Finding yourself in a dreary, dark room with three other people, suspicion sets in and things turn into a mad frenzy to see who will be the last man standing as you all try to kill each other; each person is reluctant to become the victim of someone else’s paranoid attack. This is how each round of Crawl begins and it certainly is a gruesome way to start off a game, but that’s what Crawl is aiming for… or at least as gruesome as an 8-bit party-game can be.
After the opening killing spree the true game begins and things start to make a little bit more sense. Now with one person being alive, the three other players have become spectres they must possess fixtures to launch at the player who is alive and summon monsters that the player themself controls to kill the one human stumbling through the dreadful environment they are stuck in. The human player must fight back the monsters summoned, dodge possessed boxes being flung at them (as well as all sorts of traps), find cash to buy better weapons and level up to level ten so they can then make an attempt on the boss so that they they can escape from the nightmare. If the human is killed they then become a spectre and ghastly ghoul who finished off the living then becomes human and it is their turn to make it out until they die and someone else gets a turn.
Victory in Crawl is reserved for the living, but it certainly isn’t an easy goal to reach and dying a few deaths is inevitable. However, as you make your way through the terrible nightmare you’ll gain more health by leveling up and also gold to buy a fine selection of items that get better and more expensive the more floors you progress through. Crossbows, daggers, potions, special attacks and all sorts of goodies that you will make staying alive all the more easier. The controls are perfectly simple which is just what you want for a party game and all you got to do is move around with the control stick, press A to attack normally and then press B to perform your special attack.
Playing as the human certainly can be rewarding, but stressful as you dodge traps that other players launch at you and take on monsters that do all they can to bring you to your death. It’s fast paced and keeps the action moving fast leaving little room for dull moments and all in all it works and is a great bit of fun.
The other side of the coin in Crawl is being one of the three specters that stalk the living and do all they can to regain their own humanity. As mentioned there is a myriad of fixtures and traps to possess in each room and on top of that the main aspect of played as a ghost is to find the spot where you can then become a monster to try and take out the living player. This part I greatly enjoyed as before each game begins you can pick from a selection of 6+ preset groups of three monsters which then have branching evolution paths.
To expand on the monsters the system is crafted well. Each monster having it’s own strengths and weaknesses. When the human player reaches a new floor every player can then spend their “wrath” points to make their monsters evolve and reach a new form. There really is a great deal of variety in the monster selection and it is fun trying out all the different creatures that are on offer as you make your way through the game. Some might be wondering how to get your hands on “wrath” points and it is quite simple, if you are a ghost and the human player levels up you get some. It’s a good system that means that a player who might have had some bad luck and missed out on regaining their humanity will have the stronger monsters and will gain the advantage on the next floor.
The final section of the game is when someone reaches level 10 and then attempts to breakout by going through a portal and fighting a randomly chosen boss. These come in all shapes and sizes, but are all fairly tricky to beat as your friends will be taking control of the menacing creature and doing all they can to stop you from making an escape. If the human fails it’s back to the previous location and someone else can then make an attempt, but if three attempts are made to beat the boss and no one kills it, it’s game over.
As mentioned Crawl is a party game and one where you will get the most enjoyment from playing with friends. It doesn’t support online, but if you are playing alone it can be quite enjoyable as the AI does put up a decent challenge, but any title like this will always benefit from cries of frustration from your friend who was so close to killing the boss, but you just thwarted their efforts. Apart from the main game there isn’t a great deal on offer. Not that there needs to be. You can visit the vault which offers single player challenges as you pick which monster to play and must beat a certain amount of enemies. It’s pretty throwaway, but it’s a nice little way to test out certain monsters.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Crawl was provided by Powerhoof for this review.