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Crypt of the NecroDancer first look: a rhythm action rogulike set in a disco dungeon

Feed me two pints and you've got a very good chance of hearing a 20-minute diatribe about how the majority of games would be better if they were musicals. Music is already used extensively to let the player know what they should be feeling: combine it with game mechanics and the principles of performance can be used to let the player know what they should be doing as well. I also really like musicals.

Crypt of the NecroDancer is a 2D dungeoncrawling roguelike starring Cadence, a young woman who has her heart stolen (in the surgical sense) by a monstrous lich called the NecroDancer. You must negotiate a series of randomly-generated dungeon levels to retrieve it, all the while moving to the rhythm of her detached but still-beating heart.

It's essentially a turn-based game, in the sense that time only advances when you take a step, and combat is a matter of positioning yourself so that you move into an enemy's tile when they are moving away from you. The difference is that moving on the beat builds up your gold multiplier, so you grow in power much more quickly by – effectively – dancing through the dungeon. As your combo multiplier kicks in, the dungeon floor turns into a neon dancefloor and melees turn into massive dance numbers.

This encourages you to make decisions quickly, to respond instinctively rather than tactically to each monster-filled room. Boss battles with dragons and minotaurs become quick-fire dance-offs that reward your ability to think on your feet. You're also equipped with an upgradable shovel that lets you dig tunnels, allowing you to manipulate enemy movement and uncover secret areas.

The game's soundtrack is by Danny 'dB Soundworks' Baranowsky, whose work includes the Canabalt, Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac soundtracks. Of those, his work on NecroDancer reminds me most of Super Meat Boy – a very good thing – but with a stronger emphasis on danceable beats. It's fantastic stuff. A particular boss encounter takes place over roiling digital bass that bursts out into synth-heavy metal, while another draws influences from samba. Elsewhere you'll encounter house, electro and disco. You even have the option of importing your own music – a relatively convoluted process, but the devs promise a more streamlined system for the game's release next year. Playing the game to faster or slower music is a way for players to customise the difficulty on the fly, a novel idea for a roguelike.

NecroDancer is an unassuming-looking game that's worth keeping an eye on. It understands the role music plays in making games exciting, and offers a novel take on the rhythm-action formula. Also, it's pretty much a musical. What's not to like?

Chris Thursten
Chris is the editor of PC Gamer Pro. After many years spent turning beautiful trees into magazines, he now oversees our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports.