and some profanity just for kicks, and his response was amazing.
Them's fightin' words
In combat, you have a limited number of letters you can type before the enemy strikes one of your characters. But if you deal enough damage by writing attacks like “jab,” “zap,” or “trip,” you can minimize the damage your party takes. You can also use some skills outside of a fight, like Nix casting a spell to summon crabs that can do a few points of damage before combat begins. To open a chest, you need to play a mini-game where you ask the narrator about the object inside, like how it feels and looks. Each incorrect guess will reveal an extra letter that will help you figure out the puzzle, though it will lower the number of rewards you’ll get.
Exploring the dungeon thoroughly, I was able to locate a soulstone that the narrator wanted me to find. This allowed me to open a giant gate protected by a massive eyeball, which was convinced that I was not a living being. There was also a shrine to a goddess who didn’t want to help me because I was undead. I was ultimately forced to smash the shrine, which will likely lead to some unforeseen circumstances later on, but doing so saves the game. That makes me wonder what will happen if you beat Cryptmaster without destroying any of the statues, but we’ll have to wait and see when the game releases.
Developers Paul Hart and Lee Williams, under publisher Akupara Games, plan to release Cryptmaster for PC on Steam and Epic Games Store in 2024.
This preview is based on a hands-on PC build at a booth during GDC 2023.
Nick Tan posted a new article, Cryptmaster is a wonderfully bizarre word-based dungeon crawler