Cryptical Path is a roguelite where you're both dungeon crawler and dungeon master

It doesn’t take long to recognise the title of this roguelite platformer is something of a misnomer. Yes, Cryptical Path sends you wandering through a roundabout loop of 2D dungeon corridors that split off in all directions. But the path you'll take through them is anything but cryptic. It’s clear-cut, known, and often economical—because you’re the one building it.

Dropped into an incomplete dungeon with an end-of-level boss monster marked on the other side of a largely blank map, your job is to gradually assemble the way ahead. Bludgeoning your way through a series of semi-procedurally generated rooms earns you currency to buy new rooms, which you'll plonk down adjacent to your own until you hit your destination.

(Image credit: Old Skull Games)

The strategy of designing your path is the tricky part. You could beeline straight for the boss, although you’d miss out on plundering the scattering of outlying chambers that hold bonus items. They’re typical buffs in the roguelite tradition—damage boosts, chances to heal after clearing a room, and stat bonuses for holding a certain amount of gold—rewarding you for veering off in exploration. I often deviated to treasure rooms, and soon learned to skirt around those that contained elite units that were more trouble than they’re worth. 

Just as important as the route you lay down is your choice of rooms. They vary from basic enemy-filled corridors to safe zones that may heal you, grant an extra item, or come with a vendor who’ll trade you upgrades for gold. At one point, upon getting severely beaten up by a bunch of levitating oil lamps and bipedal candles, I was left with only half a health point. My construction funds were dwindling, but with a final splurge I was able to construct a healing chamber directly adjacent to my location, letting me refuel before pressing on. 

This sort of on-the-fly dungeon building lends Cryptical Path a certain, if basic, strategic dynamism, and means you’re not so much at the mercy of the game as your own thriftiness. There’s a lot of incentive to push your luck, too, as you decide whether it’s worth building across to another outcrop of rooms for the possible rewards inside, or heading straight to the boss while you’re still fighting fit.

(Image credit: Old Skull Games)

It’s all intended to diminish the randomness of each run, and feels like a marked pivot away from the kind of procedural generation that roguelites so often rely on to keep successive attempts feeling fresh. There’s still an element of that, of course: the dungeon map changes on each run, as does the distribution of enemies and item pick-ups. And while those items are fairly rudimentary in this demo, one moment when I was granted a choice between affixing a permanent low-damage attack to my dash ability, or a small chance to heal whenever I build a room, hints at some interesting considerations to make in the final game.

It shouldn’t be too long before we see just that in action. Although developer Old Skull Games hasn’t announced a release date, a demo is now available on Steam. Some workmanlike combat and iffy written dialogue aside, Cryptical Path at least isn’t cryptic about what sets it apart.