Reviews// Iron Crypticle

Posted 9 Aug 2017 16:40 by
Iron Crypticle is not an easy game. The first area that I played completely lulled me into a false sense of security as I easily confronted and beat the hordes thrown at me. My time in the next area was brief as enemies seemed to increase not only in number, but also in speed, wiping me out within a few stages.

Expecting that I would be able to continue the game where I was defeated, or at least at the second stage I hastily tried again. I was rather dismayed that it threw me back right to the start again, forcing me to face the easier enemies again before I could try again at the higher level.

As I mentioned, Iron Crypticle is not an easy game, but it is also not an easy game to like. The game design harks back to the days of Smash TV and Robotron perhaps combined, with the visual aesthetic of Gauntlet. Successful 'retro style' games often take earlier design concepts and expand upon them. Iron Crypticle sticks rigidly to earlier formats, with no concessions to more modern game design ideas.

Whilst some may find this approach refreshing, I found that it rather impaired my ability to enjoy the game. However, there are elements that certainly are engaging and this rather makes some design decisions all the more frustrating. Aside from chasing high scores, progression in the game is rewarding as more weapons and abilities are unlocked with repeated play. This provides some much-needed diversity.

The game takes place in an assortment of dungeons, graveyards and other common fantasy settings, presented from a top down perspective. The aim is to travel through a series of these rooms, making decisions as to which direction to go to reach the final end of stage boss.

In each play-through, with the exception of the starting room, the order of areas appears randomised. Each has its own visual aesthetic, although in general the game generally utilises the darker shades of the colour palette. This can sometimes make enemies difficult to spot and in some areas, such as the graveyard, fog and darkness combine to chilling effect.

As the player enters each room, a group of enemies appear, the goal being to kill them all before the dreaded 'hurry up' message is displayed and indestructible monsters emerge. Patterns of enemy attack vary in difficulty as the early zombie-like creatures amble towards the player or wander around in corners of the room. Later stages see enemies swarm the player, making forward planning essential.

Throughout each encounter weapons and heart pieces will appear to aid the player, in addition to the inclusion of chests full of coins. Once weapons are collected they are automatically selected and a timer displays indicating for how long they will be available for use.

The weapons make a considerable difference to attack power and I often wished they lasted just a little longer, particularly on later levels. The default 'throwing axe' is rather slow and does little damage on later stages.

Another aspect that I found a little frustrating was the slow speed of movement for the player's character. Although this can be upgraded, the default speed is a considerable hindrance on later stages as enemies begin to move considerably more quickly. However, this does rather add to the level of challenge as forward planning becomes ever more essential.

The game consequently has a more tactical feeling to it than the more twitch style shooters with which it could be grouped. Following the successful completion of a floor, the final room contains a larger enemy, which also changes on each play-through. Defeat of these enemies requires thought as it is often not possible to simply go in with all guns blazing, particularly in single player.

As a single player experience, the game can be quite frustrating, largely because failure means a return to the beginning. The player's character begins with three hit points and although these can be added to throughout a play session, they can also be depleted extremely quickly.

Adding another player to the game greatly increased my enjoyment. For some reason if there are two or more players the game gives additional credits, despite the difficulty appearing to remain static. Consequently, the game is significantly more challenging in single player, as once those three hit points are gone it's back to the start.

Multiplayer also adds an additional layer of strategy to the game, particularly during boss encounters as decisions have to be made quickly. Unfortunately, the game can only be played cooperatively locally, with no online options available beyond a high score table. This is rather a shame as the gameplay feels very suited to online party play.

Visually the game is consistent although hardly impressive. The darkness and gloom of each stage, although in keeping with the overall design, can start to feel a little monotonous. In addition, although the soundtrack is quite memorable it does become rather repetitive and would benefit from the inclusion of more tracks.

Iron Crypticle may be initially difficult to like, but through repeated play its depth begins to become more apparent. It is just rather a shame that earlier stages feel so repetitive and punishment for failure in the single player is so punitive. The addition of online cooperative play would significantly benefit the game and I would hope, if developer Tikipod has the resources, its addition could feature in a possible sequel.

As the game stands, playing Iron Crypticle alone is not particularly recommended, unless you enjoy chasing high scores. Although the randomised levels do provide a different challenge on each play-through, the similarity of each stage and the slightly cumbersome eight-way directional controls make progress difficult. In multiplayer, the game comes alive and game design decisions that I found to be irritating melted away.

Iron Crypticle is not an easy game, but it does become easier to like, although never quite loved, with repeated play.

Pros:
+ Multiplayer is enjoyable.
+ The game rewards strategic thinking.
+ Design is consistent throughout.

Cons:
- Single player is the wrong side of challenging.
- Visually uninspiring.
- Can become a little repetitive.

SPOnG Score: 6/10

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