Preview – Crypt of the NecroDancer

A rhythm-based roguelike. Not exactly the most common of mash ups. And yet, like Shatner singing ‘Rocket Man’, it just works (and makes you wonder why it hadn’t happened sooner).

Crypt of the NecroDancer is a game currently in the works at indie studio Brace Yourself Games with all the classic features of a roguelike, such as procedural level generation, tile-based graphics and permadeath – the hook being that both you and everything else in the level can only move in time with the beat of the music playing.

zone1The story so far involves protagonist Cadence (get it?) delving into the titular crypt in search of her missing father, only to have the NecroDancer himself show up and steal her heart. Following its increasingly-urgent beat, Cadence must battle all manner of enemies in order to proceed ever further in the hopes of finding both it and her father.

So far, the game is made up of four different zones, each of which are themselves made up of four different levels of increasing difficulty (caveat: this is an assumption as I’ve only fought my way to the end of Zone One so far…). Each level has its own soundtrack to which Cadence must shimmy and shake in time, not only to move about but to interact with objects and lay the beatdown on everything that stands in her path.

And what a soundtrack it is. Each song sets not only the pace of the level but adds a little to the atmosphere too, an impressive feat given the superb yet traditionally minimalist graphics. As you progress further the tempo increases, as does the difficulty and sense of urgency. There is also the option to import your own music, should you want to (music with 120-150bpm is the sweet spot, according to the Internet).

zone2Combat must therefore be approached thoughtfully. Firstly, as mentioned, all levels are procedurally generated so that enemies, traps, etc, are never in the same place. This means there is no option to memorise the appropriate “dance steps” through each zone. This flies in the face of most rhythm-based games where the more you play them, the better you become at the moves.

Secondly, whilst all enemies in Crypt must move to the same beat Cadence does, they each have their own funky little dance: green blobs are shy and just bob on the spot while yellow blobs shimmy around in a four step circle. All skeletons hip thrust to the beat and add a little “raise the roof” gesture before they take a step but only yellow ones move two tiles at once.

Thirdly, there’s your personal weapon and arsenal to consider. Cadence starts off with just a dagger which thrusts one tile in the direction of your choosing but there are plenty of other weapons to be found, such as broadswords, whips and spears, as well as spells and scrolls, all of which do different kinds of damage over different areas.

Lastly, you’re also battling an invisible enemy: time. The songs accompanying each level also double as a timer for your adventure; instead of looping you’ll notice the beats at the bottom of the screen turn red as the end of the track approaches – take too long and a trapdoor will open at your feet and drop you into the next level, whether you’re ready for it or not.

All of this is slowly learned over the course of multiple runs through the dungeons, the result of death after death after death – but, far from feeling tedious or punishing, Crypt holds the same mysterious allure as the dance floor in that as soon as one dance is over, you’re eager to jump straight back in and start the next.

zone1_conga_lineBetween dances, you’ll find Cadence is thrown back to the lobby, a sort of starting hub for the game. Here you can not only access all of the zones you have unlocked so far, but also three different shops in which you can purchase upgrades with diamonds found during dungeon runs. There is also the option to switch characters as they’re unlocked, each of which holds a new challenge, such as the Monk who will die if you try and pick up the gold dropped by slain enemies. And speaking of enemies, there is also a BeastMaster character whom, if you rescue him from the dungeons, will allow you to hold practise battles with enemies you’ve encountered to better learn their moves.

In addition to all of this are extra features that add to the game’s versatility: local co-op, daily challenges, the option to play with a gamepad or dance mat, a hardcore mode in which players must try and dance their way through all four zones without dying plus a bunch of locked doors that may be placeholders for content still under development or already hold further challenges this reviewer is just not yet skilled enough to have unlocked.

As the game is currently in Early Access on Steam, it is still being worked on and currently contains placeholder graphics, music, etc. However, there is more than enough already available to prove that Crypt is certainly something worth getting excited about.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try importing Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ to accompany my next dungeon crawl.

logoDisclosure: A review key for the Early Access version of Crypt of the NecroDancer was supplied to staff for this review.

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