Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Review: Crawl [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]


The Switch, to date, has had quite an interesting variety of multiplayer games from cooperative to competitive, and basic to complex. While many multiplayer games can and do work to a degree as single-player experiences, the loss of the local competition and shouting at each other tends to greatly diminish the overall experience. Crawl is such a game, well-executed and designed to maintain a steady horse race between players as they battle to try to be the one who will conquer the many dungeons in the game. Only one player can ultimately survive, and up until the very end all 3 of the other players will have a direct hand in trying to stop them.


At its core, and played from the perspective of the hero, Crawl would feel like a roguelike dungeon-crawler. You’ll search through rooms for loot, you’ll be beset by a variety of deadly traps and increasingly-powerful monsters, you’ll upgrade your weapons, and you’ll fight to stay alive. Weapons and enhancements will alter your style of fighting and provide opportunities to go with a method of attack that best suits you. The goal is to gain enough experience to reach Level 10, at which point you can find a portal room and transport yourself to a final confrontation with a pretty challenging boss. If you fail you’ll be thrown back into the dungeon to prepare and try again, if you succeed you’ll have beaten the dungeon and bask in the glory of your accomplishment.

Now, what makes Crawl completely different is that this is a multiplayer game and instead of the traps and monsters you encounter being driven by the CPU (well, unless you’re playing by yourself or with less than 3 friends) they are being controlled by your friends. The flip-side to Crawl is that anyone who isn’t the hero is playing as a spirit whose goal is to be the one who kills the hero so they can take possession of the body to try to be the survivor themselves. This factor really amps up the challenge and makes things damned interesting. To a degree, on the spirit side, it is a cooperative game in that you all want the living player to die. But at the same time only the person who delivers the killing blow will take control of the hero, the rest will still be stuck. Of course for the boss fight this turns to a desperate bid to kill the hero at all costs but the rest of the game tends to be a bit more strategic, with wily players looking carefully at the hero’s health to try to be the one who finally brings them down. What’s great is the balance in all of this. The higher a level any hero gets to the more wrath all of the spirits get, which can be used to unlock even more powerful and deadly monsters. You’ll have 3 base monsters you can upgrade in one of two ways at each tier, whether you decide to super-power one or spread out your points (you don’t control which one will spawn) is up to your strategy leanings.


As great as the game design is, trying to very carefully maintain a steady balance where one player pulling away from the pack throws points and opportunity to everyone else to keep them in the race, it’s optimized for 4 players. The further you are from that number while the game can and will still be fun there’s something lost in the overall experience since the CPU will be challenging but it won’t be someone to yell at or share the ups and downs with. You can absolutely play and enjoy the game alone, it just won’t be as great as if you’re able to share it with friends. In case you hadn’t already determined it there is no online multiplayer but I’d say even if there were the loss of the local component would end up making the experience only marginally better than playing against the CPU.

Crawl is an absolutely brilliantly-designed mutliplayer game without question. While you can’t completely stop a player with runaway skills from always winning the game tries very hard to keep everyone in a balance, at least when it comes to opportunity. If you’re stuck as a spirit for most of the game you’ll absolutely have the most lethal monsters, so hopefully with even a little skill that will then open the door to becoming the hero. Once someone is able to crack Level 10 the tension amps up and just getting to the Portal room becomes its own challenge, but then once you face the final boss know that your friends are going to work together to try to bring you down. At some point someone will finally get the gear it may take to finally win but the likelihood is that multiple people could have gotten a crack at the final fight by that time. I love the design of the game, and would absolutely recommend it to anyone who is able to play consistently with some friends of roughly equal skill. For those who would only be able to play it alone it can still be a challenging roguelike of sorts, just understand you’re losing the soul of what makes the game extraordinary in the process.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Absolutely impeccable game design, doing all it can to keep a balance of sorts between the players
  • Great monster designs with varied powers
  • A terrific and very different take on multiplayer games, blending both cooperation and competition in parallel

Cons:
  • The game is ideally played with 4 people of at least roughly the same overall skill, the further you are from that target the less you (and anyone you’re playing with) are likely to enjoy it
  • Retro graphics may not appeal to everyone
  • The action can get quite confusing at times