by Samuel Corey
reviewed on PC
No Points for Originality
In a world overrun with indie, fantasy-themed, roguelike, dungeon crawlers, Knight Crawlers was all but doomed to become lost in the herd of similar games. Even the title sounds like it could belong to a dozen or so games I passed over on Steam's new releases page. As if that wasn't enough, the leveling-up mechanic grants you an additional special power in the form of a card each time you level, giving it the feel of a deck-builder as well. Sure, there are no actual deck-building mechanics here (perhaps this was a planned mechanic that got cut during development). This is probably for the best, as if the game had deck-building elements I would start to worry that the idea was pitched by an AI trained on data for popular indie game releases.
That said, while no one would call Knight Crawlers especially innovative, the game that is here is far from charmless. The game has a cozy, relaxed vibe that goes some way towards giving the game an identity of its own beyond indie roguelike number 10,000,000. All the characters, both friend and foe, are cute little fellas that look like they were made from Duplo blocks. This low-stakes, low-intensity charm is bolstered by the game's mellow combat system. Your main attack is a projectile that automatically hits the nearest enemy and only fires when you are standing still. All the enemies will chase you so you need to judiciously run away and stop often enough for your automatic projectile to land a few hits.
Annoyingly the projectile doesn't handle elevation changes very well, so you aren't able to exploit cliffs and the enemies poor pathfinding to score some cheap hits. This is fine, but I do wish that you could at least count on the projectiles to hit their target when I'm standing at the top of a flight of stairs and the enemy is at the bottom.
At the start of the game, the biggest hurdle to staying alive is not the enemy monsters but rather the dozens of traps that litter every room in the dungeon. There are spikes, blow darts, and flame traps that seem to cover half the map. The traps also hurt enemies, so part of the challenge becomes avoiding them while kiting the enemies into danger.
This being a roguelike, eventually you will die, either because you accidentally walked into a trap or because you were overwhelmed by the increasingly larger swarms of enemies. At this point you will be sent back to the beginning with a load of cash you can use to boost your stats. Annoyingly, this cash is mostly earned by smashing furniture in the dungeon, so in each room, you will have to divert from the main gameplay for a little bit to go around systematically destroying any pots, tables, or chairs that are lying around. This gets a bit tedious quite fast, and I would have greatly preferred if all the money was dropped by defeated enemies.
Delving Again… and Again
The biggest issue that Knight Crawlers suffers from is how quickly it becomes repetitive. In more successful rogue-likes such as Hades or Enter the Gungeon, the random power-ups and different choices for items and equipment can completely change the feel of the game from run to run. This is vital when your game consists of retreading the same set of randomly generated rooms ad nauseam.
Unfortunately, Knight Crawlers just doesn't have this variety of experiences. While you are given a random power-up each time you level up, the pool these are drawn from is small and you will see every one of them very quickly. Moreover, they are almost always powerups that just enhance your existing abilities in some way rather than granting new play styles. Occasionally you will get a new ability but all of these have cooldowns which gives them only situational utility. I usually found I was better off stacking the boring passive buffs.
This sense of sameness is exacerbated by the enemy types. On the surface, there are a lot of different enemies, that come in all manner of shapes and sizes. The problem is the differences between enemies feel mostly cosmetic. Some are small, some are large, and some blow up after they die, but all the enemies move and attack you in the same manner. Your strategy will never change from moving away, pausing to activate your ranged attack, and occasionally hitting the melee button when they get too close. This gets old quickly, and keep in mind that you will have to clear out hundreds of these little buggers on every run.
This issue with feeling repetitive after a while is compounded by the fact that the dungeon itself offers you no sense of progression. The rooms are all randomly generated and can go in any order, but they all have the same theme and aesthetics whether you are on level 1 of the dungeon or level 40. It would have been nice if the game switched themes after a certain point to show that you had reached a new area, perhaps following the classic progression in Diablo where you go from catacombs to caverns to blighted hellscape. Ultimately, the only thing that seems to change from room to room and run to run is that the numbers indicating your health and damage output get bigger.
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Cute visuals, Very intuitive gameplay, Fun in small doses.
Gets repetitive very quickly, Lack of enemy variety.