Goddamn, I like a good ol’ twin-stick shooter.
It’s a simplistic genre, yet so engaging. Geometry Wars, Smash TV, and Tachyon Project, are all bite-sized brilliance that anybody can get into. At its worst, these games are boring, which is rare, but could happen. Thankfully, Iron Crypticle has proven to be a worthy addition to the genre, being a shooter in a medieval setting. With hand grenades. Hmm.
Iron Crypticle comes to us from TikiPod and Confused Pelican. The former was the figure behind Aqua Kitty DX // UDX for the PS4 and Xbox One, which was, to be frank, awful. It exists because it has cats in submarines, which would’ve been funny in 2008. It’s a good thing then that there is no such cringe-inducing comedy here, so they can focus on such a fantastic experience.
You are a knight, simply looking to make ends meet after being disgraced from the king’s guard. But after the king’s royal treasures get stolen, he turns to you to save the gems, and also his daughter who has also been kidnapped. But forget that, bling is thicker than blood, let’s go the crypts and get some jewels.
Since it’s Smash TV meets Golden Axe, you’ll be locked in a room with a bunch of zombies whose favourite food is your face. Eliminate them in whichever ways you like, and move on to the end. Because the word of the day here is “Nostalgia”, you can only shoot in 8 cardinal directions at all times, which isn’t a bother for me, but should be a noteworthy mention since it could throw you off at first.
Progression through these floors is neat, it’s sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure book meets The Binding of Issac. You have an overview of the map but you can never go backwards. What lies behind the doors is a mystery at first, since most floors consist of a square room and some zombies. But as you get further, the chances of meeting difficulty gets higher, obviously. There are special kill rooms, Shops, and some famous period piece Arcade machin—Hey, wait a minute.
Every once in a while, you’ll come across a catacomb or a graveyard, which have extra obstacles attached to them. The graveyard, for example, have tombstones in them, which can either contain the aforementioned jewels or an unbeatable ghost, who patrols your last steps, which incites movement instead of sitting in one corner and spraying the enemies from afar. I like this level design quite a lot, since the corner strategy can be used a lot in other twin sticks.
The strategic elements still continue in gameplay, with roguelike implementations throughout. You can level up some basic stats with pick-ups, along with your special attack and charged dash, to help you zip around the map. Added with that are a BUNCH of weapons, which stem from the unique, to the bizarre. There’s bolas, an arrow triple shot, the previously mentioned hand grenades, and a rocket launch— Hey, wait a minute.
The weapons are a mixed bag. Most of them are good and get the job done but the ones that should have more firepower attached to them aren’t fun to use, simply. Hand grenades, rocket launchers and your flame spell don’t get the job done as well as they’d imply, but variety is really what matters and you might have a different opinion on them.
The bosses are worth a mention as well since in other top down shooters, you can usually employ the corner strategy to make it an easy win. If you told me that you can’t beat any and all bosses in The Binding of Issac while employing the corner strategy, I wouldn’t believe you. But here, all the bosses force you try different ways to eliminate them. Be it through close range assault, or a good sense of accuracy and timing, you will need to mix up your playstyle.
Another neat thing the game does is its art design, which follows the simplistic route as well. It’s got the air of an NES classic around it, although lightly brushed up in the right areas. The lighting adds atmosphere to rooms, the graphics are all primary colours, mixed wonderfully to create an ominous tone, and the detail in areas in so well done, it’s like a twin stick remaster of Ghouls N’ Goblins.
Really, what Tikipod has done is grab various concepts from other shooters in this vein, take the insanity of Smash TV and Geometry Wars, mix it with the small RPG elements of Hexen: Beyond Heretic, and crafted a rather neat and compact package filled with a surprising amount of enjoyment. However, there are cracks in this solid wall.
The main issue is that all of that good old atmosphere is ruined by some pretty bad sound design. The main songs that play are all from a children’s TV show about vampires in a ball pit, the explosions have no punch to them, and the sounds the enemies make when they perish are just a low-quality “AGH”. It’s all silly stuff that doesn’t feel right with the rather intense game they created.
Another fumble in design is the bosses, while varied, are a bit fiddly. Some use verticality in gameplay which I wouldn’t mind since the shadows can be easily tracked, but that opportunity is trashed by the chaos that unfolds. Bullets, explosions and enemies will cover up where the bosses will land sometimes, making you miss your chance to attack.
There are a few things that I didn’t mention, from the obligatory endless mode, to the 4 player couch co-op which I couldn’t play due to the fact I have 1 friend. But, at the end of this journey though, I came away from Iron Crypticle with a smile on my face. It’s nice to see Tikipod and Confused Pelican create a solid experience from worn materials, and it’s cheap price is a blessing. If you’re looking for some a chunk of that classic NES-style action, get Iron Crypticle right now, damn it.
This review of Iron Crypticle is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
Tightly orchestrated chaos which should be enough for anybody either looking to kill time or monsters.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.