Crawl (Switch) Review – Local Multiplayer Perfection
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release: 19th December 2017 (Switch)
After spending years in Steam Early Access until releasing as a much praised local multiplayer game in April, Powerhoof brings Crawl to Nintendo´s Switch, probably the perfect fit for such a game. Do I even need to tell you how amazing this game is, if everything works as it should?
Crawl´s concept is pretty simple, one player has to fight through hordes of monsters in an endless seeming dungeon, while three other players control said creatures and have to kill the brave adventurer. The one who lands the last hit then becomes the new hero in return and the game begins anew until one reaches level 10 and beats the endboss.
Playing as the hero feels like in most other 2D dungeon crawlers or rogue likes. Each enemy rewards XP, our character slowly levels up and finds more gear, slowly becoming stronger along the way. The basic system works as well as in many other games, offering everything from dozens of items, spells or armors, waiting to be discovered by crawling into the dungeon. However the combat features some kind of tactical combo mechanic, only allowing 3-4 hits in a row before needing a few seconds long cooldown. Additionally every monster and of course the hero have a special attack, like flashing through enemies. Nothing too complicated but especially the cooldown bound attacks force you to think about timing and tactics, instead of mere button smashing.
Fittingly Crawl chose a very minimalistic pixel artstyle, featuring only the most rudimentary details, shadowing and effects. Nonetheless it manages to illustrate a surprising amount of fluidity, along some simply great looking attacks and animations. The dark colour palette also adds an own underlying atmosphere and identity, with which I´m really in love with. Seeing Crawl play out during the later phases, when the hero and monsters become more powerful is sometimes a joy to behold, simply because of the great presentation and it looks just as great in both Switch modes. The relatively low battery consumption and great performance are huge plus points as well. Last but not least, the accompanying speaker, who sounds like a mad warlock, almost always steals the show if he begins to talk because of the great voice acting and writing.
Where Crawl really begins to shine is in the monster gameplay, putting up to three players in the role of ghosts, able to spawn or possess monsters as well as traps. Selecting from different kind of ghosts with their own monsters, ghosts are practically unkillable observers able to send their minions on the battlefield on destined locations to battle the hero. Yet they´re bound to two factors, their currency and wrath. If the human destroys objects for example, goo is set free for the ghosts to collect, that can be spent on new enemies. Another way is to take direct control over a spawned monster and damaging the hero, rewarding the amount of damage in goo.
One the other hand, Wrath allows the ghosts to upgrade their brigade of their three base monsters. The more Wrath, the stronger the monsters become and the fact every upgrade often transform the monsters in a whole new kind, it feels absolutely amazing to start out with a little rat and ending on a giant minotaur. However the best thing about it, is that Wrath can only be earned when the hero levels-up, in order to prevent an overpowered snowballing. If a player is good as human, he will face more powerful monsters earlier on since ghosts gain more and quicker Wrath. A great way to balance a local multiplayer game in a playful manner without forcing any restriction upon the players.
Even then, the great things don´t stop there when it comes to the local human vs ghosts theme. Even though dozens of monsters unleash themselves onto the lonely hero, with the help of traps and much more. Yet as soon as he reaches level 10, it becomes possible to summon a gate to the final boss, opening the possibility to win the game. Naturally the giant bosses, ranging from hydras to sea monsters, aren´t AI controlled but entirely by the ghosts, each taking over another part of their body. One can walk, another one shoots fire etc and that´s a genius idea. Having the final showdown be a literal, direct fight between both sides feels amazingly satisfying, especially in bigger groups. Sadly a well working team can obliterate a hero if he´s too careless and once someone dies three times, their names and existence will be erased, leading to a game-over and grant the one with the most points, no matter if ghost or human, the win. So Crawl isn´t entirely about rushing to the boss but rather if you think you´re up to the challenge since the toll for failing is severe.
Unfortunately, as great as Crawl might work when the ghosts manage to cooperate, as dependant it is on this factor. If he monster players don´t play together, are way worse than the hero or a whole different problem, every system starts to backfire. Enemies become way too easy to fight, there are no cool tactics to catch the human off guard and the end boss becomes a messy cake-walk. Be it with the only rudimentary bots, due to the lack of 4 players, or because the skill level is too much apart, Crawl relies sometimes a bit too heavily on the “human balancing”.
Without a doubt, Crawl should definitely be played in a group of friends, 3-4 in a best case scenario but damn what a great game it is. Offering a chaotic local multiplayer game with a unique concept, superb design and fleshed out mechanics. Fighting dozens of player controlled monsters, discussing tactics with your friends or controlling the giant end bosses, packed in a classic rogue-like dungeon crawler isn´t only fantastic and theory but in practice as well! I fell in love with it in an instant and after spending some time in solo and coop mode there´s no doubt, that Crawl may very well be the best local multiplayer game on the Switch.
[A Review Code was provided by Powerhoof]