Somtimes, mechanics can be so deeply divisive that what some may consider a game's best strength is the same reason why others may never touch it. Crypt of the NecroDancer takes rhythm based mechanics to create a unique roguelike that can be incredibly entertaining, if you can keep in time with the beat.
Tap Your Toes and Clap Your Hands
Despite its rhythmic twist, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a roguelike dungeon crawler at heart. You take your character through four procedurally generated zones, collect items and smack bats along the way. If (and when) you die you lose all of your gear and you have to start at the beginning of that zone. There is some meta progression in the game; zones will remain unlocked, and your health upgrades will not go away. Those core fundamentals are uncontroversial but equally uncreative. It follows the pattern through and through.
However, it is the rhythm mechanics that really sets this particular one apart from the rest. A bar with the heart at the bottom of your screen is where you follow the beat the songs, all original works by Danny Baranowsky, the composer of Super Meat Boy. You can only act at every beat, so if you try to move outside of the rhythm your character will remain motionless. Fortunately, you are not the only one bound to the beat. Every bouncing slime, groovy skeleton, and funky minotaur must keep up with the tempo.
Metronome Sold Separately
The rhythm-based combat makes Crypt of the Necrodancer feel almost like a turn-based RPG, but condensed down to fit to a song. It might be more appropriate to call it "beat-based." It proves to be a double edge sword--while the beat-based mechanic is unique and I enjoyed it most of the time, I ran into frustrating moments enough that I'm sure some players would lose patience.
The pace can be very rigid, and players have little control over it. You really do not have a moment of respite to assess the room or the monsters you are about to fight. Sometimes when I found a shrine or a new weapon, I wanted to just read the text to figure out what it actually did. Sadly by standing still, I sacrificed my gold multiplier or opened myself up to an attack by a boogying banshee. On the other hand, veterans of Super Meat Boy or 1001 Spikes might well find the deliberate, pre-set pace too slow.
With many dungeon crawlers, walking into a room filled with baddies you innately understand the goal is to splatter the walls with red pixels in a slaughtering frenzy. However, you really cannot do that with NecroDancer. Running (or hopping) into a horde of enemies will only result in your death. You need to study the behaviors of each enemy and act accordingly while keeping up with the beat. That makes for a steep learning curve. It took me a solid hour for me to get a hang of NecroDancer. That's sixty full minutes of failing over and over again, all while a little voice in my head reminded me that this is the reason I do not own a single musical instrument.
To be clear, once I got the hang of NecroDancer, I found it really fulfilling. Once I was over the initial hump, the pace was perfect for both long binges of gameplay and for quick bites. I found the boss fights to be incredibly inventive and very engaging. However this is not an easy two-tone beat kind of game. The difficulty ramps up with each zone, with the screen turning into a complete mosh pit of enemies. Every move and attack must be calculated ahead of time if you want to leave each level unscathed, all the while keep up with the soundtrack. This is more difficult than it sounds, and almost frustrated me to the point of completely dropping the game.
Play It Again, Sam
Crypt of the NecroDancer is a fast paced dungeon crawler that brilliantly blends rhythm based mechanics into a chimeric roguelike that can entertain you for hours. If you manage to master the music you will be rewarded with engaging combat, a plethora of items to use and an addictive adventure that you can sink your teeth into. However if the beat breaks you down then this game is nothing more than a heartache.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Crypt of the NecroDancer will be available in digitally on April 23, for $14.99. The game is rated E.
Crypt of the NecroDancer
- Engaging rhythm mechanic
- Clever enemy design
- Great for long play and short runs
- Steep learning curve
- Can be very frustrating
Andrew Zucosky posted a new article, Crypt of the NecroDancer: Get Down