At first glance, Brace Yourself Games' Crypt of the Necrodancer looks like your average roguelike. It's set in a dungeon; it uses the 16-bit aesthetic; death is an ever-present friend and foe. However, Necrodancer is a wholly original addition to the genre, because as well as being a roguelike, it’s also a rhythm game. The result of this amalgamation is one of the most engaging roguelikes since FTL.
A roguelike rhythm game is an unusual concept, but it makes total sense when experiencing its kinetic energy and pacing. The rhythm mechanic is almost genius in its simplicity: all you need to do is move with the beat. Not hard to do in and of itself; the difficulty lies in how Necrodancer removes any room for hesitation. The mechanic doesn't allow time to pause and contemplate strategy for a combat encounter - decisions must be made on the fly as players get mercilessly pulled along by the beat. At first this will cause death after death after death, but eventually you start to recognise the different enemy patterns and internalise their rhythms until you are running through areas without even thinking about it.
The roguelike aspect of the game is more conventional. The game has four areas with four levels each; players must clear each area (without dying) to unlock the next. The first three levels of each area are procedurally generated mazes, each with a shop and an exit ladder. To proceed from each level, players have to find and defeat that level's boss, or in the case of each area's final level, an ultimate boss. This structure is nothing new; however, when combined with the rhythm mechanics' instinctual complexity and incessant pace, it elevates the experience to a new level.
Like its graphics, Crypt of the Necrodancer's music is inspired by the 16-bit era of gaming. The game plays around with the chiptune style in some unique and hilarious ways - an example being the shopkeeper who sings surprisingly badass melodies over the tracks. The songs all hew to the kinds of melody and timbre that you would expect from the game's dungeon setting, but they also incorporate really funky beats underneath, from which the rhythm mechanics derive their driving force.
Each of the game's four areas has a different musical approach to the dungeon theme: the first area has a techno vibe, the second area feels more akin to reggae, and so on. Composer Danny Baranowsky did a great job of melding these almost opposing musical styles into really catchy tracks. Most importantly for a game of this genre, the music works seamlessly with the rhythm gameplay, and even after hearing tracks for the fiftieth time, your head remains bopping to the final beat.