"And how can you not have fun dancing on a plastic pad like an idiot?"
As an off-and-on fan of rogue-lite/like games, I am always torn determining the amount of skill and the amount of luck you will find in these games. Unseen probabilities within games are something I always am wary of complaining about when I could've had some really bad luck.
However, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a game where I blamed myself more so when I made errors than blame the odds against me. This is the first rogue-like where I could tell I was improving myself, and it's the first one in the genre where the demands on the player's skill were mandatory. Because with each failure through the familiarity of the controls and the coordination of my fingers to the bass-line of the music I was reading the enemy telegraphed moves. Or adjusting myself to a new tempo-change. Or finding myself becoming at ease with the bizarre control-scheme. (Minus the DDR pad.)
The Rogue-Like With A Beat
The novelty of this game is that it takes the game of Rogue and gives it a beat. Literally.
The musical theme is not solely an aesthetic. The gameplay is interwoven into the music itself. From the way you move around/attack to the amount of time you have to explore the dungeons. Once the song ends, you are dropped to the next stage. (There are red-bars to show that the song is nearing its end.) Every movement/action you make is managed by moving in-time of the music. You and every enemy move according to that rule, which gives the game a charming tactical feel while sometimes relying on you thinking on the fly. Enemies attack in a specific manner which usually results in them having an "off-beat" to strike them. If you simply attack head-on with no regard, you'll die a lot.
If that sounds too convoluted about how the combat works, let me rephrase it like this: You are the metronome; the music is what you need to match (as the tempo can increase and decrease); and the enemies are the other instruments in play. The game plays more like reading a music sheet than another rogue-like game.
The controls are the first major obstacle to get over, which you can play this game legitimately with either a controller or keyboard (or a DDR pad, which has an easier difficulty just for itself). To get the best experience, I would suggest you map your directional keys separate from your combo keys. There are too many moments towards Zone 2 and onwards that rely on twichy reflexes in-time with the music to coordinate your fingers in combinations.
Thankfully, the game isn't too demanding on you maintaining a constant rhythm. If you're like me, I struggle to keep a rhythm going longer than a few seconds without going faster or slower than expected. The game is lenient on being perfect, but you cannot spam your movements. The game simply won't let you, and you won't be able to obtain the modifiers to your gold (and modified items) if you don't keep the beat. I was able to get past the first zone on my keyboard alone, but the second stage's music tripped me up when I had to make those split-second motions to drop a bomb or use an item. Switching out the combos to other keys fixed it for me, and I would strongly suggest that if you play the game with a controller you give the directional pad some love.
Practice Makes Perfection
Many rogue-lites rely too much on probabilities of which you can and cannot control (FTL). Others rely on attention to details of your item and the levels to spot those small benefits to get you to the end (Binding of Isaac). Crypt of the NecroDancer is a part of the trend where they provide permanent progression across chunks of the game. (There is a story mode for purists who want to play a more traditional rogue-like experience. However, I chose the permanent item/stat increases as I am not the best at these type of games.)
There are stat increases and new loot to give your next playthrough something to change it up as well as possibly improving your odds. None of which are mandatory--I wouldn't think of going without them--if you are good enough at the game to read your enemies' movements. Outside of the item/stat increases, you also have another means to improve your next game: Practice rooms.
You have a training room for enemies and minibosses that unlocks with a certain amount of kills for every enemy, a boss pratice room (unlocked via currency you accumulate in every run, diamonds), and a weapon-training selection screen to practice in either room. These rooms are unlocked by finding trapped tradders within Zone 1 and 2 and unlocking them with the Golden Master Key.
Having a story-mode option and a perma-progression system as choices is the best compromise as both the purists who prefer to learn the game on their own and everyone else has the means to finish the game. But it ain't so easy, nor free. The bosses cost in-game currency to unlock. And you can't simply practice on all the enemies from the get-go--you have to kill each enemy type several times to unlock them. Simply, you can't cheat yourself out of a challenge without investing first.
(And if you don't like some items, you can discard them for diamonds with the Janitor).
It Ain't No Stepmania
Perhaps the game's own lacking feature is the infamous difficulty of its genre. The game doesn't feel that hard.
Make no mistake; the game is difficult for all the right reasons, and you will die a lot. But there are plenty of items to circumnavigate the game's difficulty, and some enemies that make me wonder how fair the game truly is. For example, blood items let you regain your health, slowly, with enough kills chained together. There are also magic spells that might stun enemies, blast horizontally, or give you some buffs to become overpowered in some situations. I would chalk these up to limitations of making a novel game without all its polish.
Some enemies also break the rules. There are some enemies that move in diagonal movements, which you are never allowed to do. The red-dragons also seem unfair without a "ranged" weapon (weapons that extend beyond one-tile, such as long-swords or broadswords) to get around taking damage. Zone 2 seems to have a sharp difficulty spike because you start off with nothing (even if you finish Zone 1). So expect that you may still have some bad runs when you begin new zones.
The only feature of this game I hadn't tried is adding your music into the game. This game's music was tailored for the game, and I am sure slow songs will break it while Megalovania will result in a very bad time.
Shake Your Groove Thang
This is one of few rogue-likes I'll always come back to because it's a fun experience. It's not a brutal old-schooler, nor is it coddling to the new players. The game's sense of challenge makes an otherwise creative deviation into a worthwhile game of its own.
And how can you not have fun dancing on a plastic pad like an idiot?
Community review by Brian (October 22, 2016)
Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.
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