Usually when you think of rhythm games, the first thing that comes to mind are games like Guitar Hero or DDR, but most likely you don’t associate it with fighting hordes of enemies and unlocking treasure in dungeons. That is the basic premise of Crypt of the Necrodancer. A rhythm-based dungeon crawler, Crypt of the Necrodancer arrived on Steam last year as an Early Access release and has finally announced its full release for April 23rd. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a Zelda-esque adventure with a twist – instead of free movement, the player must navigate randomly generated dungeons by moving to the rhythm of a custom soundtrack. All the while you have to defeat a variety of monsters who dance along with you and work your way through the different zones, each with unique environments.
You kick the story off as Cadence, a young woman who goes on an adventure to find her father. To do so, she must travel through four zones, each with its own unique monsters and bosses. Cadence is not the only character though. As you complete zones, you unlock more characters with their own special abilities. Along the way, you can rescue imprisoned trainers and shopkeepers who will then hang out on your menu screen, allowing you to unlock items, upgrades, and practice against specific monsters and with specific weapons.
The gameplay is simple enough. You move one square at a time to the beat of the music. There's also a dance pad mode, for those who want to get a mild work out while they play. The original soundtrack for the game was composed by Danny Baranowski and is an excellent soundtrack, with the music subtly matched up with the different environments.
The monsters you face are, for the most part, standard dungeon monsters. Skeletons, blobs, ghasts, dragons. The most impressive and creative monsters are the bosses, by far. At the end of each zone, you face a random boss of a different theme, from a blues-themed Chessboard to a Congoing Ape. While most of the enemies aren’t anything special, the boss fights definitely take advantage of the musical emphasis. The pixelated art style is well crafted – you can fairly obviously tell what everything is, and there is a lot of vibrancy in the design. As you kill enemies, the floor lights up to the beat, making it easier to adjust to the rhythm, but the flashing lights isn’t as overwhelming as other rhythm games.
That is assuming you get to the boss fights to begin with, because this game is actually very difficult. The first zone is a fairly safe introduction to the game's mechanic, and most players will likely get through it without much challenge. The following zones however ramp up the difficulty to a near frustrating degree. The reason for this is largely because of the split second reactions the player must make. The enemies all move to the beat of the music, so the player has to keep up with the beat in order to beat them and retreat when necessary. With so many enemies at once, all with their own movement patterns and abilities, it can take several tries to defeat a zone.
The zones are split into four parts – three dungeons of increasing difficulty, and the boss final. They’re also timed. If you don’t defeat the miniboss before the end of the song, you have to beat them in tight quarters, as well as three other random enemies, which is no easy task. You are given only five hearts to start (though you can recuperate them with food items and by other means), and there are no checkpoints. You have to beat the zone in one try or you will have to restart at the beginning of the zone.
Because of this, it can take several tries to defeat a zone. Fortunately, and this makes a bigger difference than you’d think, the game allows you to insert your own music to use in the levels. This not only removes the tedium of listening to the same song thirty times in a row, but also allows you to alter the difficulty by using songs with slower or faster beats, depending on your preference. It makes the frustration of failure slightly less harrowing. The game will automatically detect the beat, and the technology seems pretty good as pretty much every song will give out an accurate beat. After a while, the movement becomes very natural, and you’ll be moving to it on impulse - even if you’re using characters that are not restricted to it.
As you defeat the zones you also unlock other features in the main menu, including a Daily Challenge. The Daily Challenge is a competitive dungeon to test your skills against other players as you try to rack up the most gold and pass the most dungeons before you die. You only have three hearts in this one, and you’ll feel obligated to save your gold as much as possible to ensure you get the highest score possible. You only get one shot per day (obviously) so you want to make the most of it.
There is also a “Hardcore” mode, where the player must defeat every zone in a single run. If the regular zones are not challenging enough, this might be the place for players craving to prove themselves.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a good game, if for nothing else than its inventive premise. It takes some getting used to, but eventually you lose yourself in the rhythm and become pressed to beat the new challenges. It is insanely hard, especially the later zones (by Zone 3 I’d already counted five hours of gameplay, most of that going towards beating Zone 2) but it is a rewarding type of challenge. You want to keep going.
Of course, being able to switch out the soundtrack helps, so you can plug in songs you can listen to all day and not grow tired of, or switch out every new attempt to get a new sound every time. It would be neat to see a game like this work with Spotify or Pandora, or allow players to recommend custom soundtracks. It’s great for any player who’s a fan of rhythm games or dungeon-crawlers, and especially those looking for someplace to test their skill. Crypt of the Necrodancer is available on Steam.
This game was obtained from the developer, Brace Yourself Games, and reviewed on PC.
Challenging and entertaining, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a lot of fun, but the difficulty can become frustrating.