Pounding beats and dragons in Crypt of the NecroDancer

I'm all alone in this dark dungeon. I've only got a dagger and I'm on my last heart of health. The thumping beats and pulsating sounds of Danny Baranowsky's energetic soundtrack keep pushing me forward.

From out of the shadows, a dragon emerges. I'm ill-equipped to fell this beast, so I use my freeze spell to stop the enemy. Then I charge in time to the beat and strike.

This is Crypt of the NecroDancer, a charming and wholly original hybrid roguelike/rhythm-based experience from seven-man studio Brace Yourself Games. It's unlike anything I've played before and represents everything that I treasure about the indie games scene.

Crypt of the NecroDancer charges players with exploring procedurally-generated levels across several zones. It's presented as a top-down 2D game, playable either on a keyboard or with a DDR mat. Movement and combat is restricted to the tempo of the song being played. As players progress, the tempo increases; as does the sense of urgency.

Enemies follow certain patterns corresponding to the music, as well. Blue blobs will move vertically across tiles, pausing in-between beats. Green blobs move from side-to-side in the same manner, as do the onslaught of bats, golems and other creatures who traditionally call dungeons home. This lends a layer of strategy to the combat that, at first glance, seems archaic and basic. But as progress is made, it quickly becomes evident that combat needs to be approached in a thoughtful manner.

There are also a trio of spells at your disposal – spells that will recharge over time. A healing spell will bring back one heart, a freeze spell will momentarily pause all enemies on the screen and a horizontal fire spell will clear out all laterally-located baddies. But spells can take quite some time to recharge, lending another layer of depth to the combat.

The most interesting restriction in Crypt of the NecroDancer is how everything is tied to the beat of the music, whether it's Baranowsky's hypnotizing sounds or the player's own music files that can be injected into the game. The guys at Brace Yourself Games say the perfect tempo for gameplay is between 150 and 180 beats-per-minute, so slow or incredibly fast songs aren't advised. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was a song the development team says lends itself well to Crypt of the NecroDancer.

Brace Yourself Games is planning to offer Crypt of the NecroDancer as a Steam Early Access game in November for PC and Mac. The full launch is on track for early next year – you can currently pre-order the game through the official website for $13.49 or in a $22.49 package that includes Baranowsky's soundtrack.

If you're attending PAX Prime, you can play Crypt of the NecroDancer over at the Indie Megabooth.