Crypt of the NecroDancer is half turn-based dungeon crawler with randomly-generated dungeons. The other half of the game is rhythm: each dungeon floor has a unique music track with a visually emphasized steady beat. Your moves are (ideally) made to that beat. Enemies also move to the beat, so the pace at which things happen is determined by the music. Having a steady rhythm locks the participant into a timeframe in which to act, not unlike speed chess or the rate at which a block lowers in Tetris. By removing the infinite time in which a player could decide which move is most optimal in your traditional turn-based dungeon excursions, the game becomes instead one of relying almost wholly on experience. After a while, experience becomes instinct, leading to creative leaps of strategy made entirely in the moment, in the space between the game’s figurative and literal heartbeats.
You play as Cadence, a headstrong delver who - through an unfortunate combination of a terminal fall and an evil NecroDancer stealing her still-beating heart - must now travel down multiple dungeon floors, fighting monsters and finding useful items. You technically don’t have to move to the beat, but not doing so will cause you to lose a vital multiplier that increases how many coins you earn from defeated monsters. The higher the multiplier, the more likely you can afford powerful weapons and items found in dungeon shops. You know when you’re moving to the beat, because the dungeon floor starts pulsing with light, making it your very own little dungeon rave.
There is very little randomness to the combat in Crypt of the NecroDancer. Everything behaves according to very set rules. You move into a monster to attack it, different weapons change the shape of your attack. If an enemy moves into a square you were trying to move to, you’ll take damage instead. Certain enemies take advantage of your urge to rush in, waiting a beat before moving, or moving in interesting patterns. Monsters have unique little dance animations, their movement sounds become a part of the melody of what’s happening on the screen. These sounds are often a clue to defeating them. As you delve deeper, the music becomes faster, the monster patterns more complex. The game is ingenious, fun in ways indescribable unless you’re there, in the moment, taken by the rhythm and amazed at how well you’re doing.
You can use your own MP3s for the soundtrack, and there’s even a DDR mode for use with a dance pad. The DDR mode makes a game a bit easier so you don’t kill yourself. There’s permanent progression via character upgrades, like a health increase and magic spells, unlocked by collecting diamonds.
The music is being provided by the excellent Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, Canabalt, Binding of Isaac, Desktop Dungeons).