Crawl Preview

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Crawl is an inspired game in the vein of 80’s arcade games. It puts an interesting take on the dungeon crawler formula and looks to stand out on the already crowded indie scene. It is being planned for a PC release and has just passed Steam Greenlight to be sold on the store sometime in the future.

Crawl is played with an Xbox 360 controller or compatible variant. It feels quite tight on the 360 controller and I don’t think it would be nearly be as much fun on a keyboard and mouse. As a ghost you’ll find and be able to take control of traps or manifest as a monster from a pentagram but the controls stay the same despite incarnation.

This instant level of familiarity makes Crawl a game that will be easy to pick up and challenging to master. While AI enemies have a cadence to their attacks the challenge will really ratchet up when you have three humans fighting to be the hero. In my session only local multiplayer was available and the game was tested with two players using 360 controllers.

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In typical old-school arcade style you are able to assign yourself a three letter name and that’s all. Then you have the ability to choose a worship which allows you to select which God you will honor. In our preview copy there were three selectable with a place holder for a fourth. The God you worship impacts which monsters you’ll have available as a ghost. S’hrim, Teok, and Ga’ben; which if that last one sounds familiar it’s because it is no other than Gabe Newell from Valve.

As the hero the game plays out much like any old school arcade game in the vein of Gauntlet, Gladiator, or SWAT. You move around the room freely and smash enemies that stand in your way. The main twist to the formula is that your friends are the enemies. One player is chosen to start as the hero and stays in the roll until one of the other players kills them.  At the end of each floor we were presented with an option to evolve our monsters using the points from the bloodshed and money we collected.

The game very much rewards you for being a monster. After having been a monster and becoming the hero you can visit a golden statue to receive money based on how much bloodshed you unleashed as a monster. Crawl is faithful to the genre gone past, but still has a sense of humor to let you know it’s in on the joke, too. It really gives you the feeling Powerhoof holds the 80’s arcade genre close at heart.

Once you manage into the game a bit you’ll happen upon a merchant with whom you can trade your hard earned murder cash for upgrades. Also early on there were stone henge type rooms that required a certain level to progress. Though, because of the early build I was unable to tell if your levels would be carried over game to game in a Castle Crashers fashion, or whether you would need to back track at some point to gain access.

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The soundtrack was delightfully chip tune but with an energy that induced terror and fury at the same time. It was an excellent component in ramping up the intensity and franticness of the combat. It very much invoked a feeling of nostalgia in me that made me want to press forward if only to see what sound I would be treated to next.

Along with a lot of indie games these days Crawl adopted a sprite pixel based visual scheme. On a system scale it lies more towards the Atari than the first Nintendo, but is not unwelcome in a world of games where simulating reality has become a main draw. There are just enough pixels to pay attention to and be able to quickly figure out what is an enemy (Hint: EVERYTHING) and where your characters are at during all the low resolution carnage.

The title and menu selections bounce and respond to commands in a delightful way. Powerhoof definitely has a great understanding of 80’s arcade games and shows it in the visuals every chance they get. The color palate is similar and the developers seem to know how to bounce complimentary colors in a room to give you a sense of location awareness without even thinking about it. It’s certainly something that is lost in modern visuals and it’s great to see it at work in Crawl.

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This is the type of asymmetric gameplay that Nintendo should be capitalizing on with the Wii U and seems like a real missed opportunity to only have this available on PC at the moment. It’s good to note that Crawl was just up for Steam Greenlight so hopefully we’ll be seeing it in the store soon.

The team wants to have 4 player online multiplayer in the final version and I can say that I’ll be looking forward to it in no short amount. Crawl is a game you can play with anyone regardless if they have any experience or love for the genre. The combat is simple but effective and the game can definitely give you a false sense of safety in one room and slaughter you in the next. It’ll be interesting to see what Powerhoof cooks up next if this is where they start. I look forward to the full game sometime soon.

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