Cryptmaster is a bizarre fill-in-the-blank dungeon crawler where words are your weapons
Do I have to spell it out?
After playing a bunch of the demos at LudoNarraCon earlier this month, the best one I played, with zero hesitation, was Cryptmaster. Its smart text-based puzzle design fused with stylish dungeon crawling had me completely spellbound, to the point where it's now become one of my most anticipated indie games for 2024. It’s honestly unlike anything I’ve played.
Developed by Paul Hart and Lee Williams, Cryptmaster is a dark fantasy dungeon crawler where you need to type (or speak) commands to help get your undead amnesiac party members out of a strange underground kingdom. Your band of forgetful adventurers aren't completely at the mercy of the dungeon, as a devilish-looking necromancer is there to give a helping hand. An ominous figure who acts as both guide and a quest giver, the horned necromancer helps you navigate the strange rules of this underground world where words and letters are a resource for survival.
With their memories being completely wiped, your companions don’t know how to fight so your first step is to find letters that'll spell out their skills - HIT, DODGE, YELL, etc etc. In the demo, you do this by killing the creatures that skulk in the dungeon's stone caverns, looting the letters from their corpses as you go, or by opening chests and winning letters in a mini-game led by the necromancer.
These chest mini-games are fun little puzzle teasers that have you guessing the item in the chest, and if you guess correctly you win the letters that spell out that item. The necromancer will permit you five clues, so if you type ‘TOUCH’ into your keyboard he'll tell you that it feels metallic. Type ‘LOOK’ and he’ll tell you it’s spherical. Type ‘TASTE’ and he’ll tell you to piss off - you get the gist. When the clues are all used up, you can type in your guess, H-E-L-M-E-T for example, and if it’s correct you get those lovely, lovely letters. Guess wrong and you get zilch. Those letters can then be used to help your party remember their moves and skills, helping them get battleready for enounters further in the dreary dungeon.
Combat works in real-time, so when you get into a brawl with a crocodile dude or frog gremlin or other nasties, you can quickly type the commands your party has remembered, spurred on from the letters you’ve gathered - see, it all comes together. The demo only had a handful of enemy types, but one cheeky reptilian fellow had a shield that would block all commands that used the letter ‘B’ so my go-to kicking attack BOOT was rendered completely useless, forcing me to think of other commands and strategies to use.
It's all a bit strange, a bit baffling, but also incredibly cool. I'm loving all the fun ways you can interact with the world. Your conversations with the necromancer involve typing answers into the keyboard (or saying them out loud into your mic) and enjoying his quippy replies. You can also find little interactions within the environment around you, like how I came across a shrine and, egged on by the necromancer, desecrated it by typing ‘PISS’ into the game which resulted in my party getting a HP boost.
To top everything off, Cryptmaster is also visually impressive. Its 3D black and white comic-book look with detailed artwork is both stylish and intimidating. I’ll pack as many screenshots as I can without turning this article into a creepy gallery but, yeah, it looks gorgeous.
The demo only ran around 20 minutes, but packed a whole lot of ideas into it. Unfortunatley, it's been removed from the game's Steam profile but hopefully it'll return for another event soon. The Steam page is still worth checking out though, as it reveals more about the game, including more word-fuelled dungeon battles, more creepy encounters with strange beings, and more weird mini-games like dark fantasy fishing, and bard rap-battles. I’m looking forward to seeing where the devs take this clever text-typing adventure next, as it feels like the demo is only a small teaser of Cryptmaster's devious plans.