Crystal Catacombs (2015)

cccover ccombs

Roguelike-like platformer (random levels, harsh difficulty) with a few nods towards metroidvania’s (mostly stuff like unlockable skills like double jump and dash or sticking to walls). Was kickstarted in 2012 and published in 2014. Despite lots of feedback during the beta-phase that jumping and the controls in general were terrible to downright broken, the game creator (foremost a graphic designer) insisted people just had to adapt to its different control scheme and everything was right.

The game got published, the public reaction was decidedly mixed (again mentioning the terrible controls and lots of other stuff like badly designed boss fights) and still nothing had changed. I recently played through it, hoping that the newest patches had alleviated the worst flaws of the game. Sadly, its just as bad as it has ever been. Wall sliding and jumping are terrible, the main attack is too weak for most enemies even on the lowest difficulty and you can’t hit downward, which is a necessity in lots of situations (which means you have to get hit to move on or search for a time-consuming alternate route).

Also, for an exploration-based platformer (verbatim kickstarter pitch), its either downright hostile towards its audience or just plain stupid to include a timer. This worked in Spelunky (and even there I disliked it), but Crystal Catacombs level design and gameplay is far less sophisticated. Whereupon in Spelunky it forced you to choose between cautious movements and risky actions, in Crystal Catacombs it just forces you to search for the exit as fast as possible and then kill as many critters as possible to get the key for the exit.

Another big problem are the boss fights, which sports lots of one-hit kill attacks and some unexpected one-touch-insta-kill moments from some bosses, which seems rather unsporting in a game that is designed with a HP bar. Games with a one-hit-kill system have to be designed with that in mind, which is different from games where your character is expected to survive a few hits. Changing that approach between levels and boss fights is rather stupid or asshole-ish (take your pick). Also one-hit-kills that come out of nowhere, I think I nearly threw my controller against the wall when the final boss killed me with a unavoidable beam-attack from outside the screen, which just shows had badly the game is designed, though this was probably the worst of those.

The strange thing is, the game looks good, even great on screenshots, even in videos (though when you play the graphics often make it hard to parse what is scenery, deathtrap or enemy). It’s really hard to believe how badly it plays, but be warned, it’s really damn terrible.

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