Confession time. I’m not very good at video games. Don’t get me wrong, I love games as a medium, but dear god I’m absolutely terrible at them sometimes. I often joke that the only thing I’m good at in gaming is dying. While mostly a joke, this half-truth makes roguelikes my natural enemy. These games are founded upon the principle of strict punishment for death. Rather than restart at a checkpoint upon running out of health, you’re started from the very beginning of the game. All of your items, statistics, and hope is lost and you’re left to start anew. Upon starting the roguelike dungeon crawler Crypt Run, I was fully prepared for the punishment of death. What I found instead was death re-imagined as a deeper level of gameplay that morphed my frustration with a genre into newfound enjoyment.
Crypt Run is the fourth game from California indie dev Lost Decade Games. The game was largely made possible through a campaign on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The game plays as a twinstick hack n’ slash dungeon crawler, a playstyle which is easily comparable to Binding of Isaac. While some elements are unavoidably similar to Isaac, Crypt Run still establishes itself as a unique game with gameplay equal parts fun and challenging.
Rather than dropping you right into the fray, the game starts you off in a hub. The hub area is structured in the same way as the dungeons, with single door on each of the four walls. South led me to a forest tutorial level, East to the start of the cemetery dungeon, and North to the town. At the very beginning, there isn’t much to be done in town. The town center is populated by NPCs, most of which offer some sort of dialogue when interacted with. They can also be killed with no consequence or reward, if you’re into that sort of thing. One area is a museum which displays all items you’ve picked up on past playthroughs . Areas are sectioned off for an armorsmith and blacksmith, but both NPCs are missing and have been in different levels of the dungeon and can’t be accessed until you rescue them from the depths.
The cemetery is the first area that can really be explored outside of the hub. Once you choose to spawn into a dungeon, there’s no turning back. The game doesn’t allow you to return to town until you’ve completed the area. You’re given a minimap in the upper right hand corner, but rooms aren’t revealed until you pass through them, unless you find an item that maps out the floor. Rooms and floor layouts are different every time. While it seems you always start out in a passive room, everything beyond that first door way is up in the air. The first ‘Cemetary’ dungeon features a cast of monsters varied in both appearance and skillset, ranging from passive-until-attacked owls to werewolves that make a mad-dash for you as soon as you enter their line of sight. Rooms often contain barrels which will sometimes drop money, items, or monsters when destroyed. Chests can also be found scattered about and always drop useful items. Weapons, armor, and unique items can all be found this way. Different weapons may bounce off objects, fire diagonally, or boomerang around the level. I felt like the unique items almost build more on my character than the weapons or armor did. Items like the abacus enabled numbers to tell me how much damage I was dealing per hit or the monster manual which displayed health meters for each enemy.
After playing for twenty minutes or so I started to feel pretty powerful. Naturally, in the spirit of roguelike games, I died a moment later as I misstepped and landed on a spike trap. Before I had time to even get mad about my unfortunate fate, my character respawned. Only, a green ghoulish figure stood where my dashing helmeted adventurer had died. That first ‘death’ was the moment that Crypt Run lept out from beneath the shadow of other similarly styled games. Don’t let this second chance fool you–the afterlife is no easier than life. Prior to death, I’d noticed ghosts wandering around the level. I couldn’t attack them and they couldn’t harm me, so I assumed they were merely aesthetic. Nope. When you’re dead, these ghosts are tangible and very hostile. The first boss level, which I was never able to get past, features a secondary boss character that only attacks you if you’re dead. Oh, and enemies you killed during life leave behind ghosts after they die. So if you’re like me and spent some time farming an enemy generator, you’re in for a world of hurt. If you die as a ghost, you’re done for good but that first level of death isn’t permanent. Certain rooms feature pentagrams on the floor which, if stood on for long enough, will bring your hero back to life.
Crypt Run may still be in alpha, but what has been released so far showcases a solid addition to the roguelike dungeon crawler genre. Interesting enemies, varied items, and a unique game mechanic all work toward making Crypt Run stand out against already established games. The game nearly doubled its kickstarter goal but those still wanting to contribute can pre-order the game (or even get early alpha access) before the game releases to PC, Mac, and Linux on Halloween of 2013.