Recently Editor Cody Shults, writer Vince Borkowski, and I got together – along with our friend Dave to play some co-op games locally, forcing us to physically interact with each other (oh, the humanity!) instead of using the internet. All of us remember the days when the internet was either not freely available or too expensive, and we had to visit friend’s houses to play games together, especially console games where the systems had corded controllers. We liked the idea of bringing back some of those nostalgic feelings, and of course bringing back the immense joy of smack-talking straight to our friends’ faces, with Couch Co-Op. One of the games we played was Crawl, an indie action RPG developed by Powerhoof, which immediately brought back those feelings of competition by pitting one person against the rest, while still making it an every-man-for-himself type of game. We have all reviewed the game here, expressing our pleasures and criticisms.
Andrew Burrage, Editor: Crawl has a very simple premise that takes a lot of skill and practice to master. The idea of the 1-4 player game is to let one player (the human) explore (or, crawl, as the name suggests) a randomized dungeon full of potential hazards and monsters. The remaining players fly around the screen as ghosts, and as the human hero enters each room, the ghosts take control of weapons or transform into monsters when given the opportunity. If a monster successfully kills the human, the roles are reversed and whoever dealt the final blow has their humanity restored and becomes the new dungeon crawler. The ultimate goal of the game is to get your human character to level 10 and defeat the large, tentacled big bad (which, surprise, is controlled by the other players).
One of the fun things I liked about Crawl was that as one player leveled up, it gives the other players points to level up their monsters, potentially offsetting anyone who might be getting ahead too fast. New evolutions made the creatures stronger, with better, more potent abilities. But these level tracks were not linear: your tiny gnome could become a powerful Minotaur with a great axe, or follow a different path and become a fierce fire-breathing dragon. There are six different starting creatures, each dependent on the God a player chooses to worship, with some evolution trees more branched than others. One thing I did find difficult was trying to evenly level up my monsters, and since the summonings give you control over one of the three monsters randomly, you didn’t want to leave one in the dust lest you don’t have the oomph to bring down a high-leveled human.
Another cool aspect to the game was the ability to purchase different weapons and spells as the hero. These items could help you gain the advantage against your adversaries by potentially increasing your attack, giving you enhanced abilities, or allowing you to cast sweet spells. These gave some variation to the hacking and slashing once you’ve gotten the hang of the game. But you had to have enough gold to buy things, which you convert from blood you obtained by damaging the hero as a monster, so there is an incentive to do the most amount of damage to the human before delivering the fatal strike.
Overall, Crawl is a fun, short, and intense game that’s great to play with some close friends, relax, have a drink, and kick the crap out of each other. My only complaints are the lack of variety: while the dungeons are randomized, the color palette is very beige and makes everything look very similar. There is also currently only one final boss, which is fun to beat on but it would be nice to have some rotations. There are three chances to take down the boss before the hero loses; it could be cool to have a different boss to beat each time, or for each player (depending on who has their humanity at the time). The only other difficulty I had with the game was figuring out the damage system, but honestly it was more fun to just keep hacking at someone. While these issues aren’t necessarily minor details to overlook, but the game is still only in early access, and if you check out their blog, it’s something they are definitely addressing over time as the developers continue to get feedback from their community. They even make sure you remember that tidbit by occasionally putting “work in progress” on the game screen. Overall, I’d definitely recommend the game for its couch co-op and fresh ideas, with the chance for improvement if the creators keep working on it.
Cody Shults, Editor: Andrew did a great job of describing the premise of the game. Being that the game is still in Early Access, it’s hard to guess at what will all be included when the final product hits Steam. From what I played, the game is an absolute riot, and definitely needs four players to really get the most out of it. I don’t know what playing with 1-3 players is like (or possible) but when everyone is trying their hardest to be the next to gain their humanity, there is a competitive spirit (no pun intended) to the game that can leave you either energized or amusingly frustrated.
The initial feel when you boot up the game is a pixelated arcade brawler, where you mash in your initials and choose your God, but the addition of RPG elements really adds to an already fun premise. Being rewarded for kicking butt can really help if you miss out on restoring your humanity, and you can slowly amass a powerful set of monsters to be unleashed on the overwhelmed hero. Adding the ability to upgrade weapons and spells helps give you a feeling of progress as the hero when wandering around a randomized dungeon crawl that can sometimes feel directionless. Unlike most RPG games, Crawl doesn’t rely on these elements too heavily, as you can go through a huge chunk of your dungeon crawl without upgrading.
Playing as the monsters, I had the most fun when it came to the boss battle. Working with your fellow spirits to destroy the hero can be downright hilarious, stringing together combos that can leave them powerless to overcome at times. And in the end, I definitely had more fun playing as the various monsters than I did as the hero. Weird? I think not. Who doesn’t want to torture their friend with countless magic spells that will leave them nearly throwing their controller?
We whipped through the dungeon relatively quickly, and as I mentioned above, this was to be expected in Early Access. We played after the v0.2 Dungeon Lord update, so we were able to add an extra God/monsters into the mix, but still, it left me wanting more… which is a good thing! I am looking forward to the proper release, but have a feeling I may only pick it up once or twice more until that Early 2015 full release. The lack of more diverse monsters and environments can take you out of the experience after a few plays, and you will most likely look for something else to play with your friends after a good hour+ session.
If you want a fun game to play with your friends to play at a discount, grab Crawl. But be ready to wait to really sink your teeth into it come v1 release in Early 2015.
Vince Borkowski, Writer: Crawl is a simple, yet fun, multiplayer game that I found oddly addicting. Right from the get-go, the controls are easy and the objective clearly laid out: if you’re a human, try and survive the dungeon. If you’re not a human, try and kill the human. There’s even some customization to it with which monsters you’re able to summon if you’re fighting the human. The thrill in the game lies in the simplicity. No complicated button combos to remember, the dungeon lay-out isn’t meant to stress your noodle, and the objective always remains the same. But the simplicity should not be mistaken for blandness. Anything but. Each room of the dungeon is a slightly different challenge and the boss battle is very fun.
Control of the human player will be juggled frequently, and this adds to a fast pace of the game. The store option is also a fun additive that will allow for different upgrades and items. I opted for the spooky floating shield that follows you around, and I might add that this allowed me to win both of the games I played with the other TVGB crew (eat it, Cody and Andy). You’ll quickly find out which monsters you like to play as and which ones are fun just to screw with the human (always be the slime). Some more additions to the game will increase the replayability and keep it fresh. Different dungeon paths, different bosses, and more monsters will greatly help this game. As it stands though, it’s a great buy, especially for some couch co-op.
So there you have it: three recommendations to try this game as soon as you can! Like Cody said, the game is still in Early Access, which gives you a price cut, but recognize that you’re not seeing everything the final cut will have to offer. But honestly, being able to play with friends now and getting the chance to replay it again and again as new things are introduced sounds like a bonus to me!
Crawl can be purchased on Steam for $9.99 for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. To keep up with all the Crawl news, put Powerhoof’s blog in your bookmarks, too!