Every now and then a new indie game doing things the old way will just pop out of what feels like nowhere, then before you know it everyone’s losing their minds! Enter Iron Crypticle…
Long-time RGG loyal, our Ken: NoSavedData, will be having his thoughts on the PS4 edition posted on this very page, but butting in as always is me, ya boy: Olly023, taking a look at the Xbox One release. The game is available digitally through several platforms right now, X1 and PS4 included of course, but also PC through Steam, etc.
Ultimately, Iron Crypticle is an arcade-style twin stick shooter. The game is a marked throwback not just in its cliched story and some lovely pixel art, but its well-defined genre-based gameplay. Quite honestly, I had no idea of what to expect when I downloaded and fired the game up once installed. Folk know me by now as someone who can be pretty ignorant on new game releases, with my wants typically defined by whatever looks like a deal worth nabbin’ on the Xbox store front. The review code for this little beauty was dropped on me via Megatron’s_Fury after NSD was already (privately) waxing lyrical about the game. So, besides a few lines of praise here and there, I was essentially going in dry – thus my dudes, expect this review to be raw! PUNS~!
As soon as Iron Crypticle is booted up, it really doesn’t take long to realise this is well and truly a love-letter of a video game. Made by fans of the genre, for fans of the genre; Iron Crypticle immediately transports you back to the days of yore, not so much the yore of the medieval age of the games setting, but more so those care free days of youth either in the arcade or huddled around the flickering monitor of a home computer with friends. That’s a good thing, by the way! Long have I had a huge love for Gauntlet, Atari’s arcade smash from the 80’s, in practically all its forms. I have very fond memories of staying up past bed time round my cousins playing the excellent Sega Master System version of that particular gem. There are instant comparisons to be drawn with the two, but a little time with Iron Crypticle and that Smash TV influence (an inspiration mentioned by the makers) oozes through, but it doesn’t stop there. Fair comparisons can be made with a variety of Taito releases from back in the day, too – then, they throw a big ol’ digital kiss toward Ghouls N Ghosts. This is all at once, people.
Achievements, being on Xbox One and all, is something the Iron Crypticle does most certainly facilitate for those of you out there hungry for more Gamerscore to rub in the faces of your friends list. Many of which are secret, but none really so insane that you’ll be tearing your hair out – at least, not from what I’ve encountered as yet. But I’ll take this moment in reference of one of Xbox Live’s most prominent features, to make note of a certain feature sorely lacking with this particular Xbox game. Despite it being unashamedly geared toward the multiplayer crowd, there is no online multiplayer to be found. That can be somewhat expected with this being a small dev team indie title, yet it does feel like a missed opportunity nonetheless, with it being strictly local, same screen co-op.
Graphically the game scores pretty well for me. While mostly pixel art based, with some very nice character sprites, it does have certain indieriffic enhancements here and there which you couldn’t possibly have outside a more contemporary game. Purists may call that cheating, but I feel the effects work in a way that it’s kind of how your imagination would have made those certain flashes, etc. appear in the mind’s eye as a kid. Thus, it works and no biggie, here or there, if ya diiig.
In terms of present audio, the games core soundtrack is fitting and quite catchy, with the only real gripes I have personally is with a lack of variety when it comes to grunts, etc. from your character. I know, that’s really nitpicky, but this is also a very brief paragraph on the sound that I am sure to get slaughtered for. Alas, overall I have no real issues, even if I don’t find anything massively outstanding, either.
As mentioned toward that beginning of this review, I really do feel that Iron Crypticle is a true love-letter. It doesn’t feel like a “oh, twin-stick shooters are easy” paint by numbers job for the sake of rushing something out in hopes of being the next big indie kingpin. Something a fair few small devs can be misguided by, yet understandable and even relatable personally for me, being that my first love is filmmaking. In film, we love a good bit of genre fun. Which always makes me sad when folk see the term generic as being pejorative. To me, to be generic on an artistic level is simply to be created within the genre and how is that possibly bad? For example, see John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s generic, for sure, when compared with the slasher horror in general, but it’s still one of the finest films to have ever been made. That, to me, is where a game like Iron Crypticle sits.
