So, one night, as all the Kings horses and all the Kings men are chilling out, busting some groove or whatever they do on a night off, an evil force decides to blow a hole in the generic castle and proceed to steal all the kings treasure. What a git. Not to let his heinous crime go unpunished, one knight (or more if you’re have some co-op friends) decides to jump into the hole to take on the crypts below and retrieve said gold. It’s not the most in-depth story you’ll ever experience, which kind of sums up Iron Crypticle as game too.
Iron Crypticle is your typical twin-stick shooter with a light dusting of RPG. The aim is to explore the randomly generated crypts of the castle, killing monsters, collecting power ups & treasures and defeating the random bosses at the end. Once you enter a room it will fill with all kinds of nasties all roaming around looking to deal you some damage. The idea is to clear the room of all monsters so that the doors open and you can continue on your quest. Thankfully between each room you get a chance to look at a map so you can plan your journey accordingly. It’s essential you do plan your route so you can get the most out of the game – the rooms range from bog standard types to the more difficult graveyards. But there are arcade rooms in which you’ll be presented with a side scrolling platform game (that are, dare I say, perhaps a little more fun than the main game!) but will you will cost you some of the coins you have collected to play.
The game plays pretty much like every other twin stick shooter out there. Steer and shoot with the sticks, L1 gives you an Atomic Fist attack, which isn’t as powerful or as useful as the name suggests and R1 gives you recharge dash move that can get you out of a tight spot. One of the big problems I have with Iron Crypticle is that the default weapon doesn’t fire fast enough. I get that it needs to be weak, but weak AND slow? This is perhaps highlighted more because things don’t get much better with the power ups you can collect. Sure, they improve the fire power a little, but not by a great deal and they don’t seem to last long either so it got to a point where I stopped caring which weapon i picked up and just kept on shooting.
The other thing about Iron Crypticle that doesn’t sit well is that the combat feels so restrictive. This is down to your character only having 8 directions to shoot rather than then the free range of movement found in other twin stick shooters. This makes mowing down the monsters a lot less satisfying than it should be. If you get surrounded, it gets very frustrating trying to shoot your way out, made even worse when players movement speed feels sluggish anyway. Thankfully these stats can be leveled up by collecting and chaining food collection together. This means you have to collect 8 pieces in a row to begin your multiplier. All enemies drop food so you think it would be easy, but it’s not. It’s a chore running around the screen collecting, and secondly because you can’t always tell what it is you’re running into and collecting – is it food or an enemy or a trap? It’s just too hard to tell when the screen is filled with monsters and bullets. There is a shop you can buy upgrades from, but seeing as the dungeons are randomly generated you would be a fool to rely on that.
Thankfully though, you can raise your XP from items dropped by the enemies which can increase your hit points. You start with three, and any increase in hit points is a good thing. Hearts are dropped randomly to help restore those precious hit points. They are precious because when you die, you’re dead – there are no lives or continues. If you die it’s game over and you have start right back at the start.
Iron Crypticle is a love letter to old school games like Llamatron and Smash TV and and for the most part it works, the graphics and presentation just ooze with retro wonderment from the excellent sprite work to the modern-esque chip tune soundtrack. It’s a strange game – the only way I can describe it is if Ghoul’s and Ghosts was twin-stick shooter, this would be it. Not just in the looks of the heroes (the one player character is almost a carbon copy of Arthur) but in the steep and sometimes unfair gameplay. At least there are no pants on display though.
There is definitely an audience for this game – It’s just not me. That’s not because i’m against retro twin-stick shooters, one of my favorite games at the moment is Nex Machina, which is perhaps the pinnacle of the genre. Maybe it’s becuase i’ve been playing that so much that this game just feels sluggish and a bit of a chore. Don’t get me wrong Iron Crypticle can be fun, I enjoyed it in short burst sessions and there’s definitely that “just one more go” factor and for high score junkies this will appeal to you. It’s not a terrible game, there are just better examples out there.
Iron Crypticle is available now on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One and PC.
Developers: Tikipod / Confused Pelican
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher.