Saturday, August 26, 2017

Crypt of the Necrodancer - Unfinished Playthrough Review

Great concept, great music, great gameplay - SO WHY DO I SUCK SO MUCH AT IT?!

That's my short and sweet review of Crypt of the Necrodancer, a game I was gifted by a good friend of mine but took ages to get around to. That was mostly because I had heard it was pretty difficult and I felt I needed to be mentally prepared to put in the effort needed to advance anywhere. That, and that it had a rhythm-based gameplay. I was the girl who did everything backwards and forgot where I was whenever we did anything remotely rhythm-requiring in P.E or music class. I wanted to play the drums, but they took me off them because I just couldn't manage to do two things at once (let alone four things at once!). Same thing with the piano and hey, pretty much any intrument requires that you use both your hands simultaneously and stay in rhythm (they put me on singing, which I guess I am the least awful at).

Isn't it weird though, I thought, that I can do these advanced raid healing combinations - moving from fire, timing cooldowns, targeting AND typing - yet I can't get any other kind of timing in life right? Anecdotally that had me thinking about designing a program that would let you play music like a video game. I'm not thinking AudioSurf where you react to a track that already exist, but rather a game that would let you create music by playing it. There, someone go make it, earn the big bucks and credit me for it.

Back to Crypt of the Necrodancer though. It doesn't let you create music by playing it, but I was instantly intrigued by the awesome intro-tune, and the soundtrack was a gift that just kept on giving with every stage I tried. I did prefer the snazzier tunes over the slower ones but there were no duds for sure.

Visually it's great too. It has the indie game retro pixel graphics so common nowadays, but I don't really tire of it, especially not the striking colorfulness employed in CotN. I rarely found myself confused as to what I was looking at, which is basically all I need from graphics. I love the fact that a lot of the enemies were also dancing to the music and the levels had just enough touch of looking like dance floors without taking it too far either.

So CotN is rhythm-based, which means the basic idea is that you need to move in time with the rhythm of the music to be able to deal damage to the enemies. When I first read about it I was very intimidated because of the above-mentioned lack of skill in the rhythm department. I can ease the minds of anyone else worried about failing miserably at the core concept though, it is fairly easy to learn. Problem for me was, it is just as difficult to master as you might imagine.

Fortunately the game allows you to gain equipment to make your journey easier. There are all kinds of things, most of them typical for rogue-likes. Items that increase your visual radius, your damage, your health, that give you health. Weapons with different features, that can be thrown, shot or have more reach. Unfortunately, like any rogue-like, you don't get to keep any when you die. You can improve on your characters health but otherwise you pretty much start from scratch each try. There are also many different characters to unlock, each change the playstyle in some way, basically acting like game modes. One character you start out with even lets you play the game rhythm-free, just like an ordinary rogue-like, so there you have that problem solved if that is your main worry.

Never made it this far...

I made it to world 2 without much trouble but for the life of me I can't get further than that. Most enemies except the most basic ones have some rhythm-based trick to them and that's where I fail. If they're not stationary or not paying attention to me I am basically guaranteed to take damage because I make the same mistakes in the game as I do when I try to time things IRL - I get it wrong. A lot of it is like a choreographed dance - you move two steps forward, one step back to avoid an enemy hit, one step forward to hit it, one step back again and one step forward to finish it off. Or maybe you move four steps forward to hit it because it's a slow enemy and then you have to remember that on the fifth beat it'll strike you. And so on. The problem for me was never what to do with each enemy, I learned their trick fast enough. The problem was simply to execute it.

So would the game be impossible for a rhythm-challenged person like me? Well, no. I don't think that. It just requires a lot more time and concentration, things that I am unfortunately not known for having a lot of patience with. I play games to relax, not to get frustrated and irritated with my inability! But I really liked CotN. So now I am debating whether I will feel it's a failure if I play the game with the rhythm-free character instead?

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