Whilst I have always been a big gamer, one thing I’ve never really found myself interested in is the dungeon crawling genre. You could throw a platformer my way, or even a puzzler if I’m feeling particularly unchallenged, and I’ll happily dive into them without knowing even the slightest thing about them. But dungeon crawlers have always struck me as a genre for a particular type of gamer.
Those with a great understanding of the RPG mechanics that are usually woven deep into them, and a heavy patience for the repetitive death that usually seems to follow such a game, is something that would be expected, as well as a taste for the typically testing difficulties these titles bring to the table – understanding that you’d often lose all progress and be forced to start again is pretty much par for the course. But that’s not the type of gamer I am. I like to know that when I’ve done something it’s staying done, oh, and my patience has never really been that high either. But sometimes change can be good, and sometimes those things outside of our comfort zones can bring an all new joy to life. Would Crawl be the dungeon crawler to do such a thing?
Although the term dungeon crawler may bring many thoughts to mind of the lonely underdog, forced to fight their way to safety in an underground dwelling full of ferocious monsters, that’s only true for half of the experience you’ll have with Crawl. Unlike most other titles in the popular genre, Crawl doesn’t have you focus entirely on the lone survivor, and instead you’ll find a lot of your time is spent in control of the monsters themselves. That is one thing that couldn’t be more welcome in such an oversaturated market.
The end goal of Crawl is quite a simple one really, escape. There’s nothing special to it, nothing unexpected, just the simple task of getting out of your current situation by besting the many monsters that come your way, and then leaving via what I guess is the dungeon exit… I assume they have exits?
What makes this challenging are the other players. Whilst it’s viable to play Crawl solo, in which up to three perfectly suitable bots fill in the roles of the unoccupied characters, it’s really other players you’ll want in order to make the experience the best it can be.
After a brief introduction alerting you to what you need to do, you set off in your game. Only one person – as you would expect – can start life as the dungeon crawler. As the dungeon crawler, you traverse the many rooms and corridors, battling monsters, gathering the XP and levelling your character up to level 10 as quickly as possible. To do this you can purchase weapons from a vendor, before getting to work – depleting your enemies’ health bar before they deplete yours. After reaching level 10, you then jump on a ritual pad and head down to face the big boss.
One thing that works surprisingly well here is that you always know just where your enemy is. The other players – or bots – appear on screen as ghosts. As the ghosts, and at summoning points, they can spawn monsters to take control of, attacking the crawler in the process. They can also possess objects and traps to hurl at the escapee as they try and defeat him. Doing this will help level up those playing as a ghost and keep the chances of reaching that boss equal should they catch a break and defeat the crawler. Here’s where things get interesting though, as the player to deal the final blow and kill the escapee regains their humanity and takes over the role of that of the living dungeon crawler.
Whilst the action in Crawl may not sound that unique, I was surprised at how fun the gameplay could be. This is helped by just how smooth the game is; traversing to each room is fluid and fast and each stage starts quickly, making for plenty of time actually playing the game rather than recounting why you died – something which usually tends put me off these types of games in the first place. This shows in spades too, with each run only taking about half an hour or so to reach the required level to take on the boss.
One thing to note however is that whilst Crawl is best played with all four players, things can get very hectic should you glance away for just a second. With so much going on all the time, anyone caught placing their eyes on the wrong thing can quickly find themselves scouring the screen looking for where they are. This is down to the fact that being an visual 8-bit title, the colour palette is indeed limited and therefore things can blend in quite quickly. Provided you pay attention though, then there shouldn’t really be anything to cause too much issue and it certainly doesn’t take anything away from the experience. You do need to be on point at all times though.
Something else truly deserving of praise is in the variety of enemies you can face. Whilst it’s fun to choose your weapons and the traps you inhabit, choosing the monsters and traps to throw at your enemies is surprisingly refreshing through each run. With monster abilities that allow you to breath fire, shoot arrows from a bow wielding skeleton, possess barrels and cupboards, send spiked stars across the floor and countless others, you never really feel like things are ever getting too repetitive. Sure, you may find yourself favouring a particular move that you become better with given time, but given the hectic gameplay it never feels too similar.
Those playing as the dungeon crawler also have their own abilities, with shields, a range of weapons to choose from and a trusty damage reducing eyeball to help with their cause. Even as the underdog, you’re still given a fair chance and nothing ever feels unfair.
Of course, no game is perfect though, and Crawl does suffer from one issue that would be better off sorted – the room designs.
No run through is ever short of rooms to find and corridors to take in, however seeing them feel a little livelier, without the combat in the middle would have been much nicer. Maybe even some nice pictures wouldn’t be too much to ask. Anything to make Crawl really come alive would be a great addition.
The other issue that is maybe a little more of a let-down is the lack of any online multiplayer. It’s worth noting here that the guys behind Crawl are an indie developer and don’t hold the largest of budgets, and with that in mind, the game created is indeed rather enjoyable. But for those unable to entice friends over, it would have been nice to have the option to join others online, especially in a game which focuses on the competition. Of course, that then in itself would need to see a decent number of online players populating the servers, but when you get a game this good, you have to hope and pray that the players will flock.
Overall and whilst Crawl may not be what every dungeon crawling fan is used to, it certainly offers something new for local multiplayer fans. With surprisingly capable bots on hand to fill the empty spaces should you be flying solo, you’ll find a perfectly enjoyable game for a quiet afternoon session in this cracking title. Even though an online option is missing, this is certainly the most fun I’ve ever had in any dungeon crawler, with or without friends, and is definitely something you should be looking out for if you’re after something a little different.