Spelunktroid: Crystal Catacombs

By Alec Meer on June 7th, 2014 at 9:00 am.

Oh dear, I’m going to have to buy one of those Xbone pads now that they’re PC-friendly, aren’t I? Too often lately I’ve scowled at a game only to find that it improves immeasurably when played with a gamepad instead. Last week it was Watchunderscoredogs (still a bit dull though, innit?), this week it’s indie Metroid/Spelunky mash-up Crystal Catacombs. All ready to dismiss it, I was, as its core wall-jumping mechanic was a miserable and oft-fatal chore when hung around the space bar, but now I’m rather taken with its odd creatures and caverns and its gently punishing aRPG qualities.

There are perhaps a few too many insta-death events, given it doesn’t really have the arcade gogogo quality of Spelunky – this is a more measured, exploratory thing in which death-by-creature comes more slowly and you usually get plenty of time to plan your attacks. Hence, getting squashed by a rock’s just a bit of a downer, and in the game.

Its randomly-generated worlds are quite lovely to explore though, as strange temples flood Arctic or jungle settings with neon light and strange, misshapen, spectral creatures loom out of the ground. Still not sure about all the double-jumping, even with a gamepad, but the occasional random jetpack made vertical progress much more of a joy.

It’s difficult, and it’s supposed to be. I initially tried the one-life, roguelike-like survival mode, but there’s only so many sub-30 second defeats a tired and lazy man can endure before wanting an easier life. I think that’s one to come back to once I’ve better mastered the standard 5 lives mode and gained a better understanding of how enemies, items and levelling up works. There seems to be quite a lot of things tucked away in here, though it seems to lack the pristine balance of Spelunky – it’s rougher and more overtly platformy. Looks and sounds great though, and I suspect there’s a lot to mine from it yet.

Crystal Catacombs is on sale now for $10, and also offers a demo free to all takers. It’s on Greenlight too, inevitably.

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34 Comments »

  1. Big Murray says:

    If they can’t be bothered to make it work properly with a keyboard and mouse, then I can’t be bothered to give them my money.

    • Halk says:

      Why have fun when you can ride around on your uncomfortable high horse?

    • iainl says:

      Have fun playing racing and flying games much, do you? Different games demand different controls; it’s not complex.

    • Tusque D'Ivoire says:

      I’ve finally broken down, too, and asked my girlfriend for a gamepad – a what? – yes, a gamepad – for my birthday. Now that she has an android tablet with plants vs zombies on it, I’ve caught her in my web of games and hope to play some of these new-fangled one-screen multiplayer games with her…

    • baozi says:

      Genuine question: How are 2D games better with gamepads than keyboards? Can anyone explain?

      • InternetBatman says:

        If it’s a twin stick shooter than yes it makes a difference (much less than people think if you use the numpad rather than wasd), or if you have a crappy keyboard with the three key limit. The difference is really overstated though, and the aiming of a mouse normally makes things easier than the limited freedom of movement makes them hard.

        Too often devs just can’t be bothered to test with a mouse and keyboard or even just a keyboard.

      • Rikard Peterson says:

        If the game is built for analogue input, a keyboard will always be clunky.

        • Turkey says:

          The 360 d-pad and sticks are kinda terrible for playing 2d platformers, tho. I get way more accuracy from playing cross handed with a keyboard.

        • killradius says:

          This doesn’t appear to use analog movement from what I saw in the trailer, just dpad. It seems like it’ hurts their potential audience to require a gamepad, and it should be something they could fix in minutes.

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        I grew up with 2D platformers on the NES and SNES so it’s just strange for me to play jump-heavy games using my fingers instead of my thumbs (obviously not as much for games like Terraria designed for KB+M).
        It’s probably “superior” to me because of old habits and thumb reaction time. I don’t play much outside emulators, racing and sidescrollers with a gamepad though.

        BTW, in the past (before the great death of hardware manufacturers) it was common to own all kinds of optional input devices for our computer gaming; flight sticks, arcade sticks, joysticks, gamepads etc. Different input for different games. The “WASD 4 Life, Death to the console heathens” from some PC gamers is so unnecessary.

        Edit: I forgot in my rant that a D-pad controlled with the left thumb and jump/actions on the right hand is more precise than three fingers divided on the four WASD keys + thumb on space for 2D movement.

        • LionsPhil says:

          I dunno, I’ve always found having to use a thumb to control direction miserable, at least this side of the Mattel Intellivision’s big ol’ discs.

          The variety of hardware should be telling you something: PC gaming generally offers choice. Many of the games from the Era of Peripherals did let you choose between keyboard and Gravis and Thrustmaster. Making a PC game which does not function adaquately with the keyboard as a lowest common denominator/comfortable familiar choice is dumb, regardless of if it’s your personal preference.

          (Does all seem to be a bit storm-in-a-teacup, though. The article doesn’t actually say the keyboard controls are no cop, just that the reviewer didn’t get on with them.)

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Ahhh, sanity at last. Thank you Mr Phil.

          • Press X to Gary Busey says:

            The jackboot of habit. Though there are examples of old games not working so well on keyboard, Superfrog on my Amiga 500 for example (didn’t play much in the way of platformers in my early PC years).
            It’s absolutely unplayable for me with keyboard or a joystick (I think I have three different ones but no gamepad). The HD remake with a gamepad is the first time I could play it “properly” and get anywhere in 20 years. :P

            I agree that when developing for PC the keyboard controls should be a priority for an acceptable baseline and not require a note on its Steam page “Microsoft Xbox 360® Controller for Windows® (or equivalent) is strongly recommended.” (Dark Souls 1).

