Crypt of the NecroDancer is the first rougelike game I’ve played in a long time that I felt like I was always on the cusp of victory, instead of always on the brink of defeat. That was by design though. Vancouver based developer Brace Yourself Games intended their title to be approachable and fair, while still encouraging players to learn the nuances of the game and raise their skill level high enough to see continued success. The idea is clearly working for them, as their game currently boasts high player ratings on Steam’s Early Access platform, but I’m not entirely convinced that it’s as approachable to the masses as they would hope.
So what exactly about this dungeon crawler is so different? The Beats. The game is entirely played to the rhythm of the game’s excellent (and award-winning) soundtrack. Composed by Danny Baranowsky, also known for his work on indie titles Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, the music is the soundtrack of the NecroDancer, the games villain. Tasked with dancing their way past monsters and traps, the player must descend deeper into the NecroDancer’s crypt. There are some games modes that even let you use your own music as part of this quest.
Game play requires you to move around the procedural-generated dungeons to the beat of the music. Attacking must also be in line with the beat, and defeating creatures yields gold and multipliers as long as you never break the rhythm. As you play you run into bigger and more dangerous enemies, as well as treasure chests that upgrade your attack power, defense, and visibility. There’s other loot to collect, like diamonds, that allow you to unlock more interesting upgrades in the game’s lobby, and must be spent between rounds. Upgrades don’t give you any enhancements at the start of your session, however. Instead they will show up in the chests you find in the crypt. The more you unlock, the better items you’ll find as you play. The gold you pick up from enemies allows you to buy some of those upgrades from shops found throughout the crypt, so some of that randomness can be overcome, if you wish.
And that’s the real strategy, really. Play long enough and you’ll unlock better items to randomly acquire as you play. The game play is random enough to not permit you to prepare a strategy ahead of time, but as you come across items you’ll have to learn how to adjust your game play to take advantage. It’s a feature that really encourages you to keep playing after you lose. Some players may not really be into that type of progression, however. There were times early on where I was not very successful and wasn’t accumulating enough diamonds to unlock all those better random pickups. It was frustrating. After some longer investment, however, the pickups became more useful earlier in my run, and that allowed me to earn gold from kills and buy stuff I actually wanted. That initial investment can be a significant hurdle for more casual players though, and its worth noting.
The game offers plenty of modes to try, including daily challenges, training sessions against specific monster types, and cooperative modes if you so choose. The most notable mode, however, may be the dance pad mode, which allows you to hook up your old DDR game pad and dance your way to victory. With a game based solely on playing to the beat of the music, the dance pad idea is truly a great one, adding even more unique aspects to an already unique game.
Visually the game has that Zelda-esque retro dungeon feel, and the music is a great mix of chip tunes and electronic beats that fit the setting perfectly. I particularly enjoy it when, once I achieve a multiplier, the tiles of the entire crypt blink like a dance club. The monsters are all varied and dance along to the beat with you. It’s charming…. it almost makes the concept of a monster filled dungeon friendly, in a way.
There are a lot of roulgelike games out there, and all of them have a barrier to entry that can be enough to chase players away early on. This game still has elements of that, unfortunately. That said, of all the games in this genre that I’ve played, this one becomes far more approachable once you do some early grunt work, and the uniqueness of the musical additions is a fantastic idea that nobody else has tried yet. If you have a dance pad, this game gives you huge incentives to take it back out of your closet and get to hot stepping.
I enjoyed this game a lot, and you should all give it a try if you enjoy this genre. For newcomers, however, I recommend caution.
Crypt of the NecroDancer was provided to LevelSave for review purposes and was played on the PC via Steam.