Whenever someone tells me let’s play a CO-OP game I immediately picture Halo 1, Streets of Rage, or Gears of War. The idea of working together to overcome the odds and beat a game has always been an endearing childhood feeling for me. Even going back to the Famicom days of having two controllers wired into a box, CO-OP have followed this formula for ages. That is until I played Crawl.
While the design may scream “another indie pixel game” don’t be so quick to judge. I at first assumed this would be your typical old school brawler where me and friends dungeon ‘crawl’ our way out and beating up some baddies. Instead Crawl ended up being one of those few games that surprised me in a very good way.
You and three other players start off each dungeon in a brawl. The one left standing ends up staying as a human who needs to level up to at least 10 throughout the dungeon to challenge the boss. Defeating him wins the game. The remaining players end up becoming ghosts who need to be revived as a human by killing the human player. This can be achieved by possessing certain objects or traps or using a pentagram on the floor to spawn as a monster. The monster itself also has a leveling system that could be upgraded using wrath points which can only be acquired while being a ghost/monster. So while you may not be getting XP you will at least continue leveling up your monster using the wrath points to have a better chance next time. You can level up your monsters after the player decides to move deeper into the dungeon. Furthermore ghosts can possess certain parts of the dungeon boss which again can force the player to lose. This could mean possessing a giant arm of a monster to smash the floor or the head to shoot off a devastating laser beam. If the player loses a boss fight they’ll be kicked out with low health and need to continue leveling up by descending further into the dungeon. As a human player, you actually want to summon your friends as monster because by defeating them you gain XP which is needed to level up and defeat the boss. You can also earn coins that can be used at a vendor to upgrade your gear and weapons.
Now that may sound like a lot to digest but it’s one of those things that you pick up very easily. The game does offer a sort of light tutorial section when starting the game but even newcomers will slowly get it while playing. But I can’t lie, at certain moments I was forced to sort of pause the game to brief each of my friends what this does and how not to get lost. This mostly happens when going into the technicalities.
The thing that makes Crawl so fun is that it works well as a competitive and as a CO-OP title. Yes, you are more or less co-operating with each other as you, the human player, needs XP and ghost players need to become human to further their chances as well. Also, if you end up descending for a period time and fail to defeat the boss, the game will end so at its core it still works as a CO-OP title.
Crawl is a game meant to be experienced with friends, there are bots who can work as suitable substitutes. Actually, I want to take a minute here to talk about the AI and how smart it is. I mean besides getting lost and sometimes going the right way, the AI would also go to a vendor and ‘think’ about what to choose before picking an item. There were plenty of times where I had to double check it wasn’t my friend. But even with that, the game’s charm comes from sitting with your buddies on a couch and just screaming at each other. It’s the type of game where at one moment you’re working together and others are fighting to win. Again, this sort of dynamic works exceptionally well and honestly can’t think of any multiplayer game that attempted this before.
Visually the game borrows the typical classic 8-bit look we see in plenty of indie titles. It looks good, especially during boss fights but I couldn’t help but squint every now and then to make up what was written or trying to make out the tiny details. The pixel visuals can also be headache inducing as the camera at times zooms in at what is something intentionally made low res. I would also often get lost especially as the ghost clips through objects. My friends didn’t face this problem as much but I certainly found it a bit inconvenient.
Crawl is one of the most original CO-OP game I played in years. It’s the type of game that shows how being unique can not only separate you from the crowd but give players something no current game offers. Most importantly it’s fun but only with friends sitting beside you.