Crypt of the NecroDancer Review
There are rare times in art when everything works exactly the way it's supposed to. Where everything clicks so perfectly into place that it's almost elegant the way everything is so finely-tuned. And that's what playing Crypt of the NecroDancer from Brace Yourself Games feels like. Elegant. Refined. Like a well-oiled machine. In its unpolished state it was fun and interesting but heavily flawed, but now that it has reached its final polish, it is a beautiful thing to behold.
The story isn't anything much to go by. It begins with a young woman named Cadence following her missing father's notes, where she unearths the crypt of a malevolent lich known as the Necro-dancer. Cadence must journey through the crypt, collecting an arsenal of weapons, armor, and items as she delves into level after level in search of the secrets the crypt holds. It lays out the path for a standard dungeon crawler, but there's a little extra wrinkle that builds in nicely.
When Cadence first encounters the Necro-dancer in the game's opening animation, he pulls her heart from her body and infuses it with magic, forcing her to follow a specific beat. As Cadence journeys, all of her movements and actions must be on an exact beat as well, otherwise she simply won't move.
And that's the premise. A dungeon crawler where absolutely everything has to move to a specific beat. Everything syncs up with this premise. The enemies and even the people in the upgrades screen move to a specific beat. When you find a shop in the dungeons, the shopkeeper actually sings along with the background music. Do well enough, and the ground beneath your character lights up like a disco floor and strobes to the beat. The background music isn't just another part of the ambiance, it's integral to the game. I once made the mistake of loading the game up while listening to music in the background, and I failed utterly, because you need to be listening to the cues. It's not all periodic button presses.
Another wonderful feature of NecroDancer is that, unlike most roguelikes and dungeon crawlers, it doesn't just pit you against increasingly stronger enemies by butting your head against them over and over again. Each zone has a unique set of enemies (hey Weaponographist, you taking notes?) that move in specific ways. While it takes some getting used to, with a bit of planning and some pattern recognition, it's possible (and this is rare outside maybe Binding of Isaac and a few others) for someone to get through the entire dungeon without getting hit once. Incredibly difficult, and takes more luck than skill, but it's possible.
That's something I enjoy that I've been seeing more of in Rogue-likes these days: strategy. There's actually a lot of this in Crypt of the NecroDancer, because the range of movement given allows for a larger playing field. For instance, instead of travelling down a hallway normally and having to take damage from enemies, why not let them get a little closer to you by digging into the side of the hallway, then surprising them? Or, if you know a boss is going to chew you up up close, set a bomb and dance away from them, allowing the bomb to go off in a specific area. Combined with destructible terrain, this causes bosses to sometimes bust through the walls of the dungeon to attack, turning the stage into a desperate race for resources, all to a pounding techno beat.
Additional characters such as Bard (doesn't have to move to the beat, making the game move at ludicrous speed) and Eli (no weapon, upgraded shovel, and infinite bombs) significantly change the game's topography, causing players to find new solutions and tailor things towards their play style. The game can further be changed by trading rare items for unlocks in the dungeons, unlocking upgrades.
Normally, this would be where I put some of the things they didn't like. While I did have issues with the way the dragon bosses moved and attacked, making them incredibly difficult with anything but the small supply of ranged weapons, I can't really think of much I'd change in the game or improve. It's a classic all on its own.
Play this game. It's a game that deserves to stand the test of time. If nothing else because it's executed so flawlessly.
Full Disclosure: The reviewer received a steam code to review the game