Sure, this may not set the world a light, it may not be the purest example possible, but as far as modern twin-stick shooters go it has all the ingredients that have long-existed to create a recipe for success. I’ve certainly had a lot of fun getting to grips with the game over the past few days or so and will likely to continue in the future, especially as that sweet unlockable Endless Mode is pure addiction! If you’re a fan of the genre, or a fan of the games that have influenced this and/or I have mentioned, go ahead and give it a shot. Get some friends round and go old school in a new school way. As we always say, retro is always in fashion! So is a game like Iron Crypticle!
Ultimately, with all those comparisons, it would be easy to dismiss Iron Crypticle as a Tarantino-esque pastiche - a video game-centric tableu if you will - compiled from distant yet distinct memories of gaming past. However, tear down the layers and I honestly feel there is yet more to it than simply that. The game certainly has its own, quirky charm that while invokes prior experiences, creates unique ones of its own. But as with any art form, all sides will have their own opinions no matter how informed, such is the way when the death of the author is a very real thing in the instant viewpoint age of which we live.
Made for 1 to 4 players, all local co-op – Iron Crypticle really does feel that way. By that I mean, that while yes, you can play solo: the game can get insanely tricky fairly quick. Now, perhaps I’m just out of game-shape when it comes to twin-stick action, which would be a reasonable assessment, as I don’t consider myself the most hardcore gamer on the retro block as is. I didn’t get far last time I played either Smash TV or Total Carnage, either.
This is where the light RPG elements factor in. Over the course of your run, the player has options to upgrade (and visit a neat little shop run by a cute kitty shop keep that is like a hybrid of the ships head from Parodius and the famous pig from Dragon’s Trap), XP and levelling up in general is done literally by murdering every monster in the fastest time possible and grabbing any item as quickly as you can, which also stacks your high score. This includes more heart pieces (increasing the amount of hits your character can take), extra firepower damage, etc.
The game all takes place in that classic top down perspective, with you utilising the left stick for movement and the right stick for firing. LB allows for a quick dash (with a cool down period), with the View and Menu buttons mapped for Map/Pause. The A button is also utilised for scrolls, which are essentially timed specials. It’s all very straight forward and uniform, which is a plus as you positively do not want cumbersome mapping for a game where you will want to entirely immerse yourself with the frantic on-screen action. It also matches up perfectly with that adage, which I wish more AAA titles in this day and age would uphold: easy to learn, hard to master – this is the kind of pick-up and play gaming that deserve the Brent Rambo signature thumb of approval.
Iron Crypticle’s stacked full of items, that later get catalogue and are viewable from a virtual ledger in the games main menu screen. Despite the simplicity behind it, this little extra is something that actually I quite like. In the ledger, it lets you know what items you have previously collected by giving you amusing blurbs alongside relevant info such as the score and/or effect of said item. That’s cool, that’s detail and that’s appreciated. It’s the little things with me, folks.
One of the selling points of Iron Crypticle are the maps that you progress through. Different each time you fire it up, your character must fight their way through multiple rooms with branching paths, with hints on what following rooms will inevitably contain being implied, informing you (the player) as to which exit to take as you work your way through to the boss, then so on. It’s a nice system that works well and is really handy when you’re toward the end of a current map and are desperate for a pitstop in the in-game shop, or maybe you just want to fire your way through a graveyard, etc which is also indicated. Another of my favourite things within the game, is the arcade mini-game. An arcade room is literally just that and acts as a perfect bit of breathing room that changes up the game play into a coin and cake (the most important food group) collectathon in the form of a side scrolling platformer. Random hint for you all: beat that little arcade unit three times and BOOM! Cheevo unlocked, playah!
After you succeed in honing your skills and work out the patterns of dispatching enemies you face your first boss, each time I played I was met with a separate monster to fight. Working out the bosses took me back to the heyday of arcade games and really brought a flood of nostalgia back and gave me huge satisfaction on defeating it.
After the boss is defeated it's onto the next level ,basically rinse and repeat, but this isn’t a bad thing at all. The next floor brings more challenges, the opportunity to collect new power ups and the pleasure of meeting stronger new dangerous foes. For sure the levels may appear similar but adding new characters and features brings a freshness to each level ensuring a need and desire to want to progress to see what you will encounter next. Alongside the collection of items the scoreboard was a big plus for me and getting my name on the leaderboard was yet another flashback to the days when I would stand in an Arcade Hall throwing coins into slots to become immortalised on screen. Collection of fruit left by enemies will start an accumulator of points if collected quickly and boosting your score up. It's all a superb and well executed nod to how this industry started. there's a lot of old school love on show here.
