Monday, June 25, 2018

Crypt of the Necrodancer Review-like

In the past, music games and Rogue-likes are two genres I've always struggled with. However,
it's currently the last week of #RhythmGameMonth and there's a major game sale going on, so I decided to give Crypt of the Necrodancer a shot.

In this game, the player navigates through four procedurally generated dungeons while moving on beat to the background music. The enemies move along with beat as well. Since this is a
Rogue-like, any items collected or progress made within each dungeon are lost upon losing a life. Thus, each dungeon must be completed in a single life. The only thing the player gets to keep after a dungeon attempt is the game's currency, diamonds. Diamonds can be spent on persistent upgrades, such HP increases, that will make subsequent dungeon runs a little easier. Diamonds can also be spent on expanding the pool of temporary items that can appear within treasure chests inside the dungeons. While diamonds can be spent after a failed dungeon attempt, they do not accumulate between multiple runs; they must all be spent before starting another run. For example, if you want a permanent upgrade that costs 12 diamonds, all 12 of those diamonds must be gathered in a single run. Overall, the game flow consists of making repeated attempts at a dungeon in hopes of either: A) making it all the way to the end, or B) gathering enough diamonds to buy an upgrade that’ll improve your chances of success in subsequent runs.

  • Since this is a rhythm game, good music is essential. Thankfully, composer Dan Baranowsky delivers in a big way. If you’ve ever wondered what fighting skeletons and dragons at a rave would be like, play this game to find out. I really enjoy chip tunes and electronic dance music, so much of my motivation to push through the dungeons would be to hear the next level’s tracks. The game comes with several alternate music mixes as well and there is even an option in the PC version to replace the background music with your own MP3s.
  • Like many indie games, this one uses a pixelated faux-8-bit graphical style. What sets this one apart is the extra layer of personality applied to the sprite animations. Everybody dances. The golems roll their shoulders to the beat, the skeletons wave their hands in the air (like they just don’t care), and the shopkeeper accompanies the background music by singing opera.
  • This isn’t a game that you can just hack and slash your way through. Every enemy moves in a distinct way and each weapon behaves differently. Thus, survival requires figuring out the right approach to any given scenario. There is a surprising amount of strategy involved.
  • The procedural level design system works quite well. While no two runs are exactly alike, there is a consistent theme within each dungeon that makes them feel distinct. With a small handful of exceptions, the game does a good job of generating level layouts that make sense and are fun to explore.

  • The Rogue-like design of this game means you will be replaying the same dungeon dozens of times before you actually make it through. The randomization of the level layouts helps a little bit with the repetitiveness, but at a certain point, I was keenly aware that I was sinking a lot of time into this game without making any tangible progress.
  • Crypt of the Necrodancer is both difficult and unforgiving. While I understand this is part of the appeal of the game for some players, I eventually became frustrated with the combination of sustained perfection and luck that was required to succeed. When I would have a winning run, it was generally because I managed to maintain the intense focus and patience needed to avoid taking too much damage and be lucky enough to find chests with high-level gear.

If you’re wondering why this is a “review-like” rather than a real review, it’s because I haven’t managed to beat this game and I don’t like giving review scores to games that I haven’t finished. Of the game’s four dungeons, I’ve managed to beat the first one and make it as far as the boss of the second one, but with only a sliver of health left. After spending several hours banging my head against the wall in the second dungeon, I found myself at the point of diminishing returns and have decided to set the game aside. I'm disappointed that I won't get to experience the second half of the game any time soon but at this point, but I'd rather move on to something else than burn myself out on a game that I otherwise enjoyed.

Time Played: 6 hours
Recommendation: A great choice for Rogue-like fans, worth trying (on heavy discount) for everyone else

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