At the end of my article last week introducing this indie-dedicated series, I included a couple of teasers for the sort of thing you can expect to see here. It seems rude to tease but fail to deliver, so I’m going to get into a bit more detail about those games, Crawl and Curses ‘n Chaos, for the local co-op contingent out there. Both of these titles are remarkably entertaining for hours and hours, but can be easily consumed in brief sessions.
Crawl – 1-4 Players Local, Optional AI – Available on Steam Early Access
Whenever you see a game on Steam with hundreds of reviews that are “overwhelmingly positive,” it’s probably worth looking into, and Powerhoof’s Crawl is certainly no exception. With nearly 1000 reviews so far, Steam states that 98% of them are positive. I’m fairly sure that’s a greater consensus than North Korea’s last “election,” which is definitely saying something.
Crawl is playable alone, but the game seems to be very obviously designed for group play. It supports 1-4 players locally, with full controller support, though it can be played with just a keyboard or just a mouse. You’ll get signed in to your three-letter profile (brings me back to my arcade glory days when my three letters showed up on the leaderboard) and choose a deity to worship. There are quite a few already, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more in the future. Your choice of deity will dictate most of your experience for that run, as it determines your monster selection, as well as passive character buffs. Once everybody’s pledged their allegiance, the game begins.
The players start out in a mostly-empty room in a dungeon, with one acting as the hero, and the others playing spirits capable of inhabiting the body of monsters, which they’ll use to try to kill the hero. When a monster does kill the hero, the former hero turns into a spirit, and the player that got the killing blow becomes the hero. The goal is to reach hero level 10, find the boss room, and defeat the boss.
Most rooms in the dungeon have pentagrams on the floor, which act as spawn points for the monster players. They’ll do their damndest to kill the hero in every room, until someone finally does, and then the process repeats until someone kills the boss, or three failed attempts have been made. Hilariously, if you’re the one that fails the third boss attempt, it actually wipes your profile and labels you “consumed.” Progress is tied to the Steam account, rather than the in-game player profile, but there’s still something disheartening about this totally meaningless loss. Disheartening and hilarious.
When playing a monster, you’ll collect money and wrath to upgrade your hero and monsters. Money lets you buy equipment at the shop, and wrath can be spent to upgrade monsters in between floors of the dungeon. There are 3-5 upgrades available for each base monster, and most of the monster classes play distinctly enough to ensure plenty of replay value for the game.
If you like a top-down dungeon crawler, and don’t mind losing a friend or two from kill-stealing, Crawl is an absolute blast to play, and gets even better the angrier your companions become.
Curses ‘n Chaos – 1-2 Players Local – Available on Steam and PSN
Curses ‘n Chaos is one of those games that’s entirely too simple to be fun for long, until you’ve played it for 15 hours, and are considering another attempt on the level you’re stuck on while you’re trying to fall asleep. I didn’t beat it, and I won’t pretend I came close. It’s tough, and I’m not that talented. It struck me immediately, though, because of its suggested simplicity, alongside the esoteric crafting diagram.
Each level consists of fighting off 10 waves of baddies, and then taking down the boss. You can’t move forward til you’ve done this, which is dramatically more difficult than it might sound. Every level takes place on a single screen. No scrolling, no verticality. Just you (and hopefully your buddy) fighting off endless minions, and then probably getting murdered by the boss. You’ve got an owl companion as well, which serves as an extra inventory slot. Each player has one item slot, and everything in the game is single-use, so you don’t have to worry about inventory management. You can deliver an item to Owly, or you can have him drop off whatever he’s carrying for you to use.
The crafting is weird, and took some time to figure out, but once you’ve got the concept, you’ll feel kind of silly for wondering what it all meant up to that point. You’ll craft weapons, like ballista and shuriken, as well as consumables, like food and health potions. I’m not going to spoil the crafting system – and honestly, it took me way longer than it should have to figure out it – because it’s a fun thing to discover as you play through the game. Fair warning, though. As incredible as “Mighty Fire Elemental” might sound as a companion, it’s not a companion, it’s a stupid one-use fire spell that I spent like a million gold to craft. /rant
Curses ‘n Chaos is a delightful experience if you’re short on friends, but you won’t want to pass the controller when it’s someone else’s turn, so if you’ve got a couch-ful of people, you might want to favor Crawl.