Unlike similar labels, the gameplay of this game is more rogue-like. You control the hero within a grid-style dungeon. You will explore and fight the war one square at a time. Each set of chambers is generated randomly. If you die, you have to start all over. The further you adventure, the more gear, consumables and spells you will collect to aid you when you encounter various monsters. They have a predictable behavior based on movement patterns.
With each new enemy there is another pattern to learn. Some skeletons are protected by ooze that move back and forth on a set path. You will first rely on reactions to get past them, but to progress you will have to memorize the various patterns, and practice them until they become second nature. Your gear just complicates things more as different weapons attack differently. Your options are even more vast with spells, magic rings, and abilities like tunneling through walls. You will have to figure out the approach to a room each time you play, increasing the amount of skill required. If you love mastering complicated combat systems, Necrodancer is for you.
With traditional rogue-like games the amount of time you have to make decisions is your biggest asset. However, you will quickly find that Crypt of the Necrodancer has reduced the amount of time you have to think, assess and plan your next move. You must maintain rhythm with the music to increase the gold from each kill. So in order to build your gold multiplier, you have the space between two beats of the soundtrack. The increase in gold allows you to afford better gear at a quicker rate.
While you should always be moving, doing so without thinking will result in you being killed, and pretty fast. Action will be taken constantly, but thoughtfully as a once meditative experience transitions into an on-the-fly rush of strategy and finesse, some consider it like a dance.
Another thing that makes Necrodancer unique is that many rhythm games provide the pattern on the screen, but with this game the pattern is constantly changing and relies on perception and learning. After each dying and starting over you begin to understand things a little bit better. You start out failing constantly, and through hours of practice you get more confident. Necrodancer has combined the best of both rhythm and roguelike games.
The game’s core is four main worlds that are split into separate levels with boss battles between each level. For the newcomers, if you prefer not having to start over each time you die, there is an option for taking on each world separately. You will be able to rescue NPCs in this mode as well who sell permanent upgrades. These upgrades assist in making challenging areas more accessible, balancing the difficulty curve and allowing you to eventually approach the ending.
As you advance through the game, you will also unlock additional playable characters which impact the game itself. For example, Bard doesn’t require moving to the beat, the Dove isn’t able to attack but can bypass mini-bosses, Eli makes use of bombs but can’t use regular weaponry, which gives the whole game an old-school Bomberman feel. With the ability to co-op, daily challenges, Steam Workshop support, and even extreme difficulty, there are many options to Necrodancer that give you long-term entertainment.
There are many small touches that bring the game to life, such as the unique ability to add your own music to the game and play to its beat, a shopkeeper singing to the background music (unless you set up your own music), each creature animation syncing with the rhythm, etc. The music is a pure fun, being a variation of punch and playful. Crypt of the Necrodancer brings a good balance of replayability, charm, and difficulty that games like this need.