Review: NecroDancer: AMPLIFIED09 Apr 2019 1
Review: NecroDancer: AMPLIFIED
Released 23 Mar 2019
By attempting to re-package the roguelike back in 2015, Brace Yourself Games may have accidentally made one of the most compelling deconstructions of it in video games. Crypt of the Necrodancer finds ways to make turn-based dungeon crawling feel entirely new by barely tweaking the essentials and obfuscating it all under bright lights and big sounds.
You’re tasked with exploring a multi-layered, procedurally generated dungeon full of baddies. It sounds like every roguelike, proc-gen game you’ve ever heard. Ironically, it's what you hear in Necrodancer that changes the entire landscape. This dungeon is a dancefloor.
The monsters mambo. The powerful, toe tapping beats of Canabalt and Binding of Issac’s Danny Baranowsky gives everything in earshot life.
To move, you must hop from space to space to the rhythm. Like Rogue, when you move, everything else in the game moves. Unlike Rogue, the monsters will move on every beat, whether you do or not. You’re all swirling around each other, slam dancing to the same beat. Staying in time while slaying your foes and collecting loot keeps your combo counter ticking. This is vital for collecting large amounts of gold to spend on the occasional warbling shopkeeper and keeping your arsenal in top shape as your enemies grow ever powerful. You don’t have to move on beat; breaking your combo doesn’t necessarily hurt you. But why are we here if not to shake it like a salt shaker?
Roguelike have always been a patient, turn-based affair. The addition of a beat to move to adds a sort of time limit that makes decision making a frantic affair. You must keep moving, even if it means trotting in a holding pattern until you’re sure of the next move. The dungeon’s denizens won’t just let you meander, of course. They will all be trotting along, either towards you or in specific patterns that are often simple to determine.
They all have their own sort of tells that inform you of when they’re going to strike you. For example, the turn before the skeleton attacks, they throw their hands in the air (possibly waving them like they just don’t care). These become a challenge to keep track of when multiple monsters with different rules all occupy the same room. In these moments, Necrodancer toes the line between stiff challenge and absolute mess pretty admirably.
This is all before tossing in traps, like the ones that can speed the tempo up temporarily. Other hazards like tiles of water that take two turns to leave make simple navigation difficult. Besides trying to find openings to attack the enemy in, you also need to avoid getting stuck. It can be incredibly demanding, and sometimes the mobile control options really let you down here.
There are three types, traditional d-pads, side buttons, and swipe controls. None of them are particularly better than the other outside of the realm of preference. But they can but unreliably when you really need to tap yourself out of a jam. Some of it is the panic throwing you off rhythm, but other times, it’s just a two button input not reading on time.
Lots of exploration options open up thanks to your shovel. You can dig your way through most of the walls around. You often have to, if you want to open hidden doors to secret shops or find big treasure and equipment. It can also be used as yet another layer of strategy to get the jump on mini-bosses if necessary. The kind of versatility that such a simple mechanic can provide to the rest of your arsenal is still a mind-boggling thing to behold.
The is A LOT of content to get into in NecroDancer, especially the Amplified version that contains all of the DLC from the PC edition. Several zones, daily challenge runs, and continues modes can keep you bopping for dozens of hours. 14 different characters all have different ways to play the game to challenge you even further. There’s just so much to be done that those who can’t get enough Necrodancing will never have to.
There’s no NecroDancer conversation that doesn’t discuss its very stellar soundtrack at least a little bit. Maybe more incredible than the number of tracks that come in the game is the number of riffs and remixes that accompany them for when you go through stages as different characters. It may seem a bit like a no brainer for a music game to have lots of good music, but as it is the core of everything else this game provides, that is sounds so good so often feels like that much more of a feat.
Importing music is also a feature that carries over from the PC port, but it’s kind of a mess on mobile. The app will access your Apple Music account and choose among songs that are downloaded to your device. But it can only seem to recognize certain songs. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what it can and can’t register. But of the around 30 songs I downloaded as a test; it could only read 5. The packed in tracks are good enough, but the fact that this feature isn’t working well is a disappointment.
But as far as getting a rhythm game/roguelike fix that is unique and rewarding goes, you really can’t go wrong with Crypt of the NecroDancer Amplified. It’s clever, easy to learn mechanics and deep well of content is worth the price on any platform. The inputs could be more responsive, and the custom tracks are off the table, but otherwise, this is a very faithful port of one of the best indies of this generation.