All these features cultimate in some really addictive gameplay that makes you want to say “one more go”.
The music sets the scene really well with eerie chiptunes and sound effects that will take you straight back to bustling arcade rooms. The only bad thing I can pick with it is it’s a bit tough, but for those raised in dark rooms with blinkering lights and high pitched bleeping sounds this just comes a positive. The fan service to older well loved games subconsciously told me that I was not going to be in for a easy ride. The more you play the better you get. I'm pretty sure there's a life lesson in here somewhere!
With the constant nods mentioned its has so many points within the game that will be recognisable. The knight looks very similar to Arthur from Ghosts and Goblins, the over the top viewpoint like Smash TV, hordes of spawning monsters like Gauntlet and boss battles shoot 'em ups similar to Robotron. This isn't a clone or a copy, it's a celebration of many gameplay elements you now only ever see in the games delivered from the smaller indie developers. The reason for this is because it's those people that were around in the early days. Many game develoipers now were once just like you and me... game players!
Overall its definitely worth picking up and playing, even if you aren’t a fan of older games its got a bit of everything for everyone. Levels don’t get boring as you strive with each turn to get better, the variety of creatures is commendable and the weapons are a delight. If every so often you catch yourself wishing that you could go back to being in an arcade hall again then definitely think about getting this game. Iron Crypticle is simplicity + fun x addictive, but more than that it's a reminder that the old ways truly were timeless.
Do you like smash tv, Ghosts and Goblins and Gauntlet? Well you’re in for a treat as the developers of the critically acclaimed Rock Boshers and Aqua Kitty bring you Iron Crypticle. Storyline is simple really, the princess has been captured and the Kings jewels have been stolen from the kingdom of Cryptonia. In place to gather the jewels and princess are four brave knights at the kings disposal. Knights are good like that, unless they are in a Transformers movie in which case they suck.
Storyline isn’t too important as the main strength of the game is it's gameplay. You travel through catacombs, graveyards and dungeons with ghastly beasts waiting to ambush you at your arrival. The action is top down and with the option of four player multiplayer it is a very fun party game.
The action is frantic and fast paced as you move quickly to dispel the incoming hordes. Being a big horror movie and game fan I was pleased to see a large variety of monsters looking to protect the stolen treasure. Ghouls, Zombies, Frankensteins Monsters, slimes and flaming skulls are just a few of the array of foes inline to be vanquished. Monster killing season is open and business... is good! How you take them down is very similar to arcade favourites such as Robotron and Smash TV. Use the left directional stick to move and right stick to fire in any direction you point. This method is very satisfying as it is very responsive and I never once came across a time when I was hit or killed through controller frustration or a method not offering complete and total dominion over my actions.
The weapons, like the monsters, are of a large and good variety and the more you get on in the game the more weapons you unlock. Thus the playability is extended considerably as each weapon you unlock is a joy to unleash on the enemy. Another of the title's lovely nods to how the classic games of old kept you coming back for more with a promise of new things to explore with or in this case, use to inflict massive damage... yeah! With each weapon comes a "sub weapon" element which can be collected via picking up scrolls . These scrolls, with the simple press of the X button, can unleash devastating effects and with more to unlock there's serious fun in collecting every one.
Once you eliminate the ghouls and collect the treasure multiple doors will open and by checking the map you get to choose with area to traverse to next. Each level is timed, with a failure to finish levels promptly resulting in ghouls and Grim Reapers appearing. Immune to your firepower and after your precious life, this adds the sense of urgency to get a level done as quickly as possible and onto the next stage. Alongside the standard levels other levels open up including an arcade cab just sitting idly in the middle. With the old school cab you can play a game called castle crushers, a simple fun way of grabbing extra coins to help you along the way. The game changes to a side scroller and you jump over platforms to collect coins and cake as crumbling castle walls come falling behind you, failure to finish results in zero bonus coins. Big thumbs up for adding this neat little extra to variation to the game.