Ever since the death of peripheral-based rhythm games, music games have seen a significant shift in focus. Case in point, Crypt of the NecroDancer pairs roguelike tropes with rhythm-based movement. It might seem odd, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to get dungeon crawling to the beat. Of course, being in Early Access, there’s still a little that needs tweaking.
As far as mechanics are concerned, Crypt of the NecroDancer already feels solid. After a brief tutorial, players are invited to try out their first real dungeon. The top down perspective, pixelated artwork, and monsters all feel somewhat familiar. Of course, it’s the control scheme that stands out. The goal is to move up, down, left, and right in sync with background music. A bar at the bottom of the screen helps visualize where beats are hitting, but hopefully you can just pick it up from the audio. The dungeon floor also lights up like a disco to give another visual cue.
This whole concept would totally fall apart if the music sucked. Luckily, Brace Yourself Games brought a skilled game composer on board. Danny Baranowsky, best known for his work on Super Meat Boy, provides a host of excellent tunes to crawl to. Each track has a nice, discernable beat and is good enough to keep you humming after finishing a session. There are even a few really cute flourishes with the music, such as how shopkeepers will sing along with each track. The sound team at Power Up Audio have done a great job mixing everything together.
Once you get accustomed to the unique movement style you’ve still got a difficult game ahead. Crypt of the NecroDancer forces players to be patient, as well as learn each enemy’s movement pattern. For example, zombies move in a straight line, while certain slimes go around in a circle. As long as you work with their patterns, it’s possible to make it through dungeons unscathed. Of course, it’s also important to keep the beat in mind for the sake of your combo. Combos yield gold coins, which let you buy better gear to (theoretically) make later dungeons easier. This is a roguelike though, so once you die you lose all that great stuff and have to start from square one.
There’s already a perma-upgrade system in place that lets you gain access to more powerful goodies to begin with, as well as increases coin combos and your health meter. After beating an area, you can also choose to start off playing from the next section. Conveniences like these definitely soften the edge of an otherwise formidable roguelike. The game poses an unexpected challenge in regards to items. Basically, you don’t get to know what an item is until after you purchase it (and may still not be sure). Sure, this is common of roguelikes, but it would be great to see optional item descriptions implemented at some point.
Early Access games often only have partial support for gamepads at the start, if at all. Crypt of the NecroDancer has full controller support although it’s a bit odd. The default 360 gamepad controls tie movement to the face buttons (A, B, X, Y). This needs to be the case because using skills and items requires a double button press – you can’t rightly hit two directions with the d-pad or analog stick at the same time. Still, it takes some real getting used to, though the bindings can be modified.
Crypt of the NecroDancer has support for an unorthodox sort of controller as well: Dance pads! As long as you have a USB dance pad all you need to do is plug it in and get going. The dungeons run at an easier difficulty when you do so, but it’s still a challenge. At least, it is for someone like me who hasn’t dusted off a dance pad in years. Moving the character around is done with the arrow buttons and, all in all, it’s an incredibly unique way to dungeon crawl. Unfortunately, menus don’t work with the pad, meaning you still need to use the keyboard on occasion. You’d do well to keep careful track of your pad, as it may begin to slide out of place when playing for an extended amount of time. If this is your first time using a dance pad (and it’s a soft pad) be sure to take your shoes off first.
If you’re hesitant to jump on board with Early Access games until they’re actually fun then there’s nothing to worry about here. Crypt of the NecroDancer is already playable and immensely enjoyable. The difficulty is sure to keep most players working through early stages for a few hours at least. As such, even though there are only four zones right now, you’ll still get a great deal of play time out of it. Those who actually master the game still have the option of taking on daily challenges, decimating leaderboards, or hitting up hardcore mode. Rhythm gamer or dungeon crawler, it’s easy to get in step with Crypt of the NecroDancer’s groove.