With most co-op games on the market, players are often encouraged to work with each other for the greater good. Playing as a group, players will strategize, communicate and help each other in order strength their impact against an opposing force. Then in comes new indie dungeon hack and slasher “Crawl” to change the way we think of the genre.

Crawl is a top down hack and slash titles stylised in what every indie developer uses now days, pixel art. The experience intended for players when they engage with Crawl is a highly competitive, four player dungeon crawler. So get ready to loose from friends for this co-op cough fighter that demands you to compete with one another for sweet victory.

The premise for Crawl is taking four players through a decaying, death ridden dungeon as they fight not only a host of monsters but each other for a chance of escaping this rat, demon and squid monster infested hellhole. When playing there’s only hero on screen while the other three players are trapped as ghosts who follow the hero and await a turn to reclaim the body. Heroes will have to fend off various monsters and the three ghosts who’ll take control of a number of booby traps, movable objects and in the form of monsters. It’s up to the ghosts to kill off the hero and the one who does will be able to reclaim the body and progress as the hero.

The main reason you want to be the hero by the end of the dungeon as only the human form of the playable character can fight the big bad at the end and escape while the ghosts will remain and lose the game. This is a rather compelling and complex competitive game where one single player not only has to deal with a number of NPCs on screen but also three other players who want to reach the same goal but only do that by defeating whoever is in the lead. This offers a frantic and exciting experience for four friends that don’t heavily rely on just killing each other for the sake of it.

You need to calculate how to take out the leading player while understanding the tactics of others so you can prevail further and hopefully to the end. There’s going to be plenty of times you die and plenty of times where the leading player will be overwhelmed from all side. This lends to an enthralling but at times frustrating experience as the three against one aspect of competitive co-op can be unbalanced with the number of other NPCs on screen. Not to mention if you’re in a room with multiple traps, prepare the game to stall as most players will die a lot in this single situation.

Not to say this frantic, nightmarish tone to the competitive aspect impacts on the fun, as the game can just be hilariously joyful with four people playing with each other. But with just two or worse yet one player, this approach to gameplay does wear thin.
What does help build substance and depth to character progression is allowing players to upgrade their various monsters thus giving them an edge over combat. You’ll gain different currencies in order to upgrade and strengthen your playable characters. Depending on who you play as the most whether it is the ghost or hero, you can earn an abundance of experience and thus level up at the start of each stage. It’s made fair as when the hero levels up, players who are processing monsters or in ghost form will earn Wrath. In this aspect of gameplay the developers have worked hard to balance the various complexities in upgrading the broad range of playable characters.

Even if at first the information given about the upgrading and style of gameplay is a little overwhelming for new comers.
I’ve mentioned this being quite an exhilarating co-op couch game and it works well with this approach as there’s no split screen and the interface and HUDs are simple and clear. What does impact on the impact this experience could offer and indeed its re-playability is the lack of any online functions. While you can gather around a PC or console for some good old couch action, don’t expect to play this with friends if they’re at their own homes. This is sad as while some time ago, the next gen was troubled with a lack of split screen games. This has thankfully changed for both indie and AAA titles and the success of many have depended on the implementation of split screen. So it’s a shame that Crawl could suffer with a lack of online play, but is still a refreshing novelty for when your friends come round.

Crawl offers a different approach to both competitive play and dungeon crawlers with a frantic and compelling nature to draw you in. While the lack of online play and the overwhelming force for single players can push certain people away, it’s made up in other places. The competitive elements, colourful and enthralling edge to gameplay make up for the short coming, even though an online addition would make this even better. Check this out for parties and when friends are over, or if someone forgets Cards Against Humanity.

++ Compelling and original competitive gameplay
+ Looks and sounds great
+ Highly engaging and enriching upgrading systems
- No online functions
- Can be overly frantic at times
- Single player experience is very tedious

A Steam code for Crawl was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review