Good day to you sirs and madams. Dapper as always? Fantastic.
Who here likes a good dungeon crawler? Diablo, Torchlight, maybe Path of Exile? Who doesn’t like scrounging through dungeons and killing hordes of terrible beasts? Well there are some real winners out there already, and most of them realized that playing with your friends is even more fun than just slaying a literal incarnation of the devil all on your lonesome. What about the asymmetrical multiplayer racket?
For those who follow us here on DustimusPrime, you might notice a few of us here really enjoy these asymmetrical games. If you haven’t heard the term before, it basically means when you play with other gamers, the two teams involved are uneven in some way, designed that way specifically by the programmers of the game. In Depth, for example, one team is controlling 4 divers looking for gold while, the other team is comprised of 2 sharks who just came off their diets.
Crawl takes elements from successful dungeoneering games, such as randomly generated maps that get much more difficult the deeper you delve. A mysterious shopkeeper that sells you potions and swords is readily present and fully stocked. Bosses and monsters are decidedly unique in their own ways while being very familiar to both video gamers and tabletop gamers alike. Yes, there is a beholder, and yes, he is my current favorite. Steam head and divine PC icon Gabe Newell also has a special cameo as a boss.
The game plays like a grimy pixel art combination of a Zelda dungeon with a bullet hell level of chaos that reminds me of the older Gauntlet games. Four players at a time traverse a dungeon; one plays as the stalwart hero. The other three are specters, loose in the caves, aware that if they can kill the hero, they can take his place.
Crawl is very simple in that there are very few stats. You have no numbers to crunch. You choose different weapons, but there is no armor or other equip-able items. This is a huge plus because it is designed in a way to allow friends to hand a controller to someone who might not have ever played and allow them to learn how in short order. If you are looking at a new sword, when the stat is green with a plus sign, then it’s better than the one you have. There, done. Let’s examine the game from two different perspectives, man against ghosts, and go over just how the game plays.
The Heroic, Though Mortal Man
When you start the game, one of you poor suckers gets saddled with being the human. Someone’s gotta go first, and here you are. Your goal in this game is pretty simple: survive. More specifically, when you power your character up to level 10, if you come across the portal room, it will open and you can face the terrible monster inside. If you defeat it, you escape the dungeon and win the game.
To do that, however, you will need to be able to face the ever strengthening onslaught of horrors within the dungeon. Traps are fairly stationary, but spring to life as the ghosts of the tombs (controlled by other players) command them. Pentagrams are present in some rooms, and from them rise beasts and monsters summoned and guided by those same specters.
To face these abominations, you have two buttons. “Attack” and “Special.” Again, the simplicity this game masters lends itself well to learning on the fly and reacting quickly. The attack button does just that, but can be altered by buying different kinds of weapons. Daggers are short, weak and fast but also have the ability to be thrown as part of a combo of button presses, giving them a versatility that the sword just doesn’t have. The more you play the game, the more weapon types you will find and unlock. Some even come packaged with curses and boons. Some curses make you insane, for example a character in the throes of madness will cycle between a normal run speed and a slow walk where he glances around him and swats at imaginary flies.
That special button, however, starts as a simple but effective combat roll that allows you to avoid damage and evade enemy attacks. The shop, however, sells replacement abilities. All vary in usefulness and cool factor. One can cause you to spew a pool of fetid goo that damages and slows monsters. Another causes an aura of light to hover around you and point wherever you do. Pressing the special button commands it to blast a beam of energy in that direction, causing massive damage and blazing a path through dungeon denizens.
Far From Tangible: The Wrathful Spirit
As the ghost, you are not in league with the other specters. You strive for your own eternity. The other ghouls in the dungeon are in your way. To become human, you must deliver the killing blow to the hero. You cannot touch him or hurt him as you are, but taking the reigns of the nearby traps and throwing spears and fireballs at you foe is a great start. These traps are fun, but aren’t nearly as fun as summoned beasts. Before the game, you were allowed to choose from a handful of old gods to worship. This grants you a loadout of three monsters that are chosen at random as you attempt to summon them from the pentagrams etched into the ground. Throwing yourself at the hero, you may not be able to kill him, at least not yet. Every time he levels up, you gain wrath. When the hero finds the exit and dives deeper, you are taken to a level up screen where you can spend your wrath on your menagerie of torment. Monsters take new forms and learn new abilities, a-la Pokemon, and become the heroes-bane you’ve needed all along.
When the hero traverses the empty rooms he’s already cleared, you can spend your free time collecting ectoplasm as it appears. Gather enough and you can summon (at will) a small, weak, living ooze; a common monster from RPGs that does little more than annoy your opponent. In doing this, however, you cause the doors to lock and force him to fight, buying you more time and whittling him down.
Crawl Is presented in a gritty sort of pixel art that many games these days take their hand at. One way they try to stand out is by making it look and feel like a glitchy old arcade cabinet. It tells you to insert one coin and then flickers with burnt out and over saturated colors. The music here is perfectly ambient in that although it is a little forgettable, it ties the scene together amazingly. It knows when not to flicker the screen and ruin your game play, but the menus are rife with this treatment; it’s almost as if the game’s coding is held together by Lovecraftian nightmares and ethereal energy.
So Crawl is a fun multiplayer experience that is similar and yet so unlike anything you’ve played. It’s also inexpensive, on Steam for only ten bucks right now, all while looking and sounding great! So where’s the catch?
Although the game is currently a part of Steam’s Early Access program and the developers are very active in their community as well as diligent when it comes to updates (including new content and monsters), there is currently no online play capability. If you want to play Crawl with your friends, you’ve got to get them all in the same room and put controllers in their hands yourself. That’s right, it’s same couch only. Dave from Powerhoof has explained that they do very much want to include an online option, and hope to, but that there are some difficulties that come with a feature like that when you’re a small developer as they are. Hopefully we’ll see this functionality at a later date. Until then, you’ll have to gather your friends in Meatspace to get your Crawl on.