A group of four unlucky individuals are thrown into a dungeon filled with all kinds of horrors. Only one of them is destined to be the survivor, and in that regard, cooperation is out of the question since we arrive. But, your fellow friends will not be leaving you alone: instead, Crawl makes them turn against you. You’ll follow the same destiny when you perish, becoming a ghost that can possess traps and demons from the dungeon. Everything you do in the game affects you either in a positive or a negative way. And, sometimes, you end up becoming your worst enemy by yourself.
Crawl, developed and published by the crazy guys at Powerhoof presents a unique take on the multiplayer genre, blending dungeon crawling with a constant rogue-lite vibe that we are so used to lately. Indeed, it’s a cooperative game that requires the company of one to three friends alongside you (literally as it only features local co-op), aside from the possibility to add enough bots to play it singleplayer or replace a drunk fellow who won’t get out of the bathroom.
In the game, the primary goal is to gather enough experience to reach level 10. After that, the remaining piece for a portal that can be found at each stage will become available, opening its doors. This gives the current survivor a chance to fight against a boss, battling for the chance to escape and become victorious. Oh, along with preventing the creature to erase humanity… First place, yeah!
As you might be correctly thinking, this won’t be an easy task. And, one of the most impressive features of Crawl is how something that starts so simple becomes complex in no time. Following a rather regular dungeon crawling structure, you’ll go through a series of rooms until you find the ladder that will let you crawl down to the next stage. Getting there alive, of course, is the hard part.
While you are in human form, you can do a basic and a special attack/move, which at first is nothing more than a trusty roll to dodge enemy projectiles. Soon, as you collect gold from chests and happen to cross upon a merchant, you’ll start altering your stats and inventory, getting weapons that can alter your behaviour completely, add some flashy lights in the battleground or seriously change the damage you can deal. These variants go from summoning giant swords in a line or turning your character completely crazy, altering their movement speed.
You can also purchase and equip items that grant different bonuses and small gameplay tweaks. Potions are the ones who can increase or decreased your Vitality, Strength, Agility and Luck. All these items, including weapons, will remain with your character after they die. But be careful, as some items will even rotate your equipment with another player, completely changing the strategy.
If you are unlucky enough to perish (it was bound to happen, no worries), you’ll appear in ghost form. While in this state, you can freely move throughout the whole screen, following the Hero’s movement. There are a few things that you can do to prevent your best friend to beat you: possess all kind of traps and waiting to the right time to attack, collecting ectoplasm to spawn slimes and turning into a demon.
With over 60 regular enemies (excluding bosses and secret monsters), there is really a demon for everyone. Such as the Hero, these hideous creatures will also level up and become stronger, but here’s the twist: wrath, the currency to evolve them, is only dropped when the Hero gains a level. Once the current survivor gets to a lower floor, a screen showcasing the four players will show up, and you’ll get to choose which enemy you’ll evolve or transform. This opens up a number of possibilities and doubts: you can spend all your wrath in levelling monsters, but inevitably, you’ll be the one fighting against them, increasing the difficulty of not only your teammates in the progress but for you as well.
Using enemies is one of the major appealing for Crawl, and in that regard, it’s a very well done aspect. Each monster has unique abilities, but they won’t do much unless you actually coordinate with your ghostly teammates to perform special attacks at the same time. Spit acid on the floor to prevent the Hero from escaping, while a guy spams flame balls using a trap and the other attack heavily against the survivor. There is a lot to experiment with, and monsters tend to be different in each run thanks to the option to choose a demon to worship right before a game starts. Therefore, only the demons that are attached to your choice will make an appearance.
And where this system most shines is during boss battles. These final fights will have you controlling or trying to destroy a huge monster with enough body parts for each player to take part of. Cooperation is the key to stop the Hero from achieving freedom, and players will only get a few chances of escaping before it’s too late. Imagine you’re playing Lovers from a Dangerous Spacetime, the only difference is that Crawl is a little bit more violent and bloody. Have a player controlling the arm while other kicks the Hero with a giant foot, or throw bubbles that will slow down the survivor’s movement, opening the chance to attack them with a laser. Cooperation is key.
The Nintendo Switch is the perfect console for games like these. Tied to local multiplayer only? Just take the console off the dock and take it wherever you want. I can’t stop thinking about how much benefit games like these get from its portability, and Crawl is the perfect example for this. There’s no need to have four joy cons, you can just add two bots in any difficulty you choose. And, the game runs at 60 frames per second in both handheld and TV mode.
My only concern with the game is just something that is bound to happen in games that showcases a massive amount of “things” on the screen at the same time. I could not prevent losing track of my character, and several times I had to stop for a few seconds until I found where my hero ended up after resuming the game. Again, this is present in many other games, and chances are that it while in TV mode this will become less frequent.
Crawl presents chaos, a whole new way of experiencing multiplayer games with friends. It’s an interesting take that starts simple but quickly escalates its potential, unveiling the true depth that lies within. After each run new monsters will become available, along with weapons, items and bosses.
But all that aside, Crawl presents a new gameplay form. You can become the greatest enemy, but the expected circumstances will have you fighting against your enemies that get worse with time. And you’re the only one to blame for it.
The Nintendo Switch version of Crawl was provided by Powerhoof for review purposes. Diego Arguello spent 7 hours tearing his friends and friendships apart in this demonic game.
Crawl for the Nintendo Switch is available now on the e-Shop.