Crypt of the Necrodancer Review
Good music can make or break a game. A catchy stage theme can burrow into your head longer than a radioactive earwig, while the most abrasive offenders suffer music's worst fate: the mute button. Crypt of the Necrodancer pulls off the improbable, delivering three awesome soundtracks and allowing you to weave your own music library into the core of its punishing roguelike gameplay.
Necrodancer demands players step in time with the beat, timing movement and attacks with a tap of the arrow keys (which I preferred over the controller) as they explore randomized dungeons. The brave and coordinated can also hook up DDR dance pads to their PC, but I didn't have one handy. Tapping off-beat not only erases your coin multiplier (important for buying items from shops), but temporarily stops you from moving at all, opening you up to attack. This restriction makes evading boogying skeletons and harp-headed minotaurs feel clumsy at first - like dancing with a stranger at a wedding. But unlike real life, I found myself gracefully falling in line with composer Danny Baranowsky's (Super Meat Boy) infectious default soundtrack. Finding your flow among the excellent electronic and metal arrangements feels amazing. Importing your own tunes is also easy and the results can be surreal; stabbing bouncing slimes to the Warcraft II soundtrack is more fun than it has any right to be.
Beyond the musical integration, the structure is similar to other roguelikes. Exploring the procedurally generated mazes, hoping a treasure chest doesn't bite you, and digging through walls is all part of the appeal. I loved stumbling upon my favorite weapon (a powerful flintlock rifle) and stocking up on useful items from the gleefully singing shopkeeper. However, I was disappointed by the number of floors that kicked off with a huge middle finger, like bosses that bum rush you just as you're finding the beat. A few permanent upgrades help take the sting out of your repeated deaths, but they run dry far too early, making progression feel imbalanced for a modern roguelike. Still, purchasing interesting new items to populate your dungeon is an effective carrot on a stick.
Unfortunately, the core formula of the game can be troublesome when trying to understand or use items. Constantly moving to the beat makes reading the item descriptions tough, like learning how a vampiric whip might work, for example. Additionally, pausing to take stock and reflect on your current inventory or situation is a hindrance since it's almost impossible to exit the pause screen without missing a beat. A Rock Band-style count off would've been great. The act of using the items themselves can be clunky, too, thanks to the clever but inconsistent default arrow key combos. I recommend customizing the item commands to help avoid frustrating mistakes.
In addition to unlocking a few permanent upgrades like increased max health or coin multipliers, players can also earn alternative characters to play. These variants challenge you to approach fun, completely different new ways. For example, the Monk is damaged by gold, but gets free stuff from shops. Dove is a pacifist who can daze enemies on her non-lethal path to the exit. My favorite, Bard, allows you to ditch the whole rhythm thing. As with a traditional roguelike, enemies move only when Bard does, turning normally chaotic situations into a more strategic chess-like experience. Bard is an awesome choice for players with musically deaf butterfingers, or anyone who wants to practice without the constant pressure of keeping in time.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is an uneven experience thanks to its built-in unpredictability, but the unique concept is charming and captivating enough to justify your time. If you want to test your digits' dance moves and love great game music, it's worth checking out.
Get a better look at the game by watching us play on Test Chamber.