One night as the King’s knights are lazing around not doing a whole lot a malevolent force blows a hole in the floor and steals the King’s treasure. Acting swiftly, one of the knights (or more if you’re playing co-op) and a cat jump into the hole, descending into the palace crypts on a mission to retrieve the stolen gold. Not the most engaging story, but to be fair Iron Crypticle isn’t the most engaging game.
• Developer: Confused Pelican, TIKIPOD Ltd
• Publisher: TIKIPOD Ltd
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: Xbox One, PC
• Release Date: Available Now
Iron Crypticle is a twin-stick shooter where the aim of the game is to explore the randomly generated depths of the castle, killing monsters and collecting treasure. When you kill every monster in a room the doors unlock and you pick an exit. Checking the map will show you what is in the connecting rooms so you can plan accordingly. The final room of each floor houses a random boss, and defeating it rewards you with treasure and opens the passage to the next floor.
On top of the standard horde filled rooms. There’s an arcade room complete with a side-scrolling platform coin collecting bonus game that is actually a lot of fun. And remember the cat that jumped in the hole at the beginning? It owns a shop you can buy random goods in. There are other rooms too, like graveyards and crypts, but they’re as much fun as pulling teeth.
You move around with the left stick and fire with the right, L1 triggers the special Atomic Fist attack, an area of effect move that wipes out enemies and projectiles close to player avatar with a radius about the size of a small pizza, that can only be refilled by collecting fist icons that randomly appear.
Weapon power-ups drop at random and range from ‘slightly better than the default weapon’ such as the arrows and scythe, to ‘this is a bit rubbish really’ like the grenades and blunderbuss. New power-ups unlock when you die and will begin appearing on your next playthrough, but I’m not sure if this is triggered by reaching a certain point before dying, or just whenever the game feels like it. At first I thought this was a pretty neat mechanic, and a good way to keep me coming back, but after a while I stopped caring.
R1 is the dash attack, used for getting out of the way of enemies, and it’s rubbish. It apparently causes damage to monsters if they’re hit while you’re dashing, but I didn’t notice it doing anything while I was playing. It’s hard to accurately direct where you want to go and more often than not I found myself heading in exactly the wrong direction. On top of this it takes far too long to recharge to be useful. Most of the time I used it I found myself taking more damage than if I hadn’t bothered.
Combat feels restrictive thanks to characters and projectiles only having eight points of direction, and not the free range of movement other twin-stick shooters offer. It made aiming at enemies incredibly annoying, especially when surrounded, or when they were heading toward me from an angle I couldn’t hit them from. I get that it’s supposed to be a throwback to old school arcade games, but as games like the fantastic Nex Machina have proved recently, it’s possible to create an engaging and challenging arcade game without relying on decades old restrictions.
Movement, too, feels sluggish and unresponsive, and although the argument could be (and probably will be) made that this is due to the fact that the character’s damage, speed, weapon duration, and fire rate need to be levelled up, the levelling system is so completely arbitrary that the argument is moot.
These stats are levelled up by chaining together food pick ups. When eight food items have been picked up in quick succession it activates a 100×8 multiplier, and when a number of food stuffs are collected after that to keep the chain going a stat upgrade appears. At least that’s the theory.
The problem is this mechanic feels random at best and broken at worst. Most enemies drop food, but when they do is a roll of the dice, and the time allowed between collections to keep the chain going is frustratingly inconsistent. More often than not I found my chain broken due to enemies not being in the mood to give me food, or the game resetting the chain just because. It’s infuriating, especially when you’re reliant on this system to progress through the game. I enjoy a challenge, but having my progress hindered like this killed the game for me.
It’s possible to buy stat upgrades from the shop, but what items it has in stock, and even where it can be found are completely random so it’s not a good idea to rely on it.
The knight’s levels can be increased too by collecting food stuffs dropped by enemies, giving you XP, and each additional level gives you an extra hit point. You start off with three hit points. Health is restored by collecting hearts that occasionally drop at random, and after you lose all your health it’s Game Over. No continues. You’re finished. And that’s where my biggest issue with the game lies.
When you die you have to start again from the beginning with your levels and stats reset. There are no ‘credits’ or continues, even on the easier difficulty setting. Because of this there is absolutely no sense of progression, it just feels like you’re throwing yourself against a wall. Seeing how far you can get on one credit may be fun for some people, but after a few hours I found it unbearably tedious.
The weird thing is, when playing in co-op ‘credits’ all of a sudden become available, but even they seem to be arbitrarily dished out. I’d gotten a few rooms into the first floor when my girlfriend picked up the second controller and joined, died, and found that she had four credits. When I died, I had one. Maybe they’re shared credits, I have no idea, it isn’t explained, all I know is there are none when playing single player.
Iron Crypticle basically penalises you for playing on your own, and seeing as it has local co-op only, a lot of people are going to get punished for not having anyone to play with. This isn’t just bad design, it’s completely stupid.
I’m not sure if this is a deliberate design choice or an honest oversight, but for me it ruined the game. Being forced into what is essentially a ‘one credit challenge’ for playing by yourself is not my idea of fun. I enjoyed myself for the first hour or two, but playing the same few floors over again and again and again is unbearably tedious and sucked all the fun out of it. It’s probably a much better game with friends, but in the time from receiving the game code to the embargo lifting I didn’t have time to organise a decent co-op session with a group of friends, so I can only speak from my own personal experience.
It’s not a bad game, it works well enough, and I know there is an audience for it, but I am not it. I also need to add that no, I did not finish Iron Crypticle. I put in what felt like too many hours, and managed to unlock half of the trophies so I feel I’ve experienced enough of the game to offer a valid opinion. If developers Confused Pelican patch in credits for the single player I might give it another go, but until then it’ll sit in my library as reminder of what it feels like to repeatedly smash my face against a wall.