My first experience with Crypt of the Necrodancer was in a dark back room at the first Bit Bash Chicago event in September 2014. In a tiny, cramped room filled with Killer Queen arcade machines, on one wall Crypt of the Necrodancer was being projected. In front, two Dance Dance Revolution dance pads were sprawled out and hooked up to the game. It had one of the more reasonable lines compared to all the other games set up, so my friend and I decided to wait. He got a go first and I watched carefully in an attempt to figure out how to play before I got up there and embarrassed myself. Finally when it was my turn up, we managed to get through level 1 of Zone 1 and got to the first dragon mini boss before we both died. Along the way I haphazardly sliced at enemies and accidentally dug my way through walls, trying to move my feet to the beat.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is unique among the modern glut of rogeulikes for it’s use of rhythm. It’s turn-based, but you get bonuses for moving and attacking with the beat of the music. Each level has it’s own unique song, but you can also choose to use your own music and the game will use the beat of your chosen songs. You can use the keyboard like any other game, or you can use a dance pad. You make your way through each Zone, which has three levels within it. At the end of a zone, you fight the boss. Each has a dance-based theme, like the boss of Zone 1 is called King Conga and he has a conga line of zombies with him. In each level you’ll fight a variety of globs, skeletons, zombies, and bats as well as mini-boss dragons and minotaurs. Each level also has a shop where you can use the gold you collect from dead enemies to purchase better weapons, food, armor, and magic spells. The goal is to get to the end of the dungeon and, of course, defeat the Necrodancer.
Crypt of the Necrodancer has actually been available on Steam Early Access for quite some time now. Compared to some Early Access titles, Necrodancer felt very polished. The developers, Brace Yourself Games, wisely kept some things out of the Early Access version of the game to keep people from feeling burned out before the game had even launched. For example it’s only now that the game has launched out of Early Access that you can even beat the game. The fully launched game also includes a new Zone and some great graphical additions that really add depth and detail to the game, like the little fossils, vines, graves, and pottery added into the Zone 1 walls. They don’t really signify anything, but they make the game just that much more interesting to look at.
While Necrodancer is more like a traditional roguelike in that you lose all progress when you die, you are able to unlock some upgrades based on some things you find in dungeons while you play. If you find diamonds, you can use them to unlock better equipment to show up in chests or shops. You can even unlock extra hearts to start off with so you don’t die quite as quickly. Predictably, I unlocked as many hearts as quickly as I could. I still die a lot though – in fact I have only just beaten Zone 1 for the first time, after owning and playing the game for months.
Despite my never ending failure at roguelikes (Captain Forever Remix is the only roguelike I have beaten so far), I love Crypt of the Necrodancer. It’s fast paced, which means that even if I get to the Zone 1 boss and die, I can very quickly jump back in and make some progress back to my previous point. This is a big deal for roguelikes since you do end up dieing so often. The weapons and armor available in chests and shops also helps ease the pain of death since you can get lucky and get some pretty amazing weapons early on. When making the game, the developers set out to make a “roguelike game fair” – they didn’t want people to have to rely on careful examinations between turns and incredible knowledge of the game’s lore and mechanics to succeed. Sure, Necrodancer certainly requires practice and skill to beat, but there are no random deaths and immense amounts of studying required to win. I feel that they’ve definitely succeeded in that, even if I still haven’t made much progress.
Really the charm and draw of Crypt of the Necrodancer comes from the music – which makes sense given it is the central theme of the whole game. The music is great – I listen to it while playing other games, even. And now that the game has been fully released, there are two alternate soundtracks you can use instead – a metal version and an electronic dance remix version. A fun detail in-game related to the music is that you can hear the shop keepers singing along to the music when you’re near enough to them. I’m always disappointed if I die too early into a level because it means I don’t get to hear my favorite parts of the songs.
There’s just so much to enjoy about this game that I really just recommend it to anyone who enjoys a game they can jump into and enjoy quickly. It takes skill to do well but even for those of us who are not-so-good can have a lot of fun because of the themes, music, and replayability.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is available on Steam for $14.99 USD for Windows, Mac and Linux.