I love a good rogue-like; the hack’n’slash style gameplay and the inevitable loot-a-thons that follow just do it for me. It’s really easy to make a boring rogue-like, however, and a cursory glance over Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter will show you that. For every Rogue Legacy and Eldritch, there are piles and piles of dreck. They don’t even have to be especially terrible for me not to be able to enjoy them. A game can be objectively “good” when considered alone and by its own merits, but can still be boring against the backdrop of every other game in its genre. In that sense, there’s no bigger contributor to the sea of mediocrity than Steam’s Early Access business model.
Don’t misunderstand me, in the early days I really wanted to advocate Early Access; it seemed like a brilliant idea to me, like a natural evolution to the Kickstarter platform of crowd-sourcing. Developers put a partially finished game online for a severely discounted price in order to attract some early interest and additional funds in order to finish the game. Early adopters got a game for cheap, had a chance to provide feedback that influenced the development of the game, and developers received the boost they needed to finish their game while remaining independent of publishers. It seemed like a win-win for the gaming community and I loved the idea when it was introduced by Steam in early 2013.
Fast forward nearly two years and there are now more than 300 titles on Early Access, which some might call a success of the platform. It’s kind of telling, however, that it’s impossible to get a listing of all Early Access games through the actual Early Access section of the site. Or that there’s no “Early Access” tag when trying to search their whole catalog. It’s almost like they don’t want you to see every game that can be found on Early Access…
I can’t imagine why.”
I finally picked up Crypt of the NecroDancer after eyeballing the game for quite a few weeks, solely on the provision that it had “overwhelmingly positive” user reviews despite being Early Access. It hasn’t exactly restored my faith in Early Access games, but Crypt of the NecroDancer can now count itself among my favorite games of all time and the thing isn’t even finished yet. The game casts you as Cadence, a young… apprentice of some kind? Defying her vaguely defined masters, she digs into the earth above a graveyard and hits a loose patch of Earth. She tumbles through the loose soil before landing in a crypt where her heart is ensorceled with the cursed beat of the NecroDancer, to which she must now dance, fight and survive.
It blends roguelike gameplay with rhythm game mechanics by having your character move and act in time to the beat of the in-game music. This is shown at the bottom of the screen as lines moving towards their target – your characters heart. Each line represents a beat and, when it reaches your heart, you press a directional button in time with the rhythm to move your character in the direction you want to go. You attack enemies by running into them, and vice versa, which is the same way you pick up items, run into traps and activate totems – so long as it’s all done to the beat. It’s a simple idea, but an effective one, permeating every bit of the games design to make it more than just a “gimmicky mechanic.”
Enemies, for instance, all have a particular pattern that they follow as the move around the dungeon. If you walk into the path of an enemy as it’s about to take its next step, it’ll instead attack you. If you can come at them from the side, or when there’s a break in their routine, you’ll attack them instead. It’s more than just a simple task of memorization, however, as the combination of different monster types creates an intricate and deadly dance. Despite all these elements, CotND doesn’t try to over-emphasise the rhythm aspect of the design; so long as you can keep up a simple beat, you won’t have trouble playing. In this sense, Brace Yourself Games have done an amazing job of capturing that feeling of “easy to learn, difficult to master.”
It helps that soundtrack for this game is incredible, one of the few that I’ve shelled out for to buy in addition to the game on Steam. (Though it feels a little bit like buying the strategy guide, in this case.) Composed by Danny Baranowsky, the soundtrack for CotND is pretty amazing and more so than your average game OST. Each track is composed for an individual level, setting the tone and feel of each one, but with the added challenge of ensuring players won’t get tired of hearing them. The game is broken up into “Zones,” which are then themselves broken up into separate levels. You’re likely going to be playing those starting levels a lot, given the difficulty of the game (I know I certainly have), which means hearing those same tracks over and over.
Also hearing this guy over and over, which I don’t think anyone would have a problem with, really.
Far from being sick of hearing these same tracks, however, I’m still loving them every single time and it makes those seldom heard “upper level” tracks all the more epic once you reach them. Not everyone is like me, however, and can’t listen to the same thing ad nauseam without having some kind of seizure and/or aneurysm. The developers thought ahead about this, though, and have allowed players to substitute their own MP3’s for the default songs. It’s a little feature, but it’s something that I think a lot of players will appreciate as I’m sure I will when I’m done jamming to Baranowsky. This is one of a few features that the game already has, though the devs have stated that the game is still “in development.”
This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t work, that it’s unplayable, or even that there’s hardly anything to play. On the contrary, I haven’t found a single bug while playing. The gameplay could use a little polish though it’s in a better state than what some recent triple-A games have been upon their release. It’s certainly one of the better Early Access offerings I’ve seen in awhile. If there are any criticisms to be had, the biggest would be the dicky controller support. This is a game I would definitely recommend playing with a controller as opposed to a keyboard, though the in-game menus still have issues when registering controller input. The result is a constant back and forth between controller and keyboard, if you do want to use a controller, which can be more than just a little annoying.
Just briefly, while we’re on the topic of controllers, for those who have money to burn (because these are quite expensive) and want to enjoy the game on a whole other level, you can buy custom Crypt of the NecroDancer Dance Pads.
Raddest custom controller ever.
It’s not often that a game will sink its teeth into me and not let go the way that CotND has, its funky chiptune beats have been stuck in my head since I started playing. More impressive still is that it’s an Early Access title, one the developers have shown an awful lot of good will for. The price of the game, while perhaps a little steep for Early Access, won’t be changing after the game reaches full release and the developers have listed exactly what they plan to add in. All in all, Crypt of the NecroDancer gets a high recommendation from me and I won’t be at all surprised to see this on a few GOTY lists for 2015.
If you want to pick up Crypt of the NecroDancer, it’s currently available on Steam Early Access. The developers also provide updates via their website, and you can otherwise follow them on Facebook and Twitter.