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Crawl – The Switch Island Review

I’ll freely admit my friend and I didn’t know what we were doing when we started Crawl. I don’t think its concept has been done before, and so I think it’s useful to share the weird premise of this game via our weird experience playing it. (Like err a review…)

I knew the game was multiplayer focused but that was about all. It looked like a dungeon crawling game (it’s called Crawl after all), so I assumed it would be a cooperative experience, and so did my friend, who I’d duped into playing with me (we were only very slightly inebriated). And so we started, and our pixellated heroes wandered the pixellated dungeons together and found there was nothing to do. We swiped at things with our swords, but room after room was empty. ’Something’s wrong here,’ we thought. ‘Something’s wrong here,’ we said out loud. ‘Why did we choose those monsters from that menu, where are they all?’ It was a bit pathetic.

Eventually, getting bored, we set our heroes on each other with their pixellated swords. Until one killed the other. And – BOOM – the dead hero transformed into a pixellated ghost. The ghost was controllable. We were still confused. One hero, one ghost. Why had one of us become a ghost? You can’t attack the ghost or attack with the ghost. Except, you can. We found that the ghost can’t attack directly but can possess objects to throw, or trigger attacks to hurt the remaining hero. Interesting. So my friend the ghost started triggering traps, and I had my hero run away with the ghost in pursuit. In the next room, there was a portal shape on the floor. This portal changed the ghost into – BOOM – a monster. Now we were getting somewhere. I launched my pixellated hero at the monster and killed it. And now my friend was back as a ghost again. My hero ran on, into other rooms, pursued by the ghost, who found new portals and became different monsters. And this time one of those monsters killed my hero. And here’s where the game becomes truly ingenious: now it was my hero’s turn to be the ghost. It was my turn to fight the hero, by transforming into a series of monsters. Our roles had reversed.

And this is how the game plays. Both players take it in turns – hero, monsters, hero, monsters. The fights develop in ferocity and craziness via RPG character development. As the hero you can level-up by collecting coins to buy gear at a shop, and as the monsters you gain experience points to level-up your set of monsters.

Crawl is hilarious and frantic. It’s a brawler, a dungeon-crawler and a party game. We were playing it two-player, but you can play it three or four-player, which I imagine is even more frantic and hilarious. You can also add bots to spice up a two-player game, or even a one-player game. We tried-out a bot on one of our runs, but it beat us at everything, even making it to the game’s boss to fight it and win. Yes, there’s a boss. The game is all about the journey though. The player who makes it to the boss is the victor in the same way that the player who wins a Mario Kart grand-prix is the victor. I would estimate a play-through takes twenty to forty minutes, depending on how well you know the game.

Not all unique concepts work out, but this one does. There are some ifs though. I’m not going to ever play Crawl by myself. But, if you’ve got mates who like retro-looking pixellated games, who understand basic RPG mechanics, who aren’t looking for a co-op game but more of a fighting game, then this is a once-in-a-lifetime gaming experience. If you and your friends are those sorts of people, then I strongly recommend Crawl. For one-player gaming it would probably benefit from some online options, but that would almost ruin it; Crawl was made for the sweaty, shouty living-room matches we thirty-somethings had playing games like Mario Kart 64. If that’s you thing, then this is your thing. 

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