            The developers shouldn’t just give up because they can’t port it straight over. They have to think outside the box if needed, and make it work.

          • killias2 says:

            Choice does not imply that all choices work equally well. A lot of the classic games that “allowed” joysticks and the like.. basically required them. Seriously, play TIE Fighter with a mouse and keyboard. I DARE YOU

            Really though, the answer to this whole question is pretty simple. Certain control configurations work better with certain kinds of games (MIND BLOWN). RTS? Mouse and keyboard. FPS? Mouse and keyboard (unless you’ve fallen on your head a couple dozen times and have somehow convinced yourself that a gamepad is acceptable). Grand strategy? Mouse and keyboard. Basically, games that require -point- precision should be played with M+K.

            Fighting games? JESUS CHRIST DON’T EVEN ACT LIKE YOU PLAY A FIGHTING GAME WITH A DAMN KEYBOARD. It just makes no damn sense. 2D action/platformer titles sort of depend on their design, but gamepads tend to be superior. Twinstick shooters? Gamepad. Essentially, while M+K is better for point precision (basically because of the mouse), gamepads tend to be better if point precision isn’t really a major concern. The reason is pretty obvious: because contollers/gamepads were designed specifically for gaming, and M+K was not. WASD is not a competitor for a good D-pad (i.e. – not the 360 d-pad). It simply isn’t. Neither are keys are good replacement for the standard controller buttons (4 face, 2-4 R/L). A mouse can only replace controller sticks when… wait for it… point precision is something you want. Which it is… in the games I listed in the first paragraph.

            Now, sure, developers should do what they can. And some games designed for one control set could probably be overhauled for the other. Dark Souls, which I play with a controller, could definitely be moved to M+K with some effort. Diablo 3′s console port apparently dealt with the genre’s reliance on point precision rather well in the move to gamepad/controller. But some games just don’t translate well. Fighting games require a controller. Most strategy games require M+K. ETC. ETC.

          • pepperfez says:

            On fighting games, the Hitbox or “stickless arcade stick” is regarded by many as the ideal input device, and it’s basically just an oddly shaped keyboard. With proper key assignment and n-key rollover, I imagine a good mechanical keyboard would be excellent for fightmans.

      • The Random One says:

        My perpetual answer to this will be, because gamepads are a device built for gaming, whereas keyboards are a device built for writing.

        (Mouses are a device built for pointing, which is why they are so much better at pointing than gamepads, naturally.)

    • Einhaender says:

      Even “proper” keyboard controls are subpar because WASD was never optimal.

    • dE says:

      The good news is, you’ll eventually grow out of your pc-gaming-am-i-right period and get to enjoy all those games you previously shunned, simply because you thought PCs were ever only limited to one input device. They never were. Wheels, Joysticks and Gamepads have been around much longer than the latest snobbery about what’s supposedly PC-Gaming. There were even times when people bought CD Drives or a Soundcard just to play a game.
      And they did so enough to create entire genres and hardware evolutions. That’s the real PC Gaming Masterrace. Not this nonsense about sneering and raising a stinker, because a game doesn’t support an input method that may simply not work all that well with the genre.

      • jrodman says:

        An interesting square hole-for-pidgeons you are pushing people into.

        Strangely I’ve gone quite the other way, having had all kinds of peripherals for my amiga and early PC, but these days wondering why developers are not bothering to clean their games up for the default input, because while I still have all those variations of connectors (I’ve a fancy steering wheel in the closet), hauling them out to play a simple platformer doesn’t much appeal.

  2. DrollRemark says:

    Ok guys, first comment. Who had first comment?

    *checks bets*

    • DrollRemark says:

      As I read the article I got to the comment about the controller and I thought “Oh yep, someone’s going to have a hissy fit in the comments because of this.”

      Welp.

  3. Hanban says:

    I just can’t look at platformers any more and not compare them to Catacomb Kids. I see some thingy being pushed stiffly into the lava… but it doesn’t even catch fire and panic, spreading fire and death around itself. What’s the point, you know?

    • Noburu says:

      My friends and I do the same. We have all backed CataKids. Cant wait for it!

    • Turkey says:

      Yeah, most of the “me too” roguelite devs don’t get that it’s the chaos of the systems that made Spelunky so fun and replayable. Totally stoked for Catacomb Kids.

  4. NailBombed says:

    I guess it looks fun – but there does seem to be a glut of these rogue-likes/
    -likelikes /
    -lites/
    -lamaramadingdongs /
    Procedural Death Labyrinths™ coming out. This could be one of the better ones – or not.

    • jrodman says:

      I quite like the lamaramadingdongs

    • Mulletor says:

      Lamaramadindongs or Mantises: it all ends the same..

    • The Random One says:

      TBH if I had never played Spelunky and heard the expression ‘roguelike platformer’ in a conversation I’m not a part of, this is much closer to what I’d imagine.

    • glider521al says:

      Could you name some rogulites/proceedural death labyrinths which are platformers?

      I have a friend who’s working on a game in the genre, and he talks about using the environment to one’s advantage in complex ways.

      He says he’s only aware of a few good roguelite platformers:
      -Spelunky
      -Rogue Legacy.
      -Risk of rain (no proceedural generation)
      -Tower Climb (beta)
      -Catacomb kids (alpha)
      -Maybe this game.

      Perhaps you know others for the list?

  5. Skabooga says:

    That little dude was totally fighting a displacer beast at one point.