Crawl (Switch eShop) Review
Crawl is purely brilliant chaotic mayhem. The Australian-made competitive dungeon crawler places a huge emphasis on a level playing field, ensuring anyone can steal victory at any moment. Combining the addictive core game loop with a delightfully camp and pulpy horror B-movie aesthetic, plus an eclectic cinematic and chiptune soundtrack, makes for a fantastic multiplayer experience.
Quite unlike anything I have played before, Crawl allows for up to four players to compete against one another to take down the randomised dungeon boss; the spoils of victory going to whoever can slay the final demonic beast. Sounds pretty standard, right? Stick with me, it gets wild soon. Every round of Crawl begins with all players controlling a near-death human in a locked dungeon purgatory. The objective – kill everyone else and become the last human standing. From here, the remaining human player must venture deeper into the dungeon to take on the boss. However, the deceased players each become a ghoulish apparition, capable of manipulating traps and summoning monsters via pentagram-like symbols along the way, with the express goal of killing the human and regaining their own humanity.
Becoming human once more requires an equal amount of skill, strategy and luck. This is because whoever lands the killing blow on the human player reaps the reward – not whoever deals the most damage. Taking down the human player galvanises the other players into an uneasy truce of cooperation, as the human is cannot progress out of a room until all its monsters have been defeated. This truce ends the second a last-hit opportunity presents itself – the screen becoming a flurry of frantic action to land the telling blow. This cycle repeats throughout the entire game, with an increasing level of challenge for both human and ghouls.
Defeating ghoul-controlled monsters as the human yields experience points and gold. Gold is used to upgrade weapons and purchase new skills necessary to even remotely consider being competitive against the final boss. Levelling up is a double-edged sword for two reasons. Firstly, the human player must reach level 10 before the demonic portal to the boss opens. However, with each level gained, each of the ghoul players gains “wrath” points which are spent to upgrade monsters. This system cleverly prevents anyone from becoming disproportionally overpowered, making it a tough but fair challenge for all. Although the concept may sound complex in theory, it works effortlessly in practice. One person can be human and level up at any one time, but the increasing power of the monsters keeps everything in check, meaning whoever plays as the human will die regularly, rotating the roles swiftly throughout a round of Crawl.
One round of Crawl generally lasts 30-minutes, but one round I played with my friends at work went for close to an hour because of the even display of skill. And because one player skillfully halted the human player’s progress by hiding his mini slime monster behind a box, out of plain sight. Dammit, Brad.
What keeps each game fresh is the large variety of weapons, the monsters that can be summoned, and the different finale boss each round. Via a delightfully arcade-inspired menu, players select a monster deity to “worship”, determining a pool of three monsters they will be able to randomly summon throughout the game. By playing and unlocking in-game achievements, more deities are unlocked to add further variety to the monster selection. Each monster can be upgraded in a multitude of ways during the game with the wrath points, increasing the amount of experimentation and replayability Crawl offers.
Further to the main dungeon-crawling mode, Crawl features a single-player challenge mode, where the player selects a monster to fight of waves of AI-controlled human opponents. This is a great way to experiment with different monsters and special abilities to figure out what your best combo is. Challenge mode also showcases the strength of Crawl‘s AI-controlled characters. Crawl‘s main mode features a decent amount of customisation in allowing AI with adjustable difficulty to fill the void of players, providing a strong challenge when playing single-player or with one-to-two other players.
This section of the review may as well just be a recurring segment of how much I adore (insert game here)’s soundtrack because Crawl is yet another Switch title with meticulously-crafted music. Crawl‘s OST merges strings and gothic church organ sounds with chiptune-like melodies to create such a full sound committed to the arcade aesthetic the game strives for (and nails perfectly). This music and the pulpy slasher film narration beginning each game creates a spine-chilling setting worthy of the satanic horrors hosted within. At $5 on Bandcamp, the OST from Alex Yoder represents great value.
Traditionally, games with a heavy multiplayer focus lack longevity and replayability. This is especially the case when the overall experience is compromised by not having enough players. Thankfully, Crawl destroys these concerns with a bloodied axe. This game is excellent in both single-player and multiplayer.
Crawl adds yet another brilliant Aussie-made title to the Switch. Wildly different to other dungeon crawlers out there, Crawl is among the upper echelon of multiplayer games on the Nintendo juggernaut that just keeps on rolling, let alone crawling. There’s plenty of multiplayer mayhem to be had with friends, and a more than engaging variety of single-player options.
- Fantastic multiplayer action where everyone is always involved
- Great gothic arcade setting and soundtrack
- Single-player options are reasonably meaty
- Infrequently difficult to tell what's happening on screen (very rare, though)
- Perhaps not as well-suited to long play sessions
- I'm grasping at straws now, please help