Courier of the Crypts Preview – Fight the Waning Light
Courier of the Crypts is a game about managing your limitations. You don’t have a torch that will last forever, nor weapons you can fire whenever you like, nor a body that can take much of a beating. You have to work with the tools at hand and use them sparingly, or else you’ll be joining all of those cheery-looking skeletons lying around. That’s just bare bones survival, as well, since there are many secrets buried deep in these caverns. Is survival the only thing to strive for, or are you wiling to take some real risks and find the hidden treasures of the dead?
My first trip into the crypt went about as well as it would have if I had done it myself. Devoured by spiders in minutes with a spent torch? Yeah, sounds about right. The torch is key in exploring the dungeons, as, despite the top-down view, you can’t see very much without your torch lit. Much of the dungeon is pitch black, making it hard to see new paths until you’re right on top of them with the torch lit. When the light is out, it’s impossible to see anything save for the small areas around a couple of light sources in the crypt. You can light a few more as you pass near them, but other than that, you want to keep your torch lit.
Doing so drains it, though. You can only keep it lit for so long before it runs out permanently, which is big time trouble. You can shut it off to conserve its fuel, but there are lots of monsters and traps kicking around for you to stumble across. This not only makes it likely that you’ll trip over them in the dark and lose a precious hit (you only get three in the preview), but there are also enemies that will chase you down once your torch is out, and they can sense you from long distances away. It takes a few seconds to relight a doused torch, and all while you watch a giant spider tearing down a hall after you. Keeping it lit all the time will waste fuel and kill you in a different way, though, so you have to be very particular about whether you keep it lit or not. There are pickups that restore a little bit of its fuel, but not enough that you can use the torch whenever.
You could try dealing with the enemies that chase after you by throwing rocks or other weapons at them, but you have a finite amount. You start with a handful of them, which I quickly wasted while running from a spider. If you’re out, you’re out of luck until you find some more in the environment. The game is a bit more generous with these, but some enemies revive quickly, and all the others take at least two or three hits to put down, so avoiding them is usually the best bet to avoid running out of ammo. Again, you have to carefully ration the items you have, or you’ll meet an unfortunate end in the crypts.
That was all just to keep me alive for the duration of the preview, too. I had a hard enough time dodging monsters and keeping a lit torch just finding the items I needed to finish the main stage. Taking some time to poke around the walls and look for hidden passages meant using up even more of my resources. Finding one typically meant a little boost in ammo and torch fuel along with its treasures, but if I didn’t find something during my exploration, it tended to leave me in a bad spot. Still, it was exciting to limp my way through the rest of the crypt with very limited resources. Balancing your items while finding the game’s secrets is where some real challenges await. Just so you know, though, death means restarting the entire stage. Not terribly long, but when you can only take a couple of hits and you have only a few items, you can die a lot.
The game is pretty challenging with its enemy placements, too. Spiders patrolled areas, and while they were easily avoided with my torch lit, they were relentless when it was out. An enemy that’s on your tail usually won’t get off of it, following you until you deal with them or get really far from their normal patrol. This makes dodging them difficult, but it can be done. The enemies and boss that fired projectiles were even harder, as they’re very good at predicting your movements and homing in on you. Your character moves at a decent pace, and you’ll be working him hard to avoid some of the flaming shots fired at you during the preview. It especially made the boss challenging and fun as I darted around the room, having to step onto a timed spike trap while dodging shots at specific intervals to get in a hit or two. I was also counting my ammo during that boss battle, so there was a whole lot going on to keep it fun and challenging.
Courier of the Crypt‘s tone is an odd mix of creepy and silly. It starts off with some goofy dialogue between the Courier and his boss, and the enemies are still things like oversized tentacles and big spiders. Even so, soon you’ll be chased by liquid shadows and find yourself at the mercy of some creepy robed figures with knives. The silly undertones make it fun, but there is still something serious and dark going on in the game. I can’t help but be reminded of Luigi’s antics in Luigi’s Mansion, but as if he were placed in a darker, much more dangerous setting.
Lighting and visuals were pretty nice, especially given the importance light plays in the game. Different colors and sources of light littered the crypt, all of which cast a soft glow around the environments. You can detect movement in the dark as it gets closer to these light sources, which was a nice source of tension. What’s moving around out there? You can tell that something is shuffling around, but not what that thing is. The rest of the dungeon was filled with broken pillars, skeletons, and other neat little set dressings. You can see quite a bit of it all at once if your torch is lit and there’s other sources of light around, which results in some small objects and characters. It works well with the pixel art style, and Emberheart Games has made sure the important objects are all large and easy to see.
Exploring the dungeon and the combat seemed more important than puzzles in the preview build, so I didn’t get a sense of the more complex possibilities for dungeon layouts. It was pretty linear, only asking me if I wanted to go upstairs or downstairs at first, but dodging around enemies to get to the right items and levers was still fun. Finding secrets and managing items kept the playthrough interesting, but I’m still left wondering what sort of dungeon puzzles will be in the final build.
The music was also lacking in this build. It was barely noticeable, but there were some good effects for the monsters and items. A little quieter than I might have liked while I was learning about the game, but I still see a lot of promise in the audio design. Or maybe Emberheart just doesn’t want me to know all of its musical secrets just yet.
The tension of watching your inventory mixed well with the dark dungeons and comic main character. Courier of the Crypts is looking to be a challenging game of snap decisions about your dwindling supplies, one filled with hidden corners just waiting for a brave, possibly foolish explorer to find. The preview left me curious as to what else I might find in future dungeons, be they hidden treasures or my own death. I’ll just have to watch the IndieGoGo campaign and wait for the next surprise Emberheart Games has hidden in the dark.
For more information on the game, head to the developer’s site, follow him on Facebook and Twitter, or download the free demo. If you like the game, you can vote for it on Steam Greenlight or donate to its IndieGoGo campaign.