Crypt of the Necrodancer: a rhythm roguelike hands-on

 

Roguelike and rhythm aren’t two words you’re probably accustomed to hearing in the same sentence, much less applied to the same subject. It’s a wildly disparate combination of two genres that have seen little in the way of experimentation, but it’s one that forthcoming Crypt of the Necrodancer looks like pulling off with little to complain about.

The game is very much a roguelike in that you’ll be traversing dungeons, picking up weapons, and slaying monsters with no respawns, do-overs, or any other variation of an extra life. You start with three hearts and while you can pick more up and refill them, you’ll still be dead when you use them all up.

Necrodancer doesn’t allow you the relative freedom of movement that other roguelikes do, however, and that’s where the rhythm elements come in. Each stage features an incredibly catchy piece of chiptune music, and it’s up to the player to move in time with the beat while evading the dangers before them. It makes it all the more challenging in a much different way to the traditional roguelike, introducing an element of timing that can really creep up on players, especially those with feet that aren’t loose enough.

The sound design overall is pretty fantastic. Each attack and dig of the shovel is punctuated by heavy beats that not only add to the music but make the action, and thus the player, bring about a sense of power that builds and builds into a final, climactic swipe against the stage’s boss. You may not be able to resist the temptation to fist-pump the air that this evokes.

As with any roguelike, items are everything. These are either bought or found in chests. There’s a great variety with weapons including broadswords, daggers, spears, and whips; and there are even at least two types of digging appliance. Combined with armour, spells, and the rest, this makes for a game where no two playthroughs can possibly be the same thanks to the varying mechanics at play. For example, you might get a broadsword in your first playthrough that can attack the square before you and the ones to each side, while your next playthrough sees you acquire the spear that attacks only the squares in front of you, forcing you to completely rethink how you approach combat.

There’s also a level of persistence in Crypt of the Necrodancer that might turn off more traditional roguelike fans, but it’s an addition that works well for this game. A merchant in the game’s hub area will trade you certain items for diamonds that you accrued in your last adventure. Rather than taking these items into the stages, they’ll be added to the pool of potential loot from chests or the shop. You’re also able to unlock new characters by unlocking gold cages in some stages.

There’s a huge array of enemies in Crypt of the Necrodancer, and their vast variety of mechanics make for some incredibly challenging encounters. For example, there are skeletons who move on every second beat and raise their arms to attack in between, forcing you to pay attention to their placement and animation, as well as your own. There are also a variety of blobs who will either move up and down on every second beat, run around in a square formation, or just hop on the spot. When you combine these and the many additional enemies, it makes for pretty frantic fare. It will take a lot of practice to perfect each and every enemy and the various combinations, but it’s well worth it for the exhilaration of clearing a room flawlessly.

There’s a good variety of aesthetic to the levels, including a traditional underground dungeon as well as one full of trees, swamps, and mushrooms. They also feature very distinct music that add to their often creepy and adventurous atmosphere.

For an alpha, Crypt of the Necrodancer seems to be very far along. There’s honestly not a lot more they can add unless they want to throw in a few more traditional roguelike features such as a talent pool, though that might honestly take away from some of the elements that make the game unique. If this is just the foundation for the final game, then Crypt of the Necrodancer seems destined to be a hit.

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Written by Adam S

Hailing from Parts Unknown, Adam grew up with a passion for three things: Videogames, anime, and writing. Unfortunately his attempts to combine the three have yet to form Captain Planet, but they have produced some good byproducts.

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