STAFF REVIEW of Crawl (Xbox One)

Thursday, June 1, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Crawl Box art If I tell you that Crawl is a dungeon crawler, you’ll probably think of a dark and gloomy underground dungeon where you must fight hordes of monsters to try and escape. While you wouldn’t be totally wrong, as that is the general premise of a dungeon crawler, Crawl tends to add something unique to the mix by not only focusing solely on the hero that needs to survive, but it also adds a gameplay element where you get to control the monsters themselves to try and stop them from escaping. This unique take on the genre takes a generic trope and makes it much more exciting and entertaining, tenfold if you actually have friends to come over and play with you.

Crawl is presented in a retro pixelated style, which I know is overdone at times, but it seems to fit the mood and gameplay just fine. You and 3 friends are trapped in the depths of a dungeon, and only one can escape, so you fight to the death with a lone survivor. Your goal is to simply survive and escape, but to do so you’ll need to reach level 10 by defeating monsters just to gain a chance at escape by defeating a boss.

Remember those friends that you murdered? Well, they turn into ghosts and they are able to haunt objects and spawn nefarious creatures to stop you, because if they do stop and kill you, their humanity is restored and they become alive once again while you turn into a ghost. It’s a great concept, though while shy on any deep narrative it is a fun premise and at least sets a reasoning for your actions and situation.

I knew that Crawl was meant to be played with up to four friends, which is fine, but I didn’t realize how well it would play solo, as you’re able to set up the 3 AI bots with varying difficulties. Sure, the AI won’t be anywhere as fun as 3 other friends on the couch, but it’s great that it’s an option to allow solo players to experience Crawl for what it is.

So, the beginning has only one person standing after a duel who turns into the 'dungeon crawler'. As the sole survivor, you need to explore, kill enemies, and gather experience points and coins, all in an attempt to reach level 10 as soon as possible. Doing so allows you a chance against the dungeon’s boss, and your only way to escape.

The catch is that the other 3 players (or AI) control ghosts, out to kill you, because whichever ghost lands the killing blow is transformed into the human, swapping places with them. Ghosts can possess items like barrels and tables, launching them at the 'dungeon crawler' in an attempt to hurt them. In larger rooms there are pentagrams on the floor which indicate that the ghosts can spawn and possess a powerful monster, again, in attempt to try and kill the human and take over their body. One really cool feature during the boss fights is that the ghosts can possess certain body parts or objects of the boss, making survival for the human much more difficult.

It sounds simple in concept, and it is, but I was surprised with how fun it was being both the dungeon crawler and the implementation the ghosts. Possessing items brought me flashbacks of the Sega Genesis game Haunting, which had a similar mechanic, a game I remember fondly. Exploring the dungeon is quick and most rooms need to be cleared of all monsters before allowing you to progress. You collect gold as you search rooms, allowing you to spend them on items or more powerful weapons in the shop once you find it. Given that the dungeons and monsters are randomly generated each time, there’s a ton of replayability within.

Controlling the monsters is a lot of fun, as there are numerous types to play with, each with specific upgrade trees. The more the dungeon crawlers you defeat as a ghost, the more ghost XP you earn, allowing you to become a stronger ghost to try and defeat the dungeon crawler. It’s a very clever way to balance the leveling of human versus ghosts, and even if you continually get defeated by the human, you’ll become stronger each time, giving you a better shot at killing them when you meet them again.

While I’m a sucker for the retro pixelated visuals, as it brings me to my childhood, things can become very hectic on the screen at times, especially with 4 players. With the blocky visuals, it can a little chaotic and messy to track exactly what’s going on at times.

Crawl is hands down best played with 4 friends together locally, and the biggest fault is has going against it is a lack of online multiplayer. While I understand this isn’t always an option for smaller indie studios, not everyone has the ability to do much couch co-op. Online play would have been a blast, especially trying to kill the survivor as the ghosts, but sadly that will have to remain a long shot hope.

The balance of the 'alive vs. undead' is done almost perfectly, and while I appreciate the randomness of the entire gameplay, sometimes you’ll have a few runs that are much more difficult because the monsters you’re given aren’t as good or they don't suit your play style, or the weapons in the shop are simply not as powerful as they could be. Given that runs only last about a half hour or so, it’s hard to dwell on it, as each game will be unique, but there are great runs and not so great ones due to the randomness.

Even if you play solo, Crawl is a fun title that doesn’t require a huge time investment to gain some enjoyment. Defeating a dungeon’s massive boss is exciting and rewarding, as is landing that final blow to the survivor and regaining your humanity. With 4 friends on a couch, playing locally is a blast, though expect many swear words to be thrown at each other while doing so, in the best possible way of course. Even though an online component is sorely lacking, Crawl is still worth crawling through the dungeons for.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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