Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
The Switch continues to shine as a beacon for independent game developers, especially for games that are pixel-based classics or new age re-imagining of classic co-op games. Crawl falls into the latter category, a simple dungeon crawling game with an even simply pixel aesthetic, very much like Hyper Light Drifter or Salt and Sanctuary. From the opening moments of Crawl, you can tell the developers, a two-man team at Powerhoof, really wanted to create a homage to classic dungeon crawlers, but with a new, fun twist.
Players will start Crawl as a hero, who quickly finds his sword and sets out to escape from this horrific dungeon, his tale is narrated by a creepy, ominous voice who sounds like a narrator from a low-budget b-level horror flick. It totally works. Suddenly, you, as the player, will find yourself overwhelmed and you die. At first, you’ll think well, this is just a tad difficult, but the game flips the rules on you, you’re now a “Spectre,” whose job is now to kill a “new” hero who has entered the dungeon. As the spectre, you are not able to directly attack the new player, but you can possess objects and monsters (skeletons, wolves, etc.), which you can use to try and kill them, if your vessel dies or is destroyed, you can simply choose another one. If you land the land the killing shot, your humanity is restored and you are once again the hero, trying to escape.
The fun part lies in the fact that you’re not just playing against another CPU player, but 3 other NPCs, which is why it’s important for you to land the killing blow. If you fail, the NPC who made the kill becomes the hero. However, it’s when you play with other players or friends in co-op mode where the fun really shines. Simply attach a few other Switch controllers and now everyone is fighting to become, or stay, the hero. I was able to test this over the Christmas holiday with family and I can tell you the room was filled with laughter and trash talking. It really makes me wish this game had some online component so that I could play my friends and family when they were not in town.
While the game’s design is super simple, the dungeon’s rooms are filled with things to do, regardless of your role. There’s also a leveling system, as a ghost, the more kills or damage you do, you gain gold to upgrade your hero. You can also upgrade your spectre, giving your monsters more ways to kill the other heroes.
When any hero player reaches level 10, a portal will appear allowing the player to escape the dungeon. However, before a player can make their getaway, they need to fight off a beast with tentacles. It gets better, the other players or NPCs each take control of a part of the beast, making your fight to survive that much harder and, when in the same room, much more hilarious.
Crawl isn’t a vastly deep game, but it is a blast to play, especially with real people. Even if Powerhoof added online play, without a solid voice chat solution, players would miss out on one specific element that makes the game so fun, social trash talking. That complaint aside, the game runs smooth and looks great, despite the very simple pixelated design. Crawl is a perfect example of why so many independent games are making their way to the Switch, it’s fun to play at home, on the go, and with your friends.