With its mixture of procedural generation, pixel-art and a long time getting cooked on PC via early access, Crawl has the appeal of yet another indie game that will probably be forgotten easily in the pool of other similar looking releases. Thankfully, after finally grabbing a copy on Nintendo Switch, the debut title of Australian studio Powerhoof is one hell of a ride, even 3 years after its early access launch.
A competitive multiplayer game by base, Crawl puts us at the controls of an unnamed Hero, trapped in a dungeon from which he can not escape from unless he reaches a certain power level, enough to defeat the “beast” and claim his freedom. However, the Hero will have to face many trials including fighting for survival against 3 other spirits of previous heroes who died in the dungeon, which will have the opportunity to possess traps scattered in the dungeon rooms and even invoke dangerous and deadly controllable monsters.
A storyline that mainly serve as a filler for the gameplay, Crawl is a coherent and well designed experience, filled with gothic flair, perfectly supported by its eerie soundtrack. That in addition to the very rare interventions of YeOldShrimpEyes (Adrian Vaughan’s artist name), whose serious tone and disturbing narration of the action helps sets the mood of the game.
At the beginning of each game of Crawl, the game will ask each player to choose a deity to follow among 16. 11 of them offering bonuses such as buffs or more powerful weapons at the beginning of the game, and 5 others, which add more spices and kick to the challenge. Each of these divinities offers the player who chooses them different monsters that you can invoke and embody, invoked by using the pentagrams scattered in some rooms of the Dungeon.
While it is like most roguelite and dungeon-crawler, using some aspects of vague RPG elements, Crawl really puts the local multiplayer at the center of its gameplay. The game allows up to 4 players to play simultaneously which is perfect for the Nintendo Switch easy portability, with one playing the Hero while the others take control of ghosts, which goal is to kill that only human and regain their own life. In the game, this translates into the fact that each player who succeeds in killing the Hero will become one, and will in turn have to try to defeat the Beast. To succeed in reaching this Beast (or final boss if you want), you must first reach level 10, thanks to a fairly light levelling system. In the same way, you will be able to buy weapons, special abilities and even objects to improve the stats of your character in the store found on each floor of the dungeon with gold.
The ghosts on the other will not have access to stores and can not level up, however, they will be able to take possession of the various traps found in the dungeon, be it flamethrowers, spike traps or even tossing objects like barrels. In addition, they will be able to summon monsters by using the pentagrams on the ground of certain pieces of the dungeon, which are monsters that can be “evolved” during each dungeon level changes. That’s when things get complicated and strategic for the games, because if the human player will try to get to the highest level possible (10) to face the Beast, the ghost players will be able to evolve the different monsters they have between each level change, while that same human won’t.
So that’s when you get to the point that to ensure you are going to play well, you’ll need play as well in Ghost as Hero, and Crawl has a whole system ensuring a good balance of the whole. The blood that ghost players recover when they harm the Hero is converted to Gold when they themselves take the Hero’s place. In addition, each time a Hero gains level, other the ghost gain “wrath points” that will allow them to evolve their monsters between levels. And so a player reaching levels too quickly will then find himself quickly against overpowered monsters controlled by the three ghost, and eventually fall to his death to realize he only has early level monsters to control.
Because in the end, the role changes are common in Crawl, despite short runs that can last around thirty minutes. This makes Crawl a perfect party game, where 4 players quickly compete and have the ability to rematch… And if you are not really aiming to play this with friends, then Crawl is a difficult game, as your 3 opponent will be replaced with smart AI bots, that can give you a hard time even in easy mode.
My only complaint would be about the limited amount of final boss to fight (just a mere three) and the lack of an online multiplayer. It’s still a game that you can quickly come back to and enjoy a quick session with or without friends, especially since you can unlock new monsters (a total of 60) as you play more and more Crawl.
Crawl was reviewed using a Nintendo Switch downloadable code provided by Powerhoof. The original game was released earlier in 2017 on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in online retail stores. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Really dynamic competitive game
• Quick multiplayer game to be played with friends
• Balanced gameplay and mechanics
• Great soundtrack
• A really interesting take on rogue-like games
• Limited amount of bosses
• No online multiplayer