A roguelike, by definition, is a game in which content is procedurally generated and death is permanent. The death by dungeon crawling style of gameplay has become quite popular as of late, with games like The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, and Dungeons of Dredmor bringing a once niche genre to a broader audience.
Thanks in part to the roguelike genre’s new-found exposure, we’ve seen a healthy amount of fantastic indie games like Nuclear Throne and Our Darker Purpose recently hitting digital retail stores, but perhaps one of the most promising titles is Vancouver-based Brace Yourself Games‘ roguelike dance-a-thon, Crypt of the NecroDancer.
Crypt of the NecroDancer is a game that I’ve been obsessing over since I first caught wind of its existence a few months ago on Twitter, where it was described as a rhythm roguelike. Whatever that meant, I was intrigued. I got in contact with Brace Yourself‘s designer, Ryan Clark, and he was kind enough to get a press copy in to my eager fingertips, along with a message that Crypt of the NecroDancer would be hitting Steam through its Early Access program at the end of July. Well, here we are! It’s release day and I’ve had 4 weeks to dance, die, dip, duck, and die, but was it everything I’d hoped it would be? All that and more, actually.
As a rhythm roguelike, Crypt of the NecroDancer tasks you with exploring dungeons and defeating monsters to the rhythm of its award-winning soundtrack by Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac). Cadence, our heroine, moves about the dungeons in a grid-based format by using either your arrow keys, a controller, or, if you feel like showing off, an official dance pad. Music plays a key part in NecroDancer though, as Cadence can only move and attack along with the beat.
Memorization also plays a huge role, as every monster from weak blue slimes to bosses like King Conga or Death Metal have specific attack patterns that can -and will- punish you for your mistakes. So not only do you have to constantly be in rhythm, but remember that skeletons only move every second beat and raise their hands before attacking, yellow slimes move clockwise in a square every beat, zombies will pursue you until they hit walls, and just about every other pattern in the game.
Although a skilled NecroDancer can easily complete the game in less than an hour, it will take you a whole lot longer as a newcomer to get your feet wet. But once you get in the groove, once you start memorizing songs and attack patterns, delving deeper in to the crypt becomes an obsession. I’ve spent the better part of 10 hours learning the ins and outs, watching developer Let’s Play’s on Twitch, and diving head first in to many, many deaths, and every playthrough still feels completely fresh. The more I played, the more I understood the importance of rhythm, weapons, and enemy patterns, but I still found myself making crucial mistakes once I got too comfortable. Then again it’s hard to get comfortable when everything is randomly generated.
As a roguelike, it’s expected that Crypt of the NecroDancer will be a difficult game, and that’s very true, but like all roguelikes, it just takes a lot of patience, practice, and perseverance. To make the game more accessible, the diamonds you collect can be redeemed for permanent health upgrades, better loot drops, etc., making subsequent playthroughs a bit easier. Of course you can also purchase upgrades from the shopkeeper, like maps, torches, and bombs to make your current run easier, but anything you buy with gold is only good until you die.
NecroDancer is a dungeon of dance, and if you stumble over your feet and on to your own sword, it’s back to the beginning again with your shovel and dagger as your only friends. Of course, Cadence can find and use a variety of weapon types, like cleaving broadswords, bows, and muskets, as well as armor upgrades and spells, so it’s all a matter of surviving long enough to find them. Different types of weapons and armor have different effects as well. Glass weapons, for instance, will eventually shatter, while heavier plate armor prevents knockbacks. Special items, like the Helm of Greed, will net you more gold upon each pickup, but will slowly drain your funds for the remainder of your playthrough.
To make things a little more interesting, Crypt of the NecroDancer recently introduced shrines prior to its Early Access release. These shrines can be found randomly during your playthroughs, and should you decide to activate them, you’ll be given both a positive and a negative effect. The Shrine of Peace, for instance, will replenish your health and grant you an extra heart container, but at the cost of reverting you back to your starting gear. The Shrine of Blood will reward you with a random blood-type weapon, but will reduce you to one half of a heart in the process.
You can even unlock additional characters, although I only got to play around with Aria and Bard. Aria, Cadence’s grandmother, can only use daggers as her weapon, but in Hardcore mode she will instantly die if you miss even a single beat, as well as only having half of a heart that cannot be refilled. Bard is an interesting character, as he’s not affected by the NecroDancer’s spell and can move whenever he wants. Rather than moving in rhythm with the soundtrack, enemies will move in their set patterns in unison with the player, making it easier to go slow and plan your attacks, as well as being the most ideal character for speedrunners. With new characters being promised in future updates, and daily challenges adding to the replay value, you are getting a huge bang for your buck, especially considering how polished Crypt of the NecroDancer is in its current state.
When every aspect of Crypt of the NecroDancer combines, when you hit that stride and you can move along without even looking at the beat timer, when you can stroll in to a room full of dancing monsters that want to make sweet love to your corpse, yet escape unscathed, there is no better game on the planet. I’ve died more times than I can count, and I still consider myself a novice at the game, but if you have any interest whatsoever, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s totally possible to have a great time if you’re terrible at roguelikes, and even if you never achieve elite status by completing Hardcore mode with Aria, you’ll still get your money’s worth. Crypt of the NecroDancer is my new BFF.
Recommended for fans of: Roguelikes and rhythm games. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever played before.
*An Early Access Review differs from our standard reviews in that it’s our opinion on the current state of an unfinished product. All of our Early Access Reviews are done using the most recent version of the game available at the time the review is published, unless otherwise noted in the article.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and a diehard Orioles fan that favors roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.