Released last year on PC, Crypt of the Necrodancer jived its way onto PlayStation 4 in early February, bringing with some of the grooviest moves we've ever seen in a roguelike. It's a delicious mash-up of rhythmic action and hardcore permadeath, and one we've been enjoying thoroughly since we got our hands on it.
Like so many of its roguelike brethren, CotND is deceptively complicated, with deep layers waiting to be scratched away as its secrets are learned, practised, and eventually conquered. Moving through an isometric pixelated dungeon players must tap in time to the music whilst two-stepping their way around enemies and environmental hazards.
Each enemy you meet on the way moves to their own particular pattern, and some are exceedingly dangerous, pursuing you endlessly with deadly attacks. It's all about timing those button presses to perfection, avoiding the blows along the way, and getting a bit of luck thanks to the various items you grab en route.
You don't have much health and death is usually not too far away. Keeping you alive longer are the items you find around the place tucked away in chests and bought from singing shopkeepers. New weapons give you better range or more damage, and there's a selection of enchantments that add even more variety to your arsenal. Armour keeps you safer, spells and food restore health, and you can even pick up jewellery that grants additional effects to help you on your way.
You might die and start again with unnerving regularity, but there is progression. Diamonds are found throughout the world, on the floor or hidden in walls. After you pop your clogs, if you've got enough in your purse, you can spend them on new items to appear in chests in future play-throughs, ever-so-slightly increasing your odds of survival, at least for a few steps further. It's a neat system that gives you a tangible reward for a decent run, and keeps you hungry for more.
There's more to unlock than just future loot drops. In fact, the amount of unlockable content is admirable, and we've still got plenty more to access before we can claim to 100% finished. You can spend diamonds unlocking different bosses to practice against at your leisure, and reaching certain milestones will open up additional training grounds. You can even unlock passive buffs that give you extra starting health and increase the amount of gold your opponents drop. There's so many reasons to keep returning for one more pass, none more enticing than the promise of getting through a zone, beating its boss, and unlocking the next.
The different zones introduce new environments and enemies, and the difficulty is taken up a notch. The drop rate of diamonds increases too, a silver lining because you'll start dying with a frequency not seen since the first few rounds of the last zone. The harsh edge that characterises the genre is retained, balanced expertly against measured progression that rewards persistence and practice just as well as another of our favourite roguelikes in this post-Spelunky age, Galak-Z: The Dimensional. But where Galak-Z takes off and explores space, Crypt of the Necrodancer sticks to a more familiar setting for the genre.
The procedural generation of the levels is solid, and you can dance and dig your way through walls and bushes, and nothing feels poorly positioned or out of place. The visuals are cute, quirky, and something that's key for a game such as this, they're expressive. You can see exactly what the various items are, which walls can be cracked with which shovel (you start with a standard model, but if you're lucky you'll get an upgrade that can chew through hardier rocks), enemies are easily identifiable, and everything you need to know is clearly signposted. It's superbly designed across the board, and learning its secrets is a gradual, expertly paced pleasure.
Crypt of the Necrodancer wants you to dance your way through some deadly dungeons, but it provides you with such a delicious beat to play to that it's almost impossible not to fall in love with its subtly blended charms. The soundtrack is chirpy, and there's even the option to move to your own beat and swap in your own tunes (at least that's the case in the PC version that we've been playing). It's brutally difficult; that alone will put off those looking for something less punishing. And while there's lore, this isn't a game for those in search of an authored story. However, if you're even mildly interested in the roguelike genre, this is certainly an easy recommendation. In the last twelve months we've been given Galak-Z, Downwell, Nuclear Throne, and many more besides. This might well be the golden age of the roguelike genre, and Crypt of the Necrodancer can go toe to toe with any of its illustrious contemporaries.