Dungeon crawling rhythm game Crypt of the NecroDancer was one of my surprise favorites of this year’s PAX Prime and coincidentally one of my biggest workouts. The game, developed by Brace Yourself Games, is about as simple as a adventure rhythm game could be, but that very simplicity opens up worlds of options for gameplay. Your character is moved by hitting the arrow keys in beat with the music playing in the background. Everything happens on the beat, including your movement, the movements of enemies, and attacks. To attack a monster or interact with objects you simply walk into them and spells are cast by hitting two directional keys at the same time. Due to the simple control scheme, you can play this game on pretty much anything: A keyboard, a controller or even a DDR mat. Yeah. I danced to this game.
When I lined up for this demo, I expected to get some time off my feet as I demoed from the safety of a computer chair. Instead I was directed to the metal DDR mat the booth had set up. And holy crap it played amazing. Getting down the rhythm for movement wasn’t difficult at all, with each of the tracks having a pretty well-paced and easy to move to beat. Each level has its own track and all of those tracks were composed by Danny Baranowsky, who you may know from awesomely soundtracked games like Super Meat Boy and the Binding of Isaac. And if you want to play a level to your own jams, the game has a feature that lets you import your own track for use in the level, a la Audiosurf. Though I only got to play some of the earlier levels, I imagine that this gives you quite the range of difficulty. If a track or imported song has a pretty fast beat, things could get chaotic fast. Each level is randomly generated and the game features rogue-like difficulty. If you die, you’re done for good and will have to restart from the beginning.
When my turn came up in line, I kicked off my shoes and silently said a prayer that I wasn’t about to embarrass myself in front of the crowded Indie Megabooth. Controls were easy enough to get used to. The music tracks I experienced were pretty great and I found that hitting each arrow on the DDR mat in rhythm wasn’t as much of a challenge as I had thought. The first item I got my hands on was a shovel, which let me dig through dirt walls and totally circumvent this door mechanic most games have. If the shovels break, I never found out because I just dug from room to room at that point.
My first fight went well enough. As you can only move on the beat, each attack is done with a rhythmic key pounding in whichever direction you want to attack. This can lead to some interesting fights when you’re surrounded. Budgeting my attacks and movements between spaces all while making sure I had an escape route if I got in over my head (which I did) proved to be an actually fun time. Trap spaces also litter the floor and I somehow managed to step on all of them, despite being pretty obvious to see. Chaining up attacks right on the beat activates the groove mode which lights up the floor and causes defeated enemies to have better loot and gold drops. A successful groove chain is probably the most accomplished that perfects have ever made me feel in a rhythm game.
Preorders are now open for both the Crypt of the NecroDancer game and its soundtrack. It’s set for early access on Steam this year and release next year, but preordering now will grab you 10% off the final project.