There’s something admiral about a game that can add a new feature to a well-known genre, and by doing that make it feel fresh again. And there’s something even more admiral if they can do it and still please the fanboys.
Crypt of the Necrodancer has accomplished both. It’s a roguelike with all the permadeth, procedural maps, and unforgiving difficulty you’d expect. But it’s also a game about dance fighting.
The whole game moves to the soundtrack’s beat. Enemies dance around the map, each with their own patterns of movement and attack. You’ll also have to move to the beat, which gives it pace and strategy unlike any roguelike I’ve played.
For comparison, if most roguelikes were like a game chess, Crypt of the Necrodancer would be a game of speed chess. The defined movements of the enemies means that each has a specific strategy needed to defeat them. And by making you to also move to a beat, the game forces you to keep moving, keep making decisions, and often make a stupid move that you wouldn’t have made if you had time to think and strategize.
Now, just being fair, it’s not the first game to pull the “move to the beat of a song” mechanic. The fabled Earthbound 2 used a similar music-based temp for its combat. But by linking enemy and character movement to the beat, the game becomes something of a mix between turn-based and real-time that makes it feel like a very unique strategy game.
Aside from just being unique, Crypt of the Necrodancer is also a very good roguelike. It does everything right.
The combat feels balanced. When you get killed by an enemy, it’s not because the game was unfair. It was because you miscalculated its movement. There are also a large number of enemies, which change both in appearance and dance moves as you advance deeper into the dungeon.
There are a large number of items and weapons, which can significantly change how you approach things. A rapier will let you strike enemies two blocks away, while a broadsword lets you strike horizontally. Other weapons similarly change your attacks. Special boots will let you move uninhibited over obstacles. Different armors change not only your armor rating, but can also change the number of enemies and their health.
And to top it all off, it fixes one of the key shortcomings you’ll find in most roguelikes where the whole “if you die, you start over again” mechanic quickly leads to you doing the same thing over and over again.
In Crypt of the Necrodancer, there’s a hubworld. Here you can unlock new items, new weapons, and new spells. You can pay some of your scavenged jewels to make it so lower-level gear stops appearing. You can train against enemies, skip past levels you’ve already beaten, and so on. You can even unlock new shops in this hubworld by rescuing NPCs in the dungeon.
And last but not least, there are plenty of playable characters you can unlock. And these just aren’t different skins. Each character you unlock brings along a whole new playstyle. Without too many spoliers, one of the first unlocks is a Bomberman-like dude who can only use bombs as weapons.
At its heart Crypt of the Necrodancer is a unique take on a well-loved genre. It’s a fanstastic roguelike in and of itself, but its beat system takes this even further by making it a great strategy game as well.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is available now for $14.99.