Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss. When the beat kicks in during your first play session of Crypt of the NecroDancer, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. Moving your little dungeon crawling sprite in time with the music instinctively feels good. It makes sense. It makes you wonder why no one has made a rhythm-action dungeon crawling RPG before.
Of course like all the best concepts, Crypt of the NecroDancer only seems like a simple idea in retrospect. Combining rhythm-based timing and movement through a procedurally generated dungeon is a stroke of genius, and Brace Yourself Games have not only come across a great idea, they’ve implemented it brilliantly too. The cute retro sprites combine with Danny Baranowsky’s banging chiptunes soundtrack to create something quite special. And if the soundtrack isn’t to your tastes you can even import your own MP3’s and tailor your experience.
In other rhythm action games the music might have a huge effect on the gameplay, but in Crypt of the NecroDancer the only important aspect is the number of beats per minute. You have to move your little adventurer in time with the music, so faster songs will give you less time to consider your next move and will force you to think fast if you are going to defeat all the enemies you face without losing your score multiplier.
At the moment Crypt of the NecroDancer is in Early Access, but it’s surprisingly feature-rich. There’s a tutorial, a daily challenge, an upgrade system and even a dance mat mode. The opening screen of the game lets you hope around a small environment with many locked doors (that you’ll later unlock), a store and a number of different modes and areas where you can upgrade your character. Each level is randomly generated and the developer themselves reference “Rogue-like” in their press material, but each time you die you can spend any diamonds you earned on new equipment or items. As such, you’ll find yourself making steady progress as your little adventurer gets more tools to tackle the environments and enemies.
Crypt of the NecroDancer gives you plenty of cues to master the movement of your character. There’s a little meter at the bottom of the screen showing the beat of the music as well as the beat of your characters heart. This helps you sync up with the soundtrack if you can’t quite get it from the music alone. You’ll also get little error messages pop up when you’re not hitting the right rhythm and your character won’t even move. As a result, even people who don’t play games very often will get the hang of Crypt of the NecroDancer, especially seeing as you only need to use the four arrow keys or the d-pad on your controller to do everything in the game.
That’s not to say it’s simple. You will collect different weapons: spears will attack two squares ahead, while broad swords will hit the front square as well as the two diagonal squares. It will take a while to master all the different enemies movement patterns as well, and at first it can be confusing when they hit you and when you don’t hurt them. Eventually you’ll learn that blue blob enemies will only move vertically, so you attack them from the side. Skeletons attack when their arms are raised, and as such you need to hit them on the “off beats” when their arms are down. And tougher enemies will appear as you progress too, like the minotaur, which you need to trick into charging at a wall.
Crypt of the NecroDancer is full of little neat touches. The way that the shop keepers sing along with the music. The way the ground lights up like a 70’s neon disco when you have a combo going. The way the enemies dance along with the beat. It’s a really charming game. At first I played it in bursts and enjoyed it, but it took me a while to really “get into it”. When it clicked though and I understood the structure of the game – the way that items worked a bit like in Spelunky (compasses pointing to level exits) – and when I learned how to take down each time of enemy, I was hooked. This is a rare example of an Early Access game that feels finished right now. It can only get better.
And dem tunez!