Review: Crypt of the Necrodancer (PS4)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible No
  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Crypt of the Necrodancer
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.27 GB)
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Developer: Brace Yourself Games
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Crypt of the Necrodancer is also available on PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

There’s certainly something to Crypt of the Necrodancer that warrants merit. It’s a freakin’ roguelike adventure game with amazing music. In fact, the music is absolutely essential to the experience in that Necrodancer is a rhythm-based dungeon exploring game. Visually stylized in a 16-bit retro fashion, the game takes you from monster-filled room to room as you embark on a quest to become stronger, collect loot, and defeat the ultimate evil one bass beat at a time.

Gameplay:
The moment you press the “Start” button Necrodancer introduces you to a unique (for the genre) play mechanic. Moving around the dungeon is achieved by tapping on the directional buttons, as is attacking enemies. This in itself should be familiar to anyone who has played a classic roguelike game in the past. Your character hops around the grid environment, bumping against enemies to attack them.

In fact, it’s my familiarity with this gameplay style that introduced me to my first issue with Crypt of the Necrodancer. The rhythm-based aspect of the game has you tapping the directional buttons to the beat of the amazing soundtrack. So walking around the dungeon has to be paced – meaning you cannot simply tap the button rapidly to quickly run across a room. Well you can, but doing so will lose your timing bonus. On the bottom of the screen, a visual representation of your heart is shown, beating to the rhythm of the music.

This is a visual way to help keep you in time with the music, but since I was exploring the dungeon and keeping an eye out for enemies, I rarely looked down to this visual assistant. Instead, I called back to my time playing Rock Band and many other rhythm games in order to feel my way through the corridors. Initially, this proved very enjoyable. It almost felt like my character was dancing her way into danger. It’s when the enemies showed up that my issues began.

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As mentioned prior, combat in this game is achieved by bumping into the enemies. Enemies present their weakness via positional and visual cues. A blue slime, for example, can easily be destroyed by attacking its side, while a skeleton must be attacked while its hands are down. Doing otherwise will result in you taking damage as well.

… I still found myself reverting to old habits …
Timing and positioning yourself for these attacks would be a simple task, except that you have to factor in the rhythm as your move your character about. This proved to be an entertaining endeavor, except that my dungeon-hunting instincts, developed over the last thirty years, forced me to ignore the beat of the music and simply tap quickly to get around the enemies. Doing so lost the bonus achieved by maintaining the beat and also stopped me in my tracks since there is a small pause in movement if you miss a beat.

As a result, I found myself dying quite a bit. I eventually forced my instincts to ignore years of video game playing and simply push the buttons to the beat. This yielded better results and I even completed quite a few zones and purchased some upgrades to my life-meter in the central hub of the game. Despite this, I still found myself reverting to old habits and wanting to play this like a traditional rogue game, once again resulting in my own demise.

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I didn’t want to hold this mechanic against Necrodancer since it’s been heralded as a great game with a unique take on the genre. But try as I might, I could not shake the desire to simply explore these zones in the traditional way.

Fortunately, the developer possibly anticipated this. Exploring the central hub led me to an area where I could choose different characters. Most of them were locked, but I found a bard class that was not. By using the bard, I was able to tackle the dungeons completely independent of the musical beat. While this certainly made the game easier to play, I felt like I was cheating the system. Had I not been reviewing the game, I would have stuck to this character.

Taking all of this into consideration, I found it difficult to fully enjoy the game as it was intended. Exploring the dungeons yields treasure that helps grow your character. Looting diamonds allows you to purchase temporary and permanent upgrades from the shopkeepers.

However, if you die within the dungeon you are offered the option to restart or return to the central hub. If you choose to restart, you will lose your diamonds. Similarly, if you return to the hub and choose not to spend your diamonds, you will also lose them when you re-enter the dungeon. So you are somewhat forced to spend them and at times I found myself short by one diamond, so my choice was simply to lose them. This does improve over time and was only an issue early on.

… manages to look old, while not looking dated …
Visuals:
Factoring in its retro visual style, Necrodancer truly shines with that nostalgic appeal. It is beautifully colored and has some great animation that moves in time with the music. The cutscenes are also presented in a wonderfully drawn aesthetic that reminds me of the art style of recent retro-ized games like Shovel Knight.

Some games that harken to the 16-bit days of old try a little too hard to achieve that classic look and end up emulating what didn’t look so great back then. Necrodancer manages to look old, while not looking dated.

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Audio:
While the rhythm gameplay aspect might not have resounded well with me, the music was astounding. It certainly inspired the desire to maintain the beat while killing skeletons and zombies. You are also given a choice of music styles in the options menu, allowing you to mix it up a bit as you explore the catacombs.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… my very essence was telling me to tap faster …
Conclusion:
I really tried to love this game. I even forced myself to lose the bard character in order to “unlearn what I had learned”. Ultimately, and unfortunately, it was very challenging for me to want to explore a dungeon a beat at a time when my very essence was telling me to tap faster to get around an enemy. Thus, I score this game based on my personal experience.

I’d still like to mention that if you are more of a casual player that has only played a few roguelike games in the past you might find a lot more enjoyment here, particularly if you are not as hard-wired as I was into playing this style of game a certain way. Crypt of the Necrodancer has received a lot of praise on PC. What’s here simply didn’t work for me.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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