Crypt of the Necrodancer (Early Access) Review

Someone needs to get it out of my head. No, really, I cannot forget the beats this game has carved into my now partially undead skull (please send help).

Drama aside, I’m taking a look at Crypt of the Necrodancer this fine, post-Halloween day. Catchy name aside, the game is a 2D dungeon crawler in which you move your character along tiles that light up to some fantastic beats. You’ll run into a slew of enemies with a similar theme of old-time dungeon monsters you may recall from the Commodore 64 days and up. Spooky skeletons, slimes, a fabulous necromancer that has no issues kicking your ass in his night clu–uh, dungeon.

The music here is obviously the focus of the game and comes from composer Danny Baranowsky. However, a nice feature has been put in place whereby players can substitute their own music in place of what the game features. This adds a lot of enjoyment to the experience – especially from my perspective. There’s nothing quite like slashing a dungeon dragon to System of a Down.

This game is still in early alpha but is available on Steam for a reasonable fee. A soundtrack has also been released for the game from the aforementioned composer and after listening to the tracks throughout the game, I must warily admit it is worth it. Only warily because I cannot get the songs out of my head; both a blessing and a curse.

While the music is heavily focused upon here, and with good reason, the rest of the game hasn’t been neglected at all. The visuals are all colored well and crisp, playing off of that pixelated retro vibe that seems to be making a come back more and more. Despite you really only being able to move in four directions with either arrow keys, gamepad or even a dance pad, it still feels fun to move around and explore.

The exploration aspect of the Brace Yourself Games-developed title is also a nice touch. Varying levels will have various means to explore, items to find and pick-ups to collect to help you on your journey through an endless horde of skeleton raves. Finding a lot of these items is left up to the player, which gives the game more of a free-roaming aspect – adding to its casual and fun feel.

The story is a simple setup. Our protagonist, Cadence, goes and does something she wasn’t supposed to do (according to her uncle), and then gets into some trouble after apparently pissing off the dead. I guess they’re not such a big fan of young, blond women digging them up for nefarious, vague purposes. Regardless, the titular Necrodancer goes Dragons Dogma on us and takes Cadence’s heart to bring her back from the dead. The setup alone is not exactly original, but it is interesting enough for me to want to know how it all ends and what the apparent “question” that she needed answering was. Even the voice acting for Cadence makes her a bit more interesting and she’ll frequently talk to herself to give the player hints about what to do. This is a tutorial method that can often grate on players, but here it works well, only being there when it needs to be.

Enemies have certain movement and attack patterns and the player can only attack by striking on the beat. Miss it or screw up your trajectory and you’ll take damage as well as losing your coin multiplier, which rewards you for precision hits. You’ll go through about three or four zones with varying degrees of difficulty and different enemy types before you run into a mini-boss. The designs on them are pretty grand and fit well with the rest of the game; they’re also a terrible amount of fun. These mini-bosses are essentially what it would feel like to be in the Step Up movies, if those movies were fun and horror-based.

So, yes, Crypt of the Necrodancer is essentially an exploration, dungeon-based version of Dance, Dance Revolution with spooky skeletons.

I absolutely adore it.

I’m a big fan of games that take creative spins on things and this one certainly does that. It’s a prime example of how two unlikely forces combining can make something special and new, an unspoken rule of gaming alchemy that either works or leaves you with a robot arm and a metal brother, I suppose. The nice thing here is that the game shows that simplicity comes to the advantage of the creator in situations where new ideas are present. I’m a firm believer that a lot of gold is struck with a simple idea being taken and then progressively built upon as time goes on. I’m also convinced this is the method that early writers of any superhero comic origin used to make the heroes and villains of today and it’s a system that works well.

In short, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a simple idea, taken from old school-style 2D dungeon crawlers, and given a fresh twist. Instead of relying on the novelty of the idea alone, the developer put a lot of love into this game; from its simple-but-effective story, to the crisp voice acting, the incredibly addictive music and the overall atmosphere.

This game is sugar cookies. Sugar cookies that are crammed full of love and sprinkles and whatever else your mad scientist mother could fit in there.

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