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Learning To Crawl: Indie Games Take On The Dungeon Crawler

Cthuloops

Posted June 19, 2012 - By Rob Manuel

Learning To Crawl

Whether you’re playing through Diablo III on Nightmare or getting tired of the same old grind, indie games can feed your dungeon crawling sweet tooth with some of the most inventive and entertaining games that won’t break your wallet.

Passion drives each of these developers to create a game that demonstrates what made them fall in love with these darker RPGs. Maybe it’s time we take a look at some of the best ones lurking around, and shine a light into some of these games to find out what makes them tick.

Krater

Somewhere in the wilds of a post-apocalyptic Sweden, the former land of meatballs and IKEA, a roving band of heroes find themselves looking straight down in the mouth of a massive, mysterious creator. Krater gives you that dungeon crawling fix you crave, along with tons of items to scavenge, and the haunting weight of permanent death hanging over your head.

Explore the world with a trio of your choosing. From Slasher to Healer, you choose from four classes to mix-and-match their abilities. Each character comes with two special skills that you manage from the top of your keyboard. Gaining experience unlocks slots that enhance both your character's abilities and themselves with stronger attacks or more life. Swing away at those soft fleshy bodies, and you’ll find plenty of loot to collect. One of the main mechanics you’ll find behind this beautiful title is the ability to craft the weapon, ability, or augment you need for about half the cash of buying it outright. You'll need stuff to craft; stuff you only get through killing lots of enemies. The circle of looting never ends in Krater.

Of course, it’s a good idea to keep those blueprints handy. You know. In case one of your minions bites the big one.

Lessons Learned: Make death meaningful. I don’t mind running into a pack of enemies screaming to the top of my lungs with my arms flailing about, but there’s something behind knowing that every encounter may be your last – or at least, the last one of one of your crewmembers. Krater makes you invest in each man of your unit, not only with time but materials. Losing one is tough.

It’s funny what a little fear can add to the game. Pick your upgrades carefully and don't rushing into that inky darkness without a good plan. For such a vibrant and exciting world it presents, Krater teaches you a lot about the fear of failure.

Dungeons of Dredmor

It’s rather hard to feel bad about dying over and over again when the silliest creatures are attacking you. Sure, you’ll come across your typical undead knight, medusa, and assorted demon; but you’ll also run across these little bird-like things, Diggles, that seem to not do much other than make your life rather miserable. This epic crawl comes with vending machines, silly quests, and tons of loot that you’ll need to pick up, roll around in your hand, than then promptly put back down when you realize that you really don’t have room in your backpack for all the other odd things you're sure that you'll need later.

From the seven skills you get to pick from the very beginning, you can create just about anything from rogues to mathematicians. One of the big drawbacks of the game may be the fact that it’s rather hard to explore any assortment of skills since players seem to die rather quickly. This isn’t one of those “ghost back to the last checkpoint” games, but rather, you’ll need to keep your wits about you, and hopefully equip those wits with large swords in order to survive.

Oh, did I happen to mention that their new free expansion “You Have To Name The Expansion Pack” just came out? You’re welcome.

Lessons Learned: Why so serious? Relax. Loosen up that level 40 leather vest for a change and let’s laugh about creatures exploding in a miss of blood and gold coins. Sometimes having a little fun in a story can give those darker plot points more of an emotional punch just when you need it the most.

Desktop Dungeons

Desktop Dungeons

Got 15 minutes and a need to get through a dungeon? Desktop Dungeons gives you all the pieces of a good crawl without all the burden of having to slog through screen after screen just to get to the end. Pick from a variety of classes and races, each with their own unique bonuses, and just try to figure out the best way to survive the dungeon.

You’ll need more strategy than random clicking if you want to get out alive. Each monster comes clearly marked with their level and they won’t even move to attack you. It’s up to you to figure out how to find all the monster, level up, find gold, buy items, worship the right Gods, and keep alive long enough to face the boss located somewhere in the level.

Every move, every attack, and every hit must be carefully calculated if you want to survive. With only one floor to race around, level up, and defeat the boss; you’ll need to figure out the best tactic quickly. Desktop Dungeons truly is one of those games that takes minutes to learn and hours to master.

Lesson Learned: Play your part. There’s a strategy behind every class and combination of races that you’ll need to figure out in order to survive. It’s not just another way to deal out damage, but a completely new way to approach the situation. You play a mage like a mage and a warrior like a warrior. Try that in reverse and the player will quickly find himself or herself on the wrong end of a pointy sword. Sometimes you don’t need a million weapons when your head’s the only one that counts. 

Legend of Grimrock

Most dungeon crawlers pit you against the world. Legend of Grimrock puts a whole team against the long dark corridors of the legendary prison, Grimrock. Just try to figure out who gets the pair of pants first. This slow slog out of a seemingly endless prison takes on an old school dungeon crawler-vibe, meaning that your whole team moves like a tank, where you move and turn but not both at the same time. Square by square, the group makes their way through the nefarious traps and enemy infested ruins of the Grimrock prison.

As you work your way down, each other members of your team get to learn more, get outfitted with armor, and pick up a spell or two along the way. Beautiful and deadly, Legend of Grimrock brings more than just a couple of warm bodies and nostalgia to the table. You’ll need to prepare and use your team like a single unit slicing and bashing their way through the dirty stone halls. To survive here, you’ll need to be one step ahead of your enemy or at least his blade.

Lesson Learned: Puzzle it out. Sometimes the best part of a game is getting the chance to be clever. Grimrock gives you a chance to do just that as well as put your neck on the line if you can’t figure out how to work all the mysterious switches or learn how to avoid the trap doors. By including a wide variety of puzzles, the world itself becomes more of a character that’s out to help or harm you if you fail to understand the writing on the walls.

Binding of Isaac

Fine, I won’t deny it. I have a soft spot in my cruel heart when it comes to this little guy. Based on the Biblical story of the same name, you play as Isaac, the would-be sacrifice to your mother.

A quick escape sends you barreling into the pits of your basement where you face spiders, flies, floating heads, and other abnormalities that would certainly haunt your dreams if the artwork didn’t already lend a cartoony quality to the presentation. You fight back the horrors with your tears. Fret not, however, since you’ll be picking up items along the way to help you on your quest to kill your mother.

I still can’t tell you what half the items actually do or have even scratched the surface of what I can find. And that’s half the fun. By picking up a new item, weapon, or trying out one of those magical little pills; the game can take a completely different direction and you’ll need to adjust or die trying. This is a permadeath sort of game after all. It’s not easy to learn from your mistakes when only death awaits you.

Lesson Learned: Make every item count. Every coin feels like a small victory in the Binding of Isaac. They’re not easy to come by. Even making it to mother and beyond can be seen a great accomplishment. Survival is something completely different. I have yet to play two games where I relied on the same strategy or leaned on the same tool to get me through. Sometimes it’s a matter of let in getting good loot early, but it’s more of a matter of adapting to the circumstance. Games don’t need to be easy, just rewarding.

If you happen to have a favorite indie game or working on a game of your own, then drop me a couple of words on twitter.

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