Monday, July 7, 2014

Indie Impression - Shadowcrypt


Developed by One-bit Punch Studios

Shadowcrypt presents players with a big question; are you in touch with your roots?

There's two big reasons, two different types of people who play games. There are people who play video games to unwind, because they had a hard day at work and they want to let loose and not have to think, people who want to have fun without the worry of being stuck or presented with obstacles.

Then there are those who love punishment, people who live to play games like Journey to Silius, I Wanna Be The Guy or the more recent Dark Souls series. Diehards who don't want their hand held and want to be beaten mercilessly over and over until they finally learn what they've been doing wrong this whole time.

Shadowcrypt is absolutely a game for the latter, and I'm proud to say I'm one of these deranged masochists.

The shield is your most valuable tool, gaining you the ground you need.

As the torches of the title screen begin to flicker around the ominous skull decorating the entryway the haunting chants of the intro music beckon you to the dank and dark depths of the most brutal arcade platformer I've had the pleasure of playing.

Shadowcrypt is all about the combat. The bleak and claustrophobic level designs of the game only lend to your unbridled focus on the task at hand. All of your attention will be drawn to the beautifully crafted sprites and their precise animations as you slash and bash your way to the heart of the Crypts in pursuit of the wicked Necromancer.

Quick wits are required in tense situations.

Only 4 rooms into the game my mysterious cowled hero crumples to the floor dead..again..for the third time. "I-I'll just try this again later.." I whimper to myself, tucking my gamepad away and walking away to make a sandwich to hopefully forget about this brutal game that just made me it's slave.

Not even a minute later, I toss my buttered knife to the ground and declare "Eff that, I can do it!" and find myself rushing back to the computer where I give these beckoning crypts another go. I feel that same kind of determined spirit I held in the Famicom days.

 The gameplay with it's visceral combat and the insane amount of concentration needed exceed my expectations, it's almost a little overwhelming. I've heard people call other games "the Dark Souls of 2D gaming" before many times in the past but Shadowcrypt is probably the first title I've played to actually match and truly capture the punishing and calculated approach to combat Dark Souls has, where every little move you make has a huge impact and consequence.

Even more-so are the striking similarities to what seems to be the developer's hugest influence, Zelda II, from the candle finding objective needed to progress to the highly memorable and iconic shield-wielding Iron Knuckle battles that the combat here seems to inspire from heavily. It's the refreshing change of pace I've been waiting for since the golden-era of games.

Even the options proudly display where Shadowcrypt's roots lie.

While I can see a lot of less patient players outright quitting in frustration the moment they die and are reduced to the starting 3-7dmg sword prior to a strong foe, the more retro-minded of players will remember this sort of challenge from our earlier and most important days of gaming.

We'll stick with it and experience something exceedingly rewarding. You'll die often, but everytime you start again you'll feel better, stronger, and make it a little bit further. And when you do finally beat those rooms? Holy crap, it feels good.

Victory will be achieved through restraint and perseverance.

Though the system of losing your only reliable weapon will feel almost too brutal for newcomers, it's what gives Shadowcrypt the refined gameplay it has. To give a sense of real distress in every confrontation and to make death that much more consequential.

 The punishing nature is extremely familiar to the first Castlevania titles where dying would lose you your chained whip, sticking you back with the puny leather alternative in the midst of a tough level. Konami in general were masters of this formula, as my other favorite series Gradius was very similar in nature with deaths reverting you back to the almost useless pea-shooter.

 That fear of losing what was making me do better in those classics caused a much higher level of awareness and addiction to the game. To succeed in Shadowcrypt you will need to adapt and get into the motions of the combat. You will block, dodge, and bash your way through enemies, you will learn to stand face-to-face with your most feared adversaries. Eventually, things just start to 'click' with the player.

Timing is everything.

The game is certainly short and decidedly so. It requires a level of focus that if prolonged would just cause player fatigue on unmanageable levels. The short, sweet, and very to-the-point approach gives a lot of breathing room for the hectic and chaotic nature of the player's progression.

Shadowcrypt is composed of one lengthy stage or "level" roughly the size of the original Castlevania, but the amount of practice and dedication required in order to pass even a small section will have most players retrying for days before they're able to conquer nearly all of the evils within.

Although simple and elegant at first, the levels quickly become diabolical in design

You will get no breaks nor will you receive any hand-holding, it's a game by the hardcore for the hardcore. Unfortunately that may drive the less strong-willed of players away, but it's that determination in presenting the game how the creator intends which is extremely admirable and is exactly what draws me to the titles I have the fondest memories of.

When video games are developed by people who genuinely love the culture and obviously grew up with a passion for them it's always a breath of fresh air, and Shadowcrypt is the kind of game I and probably many others have wanted to play since the late 80s as kids.