Hallowe’en isn’t all about the scares, you know?
Sometimes you want to sit yourself down and get freaked out by a messed up, bizarro movie from Hell, sure. Sometimes you might want a thinker, or a talking rat to really bring the spirit of the season out in force. Maybe you just want to hug a pumpkin, or maybe you’re one of those genuine aliens that actually craves Candy Corn. Like for eating and tasting, with your human mouth.
Sometimes, though, you just want to throw your brain out the window and dance! There doesn’t have to be a deeper message to it, it doesn’t always require some high-minded interpretation lurking under the surface, begging for a video essay. Sometimes you just want to jump around and have a Monster Mash of your own. Crypt (and Chipped!) of the Necrodancer are here to help.
The two name thing will make sense in a sec, promise.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a 2015 indie roguelike rhythm title developed by Vancouver’s Brace Yourself Games, and it completely rocks. Necrodancer consists of hopping around a dungeon to the (literally, visually) pulsating four-on-the-floor beat of an unseen DJ while navigating mazes, fighting monsters and getting to the bottom of a spooky mystery. You are dancing, the monsters are dancing, the floor is dancing. Everything is dancing, and most of it wants to kill you. Should the tempo change speeds or switch time signatures, you’ll have to do the same – or risk a swift Game Over at the hands of a ghoul, dragon or rapping mole. If that sounds a bit like trying to solve a crossword puzzle while playing Dance Dance Revolution, yes! That is exactly what it’s like, and it’s brilliant. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a challenging, galaxy-brain adventure once you get good, and a hilarious train-wreck when you’re not.
Which will be most of the time.
Chances are you already own Crypt of the Necrodancer, and if not, it’s almost certainly on sale right now on Steam, on your Switch, or on your damn phone. Pick it up immediately if it sounds like your jam – I’ve been playing it on and off since release, and I have yet to actually get good at it. If that’s not a recommendation for a roguelike, I don’t know what is.
(Also, for a very specific reader, Brace Yourself Games made a Zelda Necrodancer too, and it’s just as hard and just as goofy. Cadence of Hyrule deserves classic-status but is critically underplayed for some reason. Pick it up on your Switch: it fits perfectly alongside the Gameboy Zelda spinoffs of yore.)
If everything is gonna dance the whole time, the soundtrack needs to be on point. Danny Baranowsky – composer for Super Meat Boy and the original Binding of Isaac, amongst many others – delivers a mix of creepy Techno and House that quickly explodes out into a wild grab-bag of genres and tempos as you descend. Trance is down there, Dub makes an appearance, Disco is immediate. One boss is heavy-metal themed, another is a murderous Conga line. Nerdcore Rapper Mega Ran shows up as a rapping mole named Fortissimole, who will absolutely kick your ass. It’s one of the finest, most distinctive indie-game soundtracks of its era, and you can buy it right here.
Top level play, predictably, looks bonkers and feels like the two sides of your brain are sliding around like a Rubik’s cube. If you’d like an example, here’s a speedrunner named SpootyBiscuit beating the game at double time, damageless, on a mode that kills him if he misses a beat. It takes him about fifteen minutes.
It’s been 7 years and I don’t think I’ve finished world 3.
Now THAT is a Monster Mash.
Crypt of the Necrodancer isn’t really a Horror game at all (unless you count the difficulty), it’s more of a family-friendly Hallowe’en party that you get to dance your way through. So while you should absolutely play it (on-and-off for seven years, like me), today’s column has a part two: I’m here to help you throw your own deadly, dorky Hallowe’en rager.
Crypt of the Necrodancer was successful – so successful that it got ported to basically everything over the course of the last few years. Every time it did, they expanded the soundtrack with what they called ‘remixes’, but were really re-orchestrations of Baranowsky’s soundtrack by other prominent nerdy composers and musicians. When it finally came to XBOX One in 2017, Necrodancer added a rework by Irish Chiptune artist Chipzel (she/they), which they cheekily re-titled Chipped of the Necrodancer. I’m here to tell you that their rework of the Crypt of the Necrodancer score might be the greatest Chiptune Hallowe’en party album ever.
It turns out dance music made for mining catacombs and carefully hopping around skeletons is also ideal for mining the beer fridge and carefully hopping around the living room in your homemade Wordle costume
Who would have guessed!
Chipzel’s version of Necrodancer leans into the ominous melodies that make the original so much fun, then cranks up everything that makes it energetic and danceable. The result is a more-consistent listen that never descends into the melodrama of the original score: free of the expectation to actually carry Necrodancer‘s storyline, Chipzel gets to just have fun with it. Where the original eventually leans into synthesized orchestral work, Chipzel’s score never really lays off their signature chiptune drum-and-bass. Any time Baranowsky brings in guest guitarists to nail down live solos, Chipzel just performs them herself, wielding her chiptune tracker like an axe. Yes, they’re reproducing someone else’s melodies notes for note, but everything else is distinctly Chipzel. She takes a relatively straightforward (and excellent!) soundtrack and cuts it into a spooky Club album, complete with pans, swoops and drops. Chipzel lights up the dance-floor dungeons into a true graveyard rave.
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone hooked on their other work. From the exceptional Super Hexagon EP to the criminally-underplayed, funk-heavy Dicey Dungeons, Chipzel has made a name for herself as one of the most distinct and entertaining sounds in the Chiptune scene. She’s a killer producer! I’m a big dumb nerd for their stuff, and for good reason: Chipped of the Necrodancer, like all of their work, soars – whether attached to its root game or not.
Really it’s just spoiling me that this one is consistently spooky enough to call a Hallowe’en record.
Chipped of the Necrodancer is available as a full-overhaul alternate soundtrack to Crypt of the Necrodancer (which puts it in rare company with Danganronpa for some reason!). Check your Steam library: it’s super likely you already own this game, and if you do, the new expansion just dropped into Early Access. If you don’t feel like downloading a nearly decade-old indie game or buying it on Switch (and why not, what is wrong with you), then can I recommend picking it up on Bandcamp?
Music is so much better when you know you’re giving musicians actual cash to enjoy it. The full album and bonus pack are available for stream and purchase right here. Hold out for Bandcamp Friday if you want!
If you’d rather hear it RIGHT NOW and give her money later, Spotify and enjoy!
The same goes for Danny Baranowsky’s original score: Bandcamp it up or Spotify away, the choice is yours.
Fun-sized columns are a chance for the Long Hallowe’en X to keep freewheeling along while I’m trapped at my many day and night jobs – and this is the very first one! Each entry will highlight a piece of media you can access online and dive into immediately, like a trick-or-treat bag of spooky delights that’s only a click away and doesn’t (necessarily) cost a thing. Maybe this way we’ll be able to catch up to 31 articles, but I doubt it! Who cares! Hallowe’en isn’t about following the rules, it’s about developing cavities!