Necromancers sound like dull and dreary individuals who toil with the undead, but a NecroDancer sounds like the someone we’d all like to take to the disco. Developer Brace Yourself Games’ Crypt of the NecroDancer takes an underworld brimming full of bats, skeletons, zombies, minatours and dragons, and blasts a whole jukebox of tunes through it. The result is a game that blends together the rhythm and dungeon-crawler genres to form an innovative and bizarre concoction.
Your goal is to work your way through reams of foes to get to the NecroDancer, who has made the minor offense of stealing a selection of peoples’ hearts. This includes our heroine Candence’s, who came seeking answers concerning her father. Her short but sweet story is played out through well-voiced cutscenes, and it’s all that’s needed to keep you dancing and fighting to victory.
Your dancefloor is a range of pixelated caves, swamps, and crypts, made up of chess-like tiles. Upon defeating foes, these tile light up and brighten even the dreariest of environments, and when this is coupled this with the brilliant and varying soundtrack there’s a feeling of being in a giant rave. This may remind arcade-goers of games such as Dance Dance Revolution, and this similarity seems intentional. Navigation by default is by using the keyboard, and this gives the feeling that your fingers are using a dance pad.
The music itself is important as both you and your enemies are bound to its beat, and this can be used to your advantage, for example by measuring when an enemy is going to move. Foes are unforgiving but they each move in certain ways, or, as I think of it, they all have dance routines. Skeletons carelessly raise their arms in the air before attacking, blobs move differently depending on their colour, and goblins drop a bomb after they die. You’ll lose health if you find yourself on the same tile an enemy is moving onto, and powerful foes deal death swiftly. This creates a great feeling of fear, as death sends you right back to the start of the zone, and will leave you without any of the items or weapons you’ve collected.
This makes for a difficult game, particularly when facing both minibosses and bosses. In each stage your goal is to defeat its miniboss, and thus unlock the exit stairs. These minibosses can have intimidating attacks: blue dragons freeze large areas, and ogres crush with a far-reaching club. A boss is faced at the end of each zone and, as well as being difficult, some behave in a bizarre fashion: an ape fills a room with a conga line of zombies, and another behaves like a grim reaper of rock.
Despite the game’s difficulty you’re encouraged to keep moving, even when staying still would be the better option. Moving to the beat maintains your multiplier, which is increased by beating enemies and boosts the amount of coins they drop. With these you can purchase items and weapons from the merchant (who sings hilariously along to each song). A spear will allow you to attack from a distance, a helmet gives immunity to bombs, and cheese restores health. You can find these in other ways including by digging out levels’ walls, which also gives way to many secrets.
Digging will find you diamonds to spend on permanent upgrades. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to run out of things to buy, and therefore diamonds lose their value quickly. Nevertheless, most items are essential for your progress, especially when faced with some of the game’s odds.
Some battles can feel unfair, due to the random generation of levels, enemies, and items. Some items can prove more of a hindrance, and some are very difficult to be dropped. Some bosses and minibosses also seem much more difficult than others, and this can be particularly annoying when they’re surrounded by a posse of tough foes.
Fortunately skill can–for the most part–overcome even near insurmountable odds, and along with moments of pure irritation, there are conquests resulting in elated exuberance.
There’s also a surprising amount of content to keep you returning. A wide range of characters with varying abilities can be unlocked, and this create many new challenges. Playing as Dove instantly unlocks the exit stairs on each stage, but she has no weapon, and the monk is damaged by gold, but gets all the items from the merchant for free. A daily challenge is also available in which you must compete against other peoples’ scores in specific tasks.
One of the impressive dance pads available from PrecisionDancePads.com
To add on to this, there’s a room for where you learn lore about monsters, a local multiplayer mode, a dance pad mode(I hadn’t one available to test this), and a level editor. However, of all the content available the fully customizable soundtrack is probably the most enjoyable, and is one aspect that will keep you experimenting with the game. Playing Final Fantasy 7’s One Winged Angel during boss battles proved to be particularly enjoyable.
This trove of content works because the the game is fun, charming, and full of deft touches. It has some flaws in that the randomly generated levels can seem unfair, and the use of diamonds needs balancing. Regardless, Crypt of the NecroDancer courts our attention with its defining innovation and originality. Mixing elements of the rhythm genre into a dungeon crawler has created something truly unique. It reminds us that even though mainstream rhythm games such as Guitar Hero have been in hibernation, there are still major strides being made in the genre.
A mesmerising dance-off with dragons.