With so many video games fighting for attention, sometimes you just have to take a chance on an idea so crazy, it just might be great. Crypt of the NecroDancer, a roguelike rhythm game, is my latest experience from this line of thinking. With its quirky premise and its unique combination of genres, this game was just begging me to play it. But is Crypt of the NecroDancer a creative goldmine? Or a cheap novelty?
The game was developed by indie studio Brace Yourself Games and released for the PC in 2015 and later ported to the PS4, PS Vita, mobile devices, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch over the course of the following three years. The player assumes the role of Cadence, a girl whose search for her missing father has led her to a labyrinth-esque crypt controlled by the evil NecroDancer, who curses the heroine upon entering his domain. The player must fight their way through the many layers of this monster-infested dungeon to defeat the NecroDancer and find Cadence’s father.
On the surface, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a simple dungeon crawler. The player must navigate each level, all the while fighting monsters, avoiding traps, and collecting items to help them survive, to find the exit and defeat its guardian in order to advance to the next level. Every level is also a part of a larger zone that culminates in a boss fight, granting access to the next zone when defeated. What makes Crypt of the NecroDancer special is that all actions the player takes are done to the beat of the music, which means the player needs to make decisions quickly and deliberately. The game is a roguelike, so all levels are randomly generated and the player loses all their progress and items in a zone if they die. Fortunately, the player can collect diamonds to purchase upgrades from the starting lobby to improve their chances of success. As the game progresses the player also unlocks new characters, each with their own unique spin on the core gameplay, adding quite a bit of replay value.
There’s definitely a steep learning curve with the randomized dungeons, limited upgrades, and unorthodox movement, but once you get used to it this game becomes addictingly fun to play. There was a lot of trial and error at first, but I rarely felt the game was stacking the deck against me. Victory and defeat always rested on my ability to recognize patterns and exploit them efficiently. Don’t go into this game looking for a breezy romp, as it gets remarkably difficult in later zones. So grit your teeth and prepare for a generous serving of punishment to ye who dare enter these merciless catacombs.
I should also give a special spotlight to the game’s soundtrack. After all, what would a rhythm game be without music? Crypt of the NecroDancer takes most of its musical influence from dance/club music with strong beats and catchy melodies. I consistently had many tunes stuck in my head long after I put the controller down, so hats off to Danny Baranowsky for such excellent headbangers. Furthermore, playing as certain characters can change the music with arrangements from other musicians such as industry veteran Jake Kaufman’s classic chiptunes or YouTube cover artist FamiyJules’s signature heavy metal. Additionally, the PC and mobile versions of the game are compatible with mp3 players, so feel free to put on some roaring 20’s jazz or medieval Gregorian chants while dishing out beatdowns to the beat!
Crypt of the NecroDancer uses sprites based graphics and exaggerated cartoon character designs. Obviously the game isn’t pushing any technological boundaries by using this artstyle, but it ensures that every monster, environment, and item is visually distinct, which is important for a game that requires quick decision making. I’m the sort of person who is easily amused so when a game presents me with enemies like a mic stand wielding reaper called Death Metal, a bongo beating gorilla named King Conga, and of course the titular NecroDancer himself, so I’m not going to be complaining about cartoon sensibilities.
Crypt of the NecroDancer’s weakest point is by far the main storyline. It’s very simple and mostly exists as an excuse to justify the gameplay and setting. Simplicity isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it takes itself a little too seriously for such a quirky game, creating a tonal clash that’s hard to ignore if you’re trying to get fully invested in these characters. I do like the story’s themes surrounding the dangers of greed and the corrupting nature of power which could explain the darker tone, but if I wanted to experience this kind of story seriously I think I would just read The Lord of the Rings again. When the antagonists of your game are all based on musical puns, cutscenes with dramatic music and straight faced dialogue just feels jarring.
Crypt of the NecroDancer is a great game overall. It’s a surprisingly effective genre mash up with a killer soundtrack, despite its mediocre story and potentially off-putting difficulty. At a relatively small asking price I definitely recommend giving it a try if anything in this review caught your interest. Grab some earbuds and make that NecroDancer face the music!
Morality & Parental Warnings
Crypt of the NecroDancer frequently has the player fighting against undead creatures such as ghosts, zombies, and reanimated skeletons. There are a few references to pagan greek mythology such as the Minotaur and Hephaestus. The player can also find scrolls that allow them to cast magic spells to even the odds in a sticky situation, but these spells don’t have any sort of related rituals or incantations so it’s mostly harmless. There are some instances of blood, particularly in the game’s story cutscenes.