Remember the rhythm/music game craze? I’m sure you do — who hasn’t played Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band? Well, I have a confession to make. Before those were huge, I was a DDR kid. As in Dance Dance Revolution. Pounding my feet on the metal four-arrowed pad to the beat, either in the mall or at home, for a long time. There was a period where I would go to the mall every Friday after school with a group of friends, toss our backpacks behind the counter in the arcade, and we’d just play for hours. I actually reminisced about the PC game Stepmania just earlier today with a coworker. In any event, rhythm games were my jam, pun intended, for a while.
It’s no surprise, then, that a mashup of the roguelike and rhythm genres caught my eye. I added Crypt of the NecroDancer to my Steam wishlist years ago but never got along to playing it. Thanks to the recent PS4 release, I finally have. And damn did I have a fun time doing it.
- TL;DR: A retro-looking roguelike with rhythm, beat-matching controls. Yes, really.
- Platform: PS4
- Hours Played: 17
- What I Played: All zones with Cadence, tried a few other characters
Cadence, daughter of the treasure hunter Dorian, is searching for her father when she falls into a hole. There she has her heart literally stolen by the Necrodancer, an evil being who forces her to move to the beat to defeat his monsters and win back her heart and her father.
One of the first pieces of information you receive is when Cadence remembers something her Uncle Eli once said — every enemy has a predictable pattern. For example, blue slimes move up and down on off beats while stone giants do a little shoulder shimmy three times before moving. Using the absolutely incredible soundtrack (more on that later) and the tiled disco-lit ground, you can move Cadence orthogonally. Both you and the monsters move at the same time, but you have initiative so that if you would attack an enemy who would also attack, you swing first.
As you continue moving, attacking, and grooving, you’ll receive a multiplier to your gold pickup. It’s important to remember that keeping a combo isn’t always in your best interest, though. Certain enemies only come towards you if you face away. I found it easiest to deal with them by turning around and letting them “sneak” up on me before taking them out. It also takes quite a bit of coordination and focus to keep everything straight with half a dozen enemies moving around at the same time, so taking a break to reset isn’t always a bad idea.
The start of each run sees Cadence equipped with a single bomb, a one damage dagger, and a shovel, but gold picked up along the way can be used to buy items at the shop. While levels may be randomly generated, it’s hard to miss the shopkeeper, Freddie Merchantry, with his shiny golden walls and opera voice that can be heard from half the map away. There are a few different weapons to choose from, like the spear which reaches an extra space and can be thrown or the broadsword which attacks enemies in an arc. Weapons come in a few different tiers: titanium weapons do two damage, obsidian weapons do multiplier-based damage, and blood weapons heal you after a certain amount of kills. Cadence can also equip armor, boots, and rings with effects ranging from bonus damage to walking through walls. There are a variety of spells to choose from, too, like fireballs or short-term invincibility that are recharged by killing enemies.
I mentioned that levels are randomly generated, which helps keep everything fresh. Roguelikes are the hot thing in gaming nowadays, huh? There are four zones of increasing difficulty, each with three levels and a boss. Each zone has a different theme with my personal favorite being zone three. The levels there are multi-tracked, playing a metal song while on the red floored sections and a dance track on the blue floor.
Each level has a random miniboss, whether it be the minotaur that charges you and falls down after hitting a wall or the screaming wraith who all but mutes the soundtrack. Once cleared, the exit stairs to the next zone will open up. “What if I don’t want to fight the boss and wait it out?”, you may be asking. I didn’t mean to the first time, but I tested this by taking too long to complete a level. If the song to a stage ends, you are dropped into a very small area with a couple of bosses all at once. It’s bad news.
As with other roguelikes like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy, there are permanent upgrades available to help Cadence along. You’ll find diamonds as you play which can be used to buy these upgrades back in the lobby. Extra heart containers, starting with a 2X combo multiplier, things like that. You also use diamonds to unlock items as available for purchase from shops or in chests. Pro tip: if you go to start a new run and the game asks you if you’re sure because you have diamonds to spend, go back and spend them on something. You lose your diamonds each time you start a run, so if you’ve got something you can buy then you might as well head back to the lobby and do it.
There’s quite a bit going on in the lobby. Aside from buying upgrades and choosing which zone to start out in, you can practice using different weapons or fighting bosses. All of these siderooms off the lobby are unlocked by finding trapped NPCs in the game. There is also a daily challenge mode, as if there wasn’t enough randomness in the game. Oh, and there are 10 different characters to choose from, each with their own starting item layout and set of rules. Once you get hooked by the crazy uniqueness of Crypt of the NecroDancer, there is a hell of a lot of content to keep you busy.
I’ve said this before, but the soundtrack to a video game tends to only stand out to me when it is exceptional on the good or bad end of the spectrum. Since Crypt of the NecroDancer is predicated on it’s music, it’s no surprise that it has an amazing soundtrack. I listened to the whole thing on repeat the day after I bought the game (link). Composed by Danny Baranowsky, who also did the music for the wonderful Super Meat Boy, songs range from dance to trap to metal to conga. You can also calibrate your visual and audio lag at any time, which is an absolute necessity in a game where correctly timed controls are vital.
Crypt of the NecroDancer has so much going for it: old-school graphics, a killer soundtrack, a crazy mashup of genres, and one of the worst (best?) cases of “just one more”-itis that you’ll see. When runs only take five to ten minutes and enemies always move and act the same way, it’s hard not to dive in over and over again when the only limiting factor is you’re execution. You can even play with a dance pad if you want to! Crypt of the NecroDancer is a hell of a good time and one of the most unique games out there.