January 15th, 2015

Time Played: 11 hours

Last Played: 1/15/15

Crawl: Antagonistic Cooperation

If you’ve never heard of Crawl, stop what you’re doing and run, don’t walk, to youtube and watch the trailer. It is the best trailer for any video game I have ever seen. Don’t worry I’ll wait.

No seriously, watch it.

If you have no idea what kind of a game Crawl is, let me tell you…

Crawl is a four player local co-op dungeon crawler. One player is the Human and the other three are the Monsters. Simple concept. Amazing execution.

You might be thinking, “One guy is the Human? Sucks for the other three!”  Not really.

I’ve had the game since Early Access release (August, 6th 2014), and in that time I’ve learned this game is fun by yourself, but it shines when you have four living breathing people to play together. It is a lot like Super Smash Bros: great by yourself, but best with friends. And it’s completely possible to have a wonderful time never even playing as the Human. The Monsters are that interesting and fun.

As the trailer showed (seriously you should watch it), when a monster kills the Human their ‘Humanity’ is transferred to the killer. Just like how gold is awarded in DOTA, rage upon last hit stealing is also included, which ensures everyone is going to be the Human at least once per playthrough. And as the Human player(s) level up, everyone else gains ‘Vitae’ which is used to level up your Monsters, ensuring there is always a challenge.

In some cases, Human players will take an early lead and level up too quickly, causing the Monsters to scale up faster than the player can cope. Meaning at level 10, Humans might have a similar experience to a player at level 1 (they can still get their teeth kicked in with relative ease). There have been many cases in which I’ve skyrocketed to level 6 or 7 and suddenly I’m fighting all 2nd tier Monsters with starting gear. This usually ends how you would expect; weeping in the fetal position.

The only way to actually gain gold is to draw blood as a monster. Mechanically speaking, that means damaging and/or killing the Human. This creates a desire to play as both the Human and the Monsters. The only way to improve your Human is, ironically, to hurt and kill other Humans. Many times I have thought “I wish I had blood” whilst doing my best to prevent the others from taking my Humanity. In my experience, you almost always feel like you’re about to die when playing as the Human. And when playing as the Monsters, you’re working with your friends one minute and then actively working against them the next. The fluid nature of the cooperation in this game is amazing. There is nothing else like it.

The main goal of the game is for the Human player to reach level 10 as quickly as possible, find the Eldritch Stones, and challenge the boss. If they win, they win! If they lose? They have to continue further into the dungeon with about 1/10th of their HP. After a total of three loses, the current Human loses the game. They’re ‘CONSUMED FOREVER,’ and the game deletes their account.

Dark Souls would be proud.

There is never a dull moment when playing Crawl. Whether you’re the Monsters or the Human, there is always pressure. If you wait too long, the Spirits will collect ectoplasm and summon blobs on you. There’s nothing worse than fighting tooth and nail to get through a room only to have all of your buddies summon nine blobs to finish you off.

Trying to fight three other players who are working together to kill you but against each other to kill you first… is very hectic. And with so much happening on screen, it can be difficult to keep track of who and where you are. For the most part, it isn’t too hard to parse your position. It’s definitely harder to find yourself after you’ve lost track than it is to lose track in the first place. Perhaps something like an aura with your color could be added?

Losing yourself aside, Crawl has an incredible lo-fi feel, while still letting you know it’s a modern game. The sprites are evocative of older games, yet they still feel fresh, new, and lively. The animation is fluid. The colors are deep and have good contrast (Thanks to the v0.3 Plague Mushroom update, released 1/15/15). Seriously, this is some of the best pixel art I’ve experienced.

Also the music is superb. That’s all I really have to say. It’s great.

Overall, Crawl is an exceptional game with great gameplay, amazing art, and outstanding music. It’s simply dripping with flavor. Powerhoof managed to cram so much style into a “simple” game. It is refreshing, fun, and one of the best $10 games I’ve ever had the privilege of purchasing.

Buy it and play it with all of your friends.

The dudes over at Powerhoof are going places. They have created such a great game and deserve more recognition.

And, seriously, that trailer was amazing.

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