One of the hallmarks of the indie game community is its desire to resurrect seemingly dead game genres. Some publishers would want to concentrate on what's currently popular, but the indies tend to work on the genres they enjoy. Another hallmark is its ability to combine genres to create unique experiences. At this year's PAX Prime, we saw a perfect example of something that could only come from an indie developer. Judging by the throngs of people at the booth, it wouldn't be a stretch to call Crypt of the NecroDancer an early hit.
At first glance, the game is your typical roguelike title that hits all of the bullet points of the genre. The difficulty is higher than normal, and each dungeon floor is randomly generated and filled with monsters and treasure. Secrets are everywhere, and everyone's movements and actions are governed by turns. With death signaling a large reset, the genre is certainly one of the harder ones to jump into blindly.
The twist is that there's a rhythm game mixed in with this roguelike. Everything in Crypt of the NecroDancer is governed by the beat of the music, whether it's your movements, enemy movements, or actions, such as attacking and digging through walls to secret passages. Everything is still freeform in that you're not hitting specific arrows or symbols to go down a set path, but you have to make a decision about what to do, and it has to be made to the beat of your songs or the soundtrack provided by Danny Baranowsky, whose musical works include Super Meat Boy and Canabalt. There's also a guide at the bottom to help you visualize the beat, and doing well means that your actions get carried out. Doing well also provides bonuses, so the floors of the dungeon start displaying a kaleidoscope of colors, and gold drops start increasing in value.
Games go at a much faster pace since you must think on your feet instead of having the luxury of meticulously planning out each move. The title still retains the difficulty of the roguelike genre, but the infectious beats and unusual controls make it more accessible to people who might not otherwise give the genre a chance. Most importantly, it remains fun and has the addictive quality that makes you want to play one more game after you lose horribly to a rampaging dragon.
As far as controls are concerned, the game uses the four cardinal directions (up, left, down, right) for everything. The basic directions are used for movement and attacking, and combining directions activates spells. For the keyboard, this means using the arrow keys to control things, and for a gamepad, this means using the face buttons since they're easier to accomplish certain directional combinations. The more intriguing control method, however, is the Dance Dance Revolution dance pad, a controller that makes perfect sense for classic rhythm titles. The developers had a Cobalt Flux metal dance pad at their booth, and judging by the number of people lining up for it, it was the overwhelming favorite over the traditional control methods. You can be sure that we'll use a DDR dance pad when it's time to review this title.
Crypt of the NecroDancer is scheduled to hit the PC and Mac in November of this year on Steam, and we're certainly looking forward to spending more time with the title. If you want to pre-order the DRM-free game, you can do so at www.necrodancer.com at a temporarily discounted price.
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