Crawl

Crawl Review: A Most Dangerous Dungeon Adventure

  • Developer: Powerhoof
  • Publisher: Powerhoof
  • Release Date: April 11, 2017
  • Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
  • Playtime: Six hours
  • Acquisition: Review Copy Provided

Embarking on a dark and mysterious journey deep within a dungeon is a staple of gaming. Dating back to the 1980s, players have brought their sword and courage to venture into dungeons filled with deadly entities.

As such, this tradition has continued throughout the years with evolutionary leaps made by certain titles to keep current with the times. The dungeon crawl adventure continues yet again in the aptly named Crawl – a game which tests the skills of players in an experience that is classic without dating itself too much in the past.

BEGINNING THE CRAWL

It may be easy to look at Crawl and assume it’s not anything special. After all, dozens of games feature pixel-art or are homages to past eras of gaming.

From the start, Crawl manages to shatter any perceptions players may have about the game since it isn’t a simple homage. Yes, Crawl is evoking the feeling of games from the SNES era, but it goes in some interesting directions, not just with the design but the presentation as well.

Featuring what may be one of the best tutorial levels ever, Crawl creates a mood immediately through an eerie sounding narrator. The basic jest of the game is that the player must embark on a journey for freedom while battling both spirits and monsters.

NOT A TYPICAL ADVENTURE

Where things get interesting is that the Crawl isn’t a single-player game. Instead, it’s a competitive multiplayer game for up to four players via local play. Rather than allow the player to play by themselves, the other three players assume the roles of ghosts who can both possess objects in the environment and summon creatures that they can then control to battle against the player assuming the role of the hero.

That may sound fun as it is, but Crawl goes a bit deeper in what it presents. In a nice twist, players who were once the villain can become the hero and regain their humanity. Such glory occurs when a player lands the killing blow on the hero, who then becomes a ghost themselves.

Crawl
One of the many entities of Crawl.

This formula is addicting since it creates frantic scenarios in which multiple players are trying to become resurrected. As such, the action is mayhem in general. With beasts in the game ranging from flame-headed skeletons and strange looking squids, there’s plenty of variation in the core gameplay, which itself is simple.

FROM HERO TO VILLIAN, AND BACK AGAIN

Rather than force players to learn complex control schemes which require precise timing and skill, Crawl keeps things simple. Each character in the game has one basic attack and one super which has a small recharge time. Attacking also has a brief cool down period, which provides a small sense of strategy and timing.

It’s easy to get the basics of Crawl, as it is to master them. Knowing the quirks of enemies can be deciphered through their attack abilities, so battles can get fierce fast.

With ranking included for both the hero and ghost characters, players can purchase weapons during their journey. These items have varying characteristics, but other aides are available like floating shields. Equally, players can also purchase new creatures which keep the action fresh, and provides motivation for keeping up a good performance.

If there’s one downside to the combat, it’s that it can be hard to keep track of the action. Particularly where, or even who, your character is during combat. While heroes are color coded, the beasts feature the same color palettes. So if there are two centaurs it can be tricky figuring out your positioning amidst the many visual effects happening.

A PERFECT FORMULA

The ability to rank up is part of why Crawl is addicting since the gameplay never stays stagnant. There’s a constant sense of progression, and of course competition, throughout, which makes for a perfect party game among friends. Even playing solo against CPU bots presents an equal amount of fun since the game isn’t easy, especially when it comes to the boss battle.

The last step in utter victory, the boss in Crawl isn’t easy – nor should it be. Keeping with the formula of the game, players can actually control the boss which includes a giant three-headed dragon. As such, this doesn’t make things easy for the hero since they need to contend with a multiple of attacks meant to impede their chance at freedom.

From a design perspective, the boss design is a stroke of brilliance by Powerhoof since it makes the game fun and challenging in a way that isn’t annoying. Sure, players will die the first time fighting the boss, but Crawl isn’t about easy victory; it’s about exploring weapon combinations and leveling up to find the best combination.

CHARMING VISCERA 

Crawl may be another game which utilizes the pixel-art style, but the game has constant personality. Seeing a fountain of blood erupt from a hero’s torso upon death makes it clear that Crawl has a distinct style which isn’t Dark Souls Pixel-Art Edition.

There’s also a charming uniqueness in the designs, especially for the beasts. Starting out simple, the evolution of the art in the later entities is fascinating. As the game progresses it gets weird in the best possible way. Seriously, there’s nothing better than playing as a squid creature that can summon giant tentacles from the ground.

Crawl is also a clean looking game technically. Thankfully, it doesn’t succumb to the issues of other pixel-art games in that it becomes hard to make out what’s happening. The overall design and look of the game is crisp and has nice detail in how the characters are composed.

AN ADDICTING HOMAGE

Offering simple gameplay that keeps the momentum going, Crawl is an addicting homage to the era of dungeon crawlers, but with a modern twist. It would’ve been amazing if the game had online play, but the four-player local action is perfect for those who want to play with friends like the olden days – actually in person.

With a charmingly morbid art style, Crawl accomplishes what it sought out to do – be fun and difficult in the best way possible.

Ian Fisher
A Chicago native, I'm a six year veteran of the game press industry with a deep passion for smaller indie games and all things Sony.

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