Crypt of the Necrodancer is a fast paced top-down 2D dungeon crawler. Gameplay is solely based on the arrow keys. You go through dungeons and fight a mess of different monsters and bosses, much like Diablo and Fate. But in this game, you have to do it to a beat; dancing your way through levels in sync with the electronic dance music played all throughout the game.
Now, this isn’t the first game of its kind. There are lots of rhythm based games out there and it’s not the first to have rhythm and fighting in the same game. The game Rayman Legends, for example, has a very addicting musical level in which you fight trolls and avoid obstacles to the beat of various pre-picked songs. And Melody’s Escape has an interesting hook with its running through the map in sync with any mp3 song you want.
But there is something Crypt of the Necrodancer does very differently. Unlike the other few rhythm based games out there, Crypt of the Necrodancer gives the player full, free range of the space. In most rhythm games you upload or are given a song to play in sync with, and all you do is press one button over and over in time with the song and that’s it. There isn’t any creative freedom and it’s very limited, just mindless button mashing. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. I personally love rhythm games and find them a great way to play a game without having to think too much about it, especially if i’m trying to work on another project in my head. But in this game, you are given complete creative freedom, no limits of where you move as long as it sticks with the beat.
At first, I tried to play the game with mindless button mashing as you do with typical rhythm games. I found it frustrating and tiresome. I kept dying over and over again, and since when you die it sends you all the way back to the first level it was very discouraging. Once I realized I had to really be thinking about it, the game suddenly made much more sense.
Let me explain. The game has randomly generated levels. You’ll never see the same ‘level 1’ more than once and there’s a good reason for that. If they had made level 1 the same every time you would just learn the level. You would start to memorize ‘Right, right, up, left’ sort of patterns, and never learn how to fight each individual monster. It’s clear the game wants you to learn how to fight and not just sit there memorizing the patterns of the map itself.
Learning how each monster moves is actually very important to the gameplay. Each one gets its own rhythm and pattern. If you don’t bother learning that pattern you can easily jump aimlessly into the path of one, losing you the game. And sending you all the way back to the beginning.
This game also has a very short tutorial. Most games walk the player through every little thing, but since the entire game is played with only the arrow keys, it doesn’t need to explain everything to you. In fact, it leaves the player to discover most of its content through gameplay. The tutorial doesn’t explain anything except the very basics, because it doesn’t need to. The game is intuitive and it doesn’t fail to follow its own rules.
The game is very punishing. Every time you die you get sent back to the beginning. But it rewards perseverance heavily. As the game goes on you begin getting better weapons and neat random bonuses. The rewards, gameplay wise, are borderline cheating. Most of them you get for free as the game goes on but because the game is punishing, it all feels deserved. You feel like you earned that upgrade rather than in some games where it feels like the game is babysitting you, or in others where you feel unrewarded for your hard work all together.
Honestly, Crypt of the Necrodancer does something a lot of games don’t, and it’s not the rhythm fighting. It manages to balance Challenge VS Punishment VS Reward, and not only does it do it, but it does it well.