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Typing dungeon crawler Cryptmaster's demo is a delight

With jokes I actually laughed at

Typing violence in a Cryptmaster screenshot.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Akupara Games

One of the best things in games is the freeform ability to type commands for another character, then having them respond with voiced dialogue recognising your weird directions. That's one of the joys of Cryptmaster, an upcoming typing-driven dungeon crawler where one of the first things you can do in the demo is get your disembodied necromancer pal to lick a mysterious metal object to help identify it (it's a helmet). He's like if Hand Of Fate's dastardly dealer was a bit of a dingus and also your only hope of escaping the underworld. I love this guy.

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There we are in the underworld, awoken by a necromancer who oh so kindly wants to help us escape. Oh and if we could take his soulstone with us... it'll be fine, I'm sure it'll be fine. Cryptmaster is a real-time dungeon crawler, explored with arrow keys in a fairly traditional way. Only, the way to interact with everything and everyone is by typing.

To use attacks and abilities from your four characters (warrior, thief, bard, sea witch), you type BOOT and JAB and SOOTHE and such. To open a chest or box, you type CHEST or BOX. To squish a bug and claim its juices, you type the bug's name. To smash a shrine, you SMASH. And so on. But to even learn which attacks and abilities you have, you initially need to play a little guessing game.

By each character's icon in your status bar sits a series of blank boxes. Each box represents a letter in the name of an ability the character has. To start filling out these boxes and rediscovering abilities, you initially need to loot items, and the boxes will fill up with any letters the item and ability names share. A bit like Wheel Of Fortune, yeah? Unfortunately, you need the necromancer's help to identify items, and he's been dead a while so his memory is weak. You can type in commands like LOOK and he'll give a brief description of its appearance, or TASTE and he'll give it a go, or REMEMBER to recall when he encountered this sort of object in life, and he'll fill in one letter from its name. Correctly identify the item before running out of guesses and you'll win the name's letters. Then you just need to fill in the blanks. Finding more items helps, and you can loot individual letters from defeated enemies. And you can straight-up guess.

Guessing games in a Cryptmaster screenshot.
I spent far too long staring puzzled at my witch's C_ABS before realising that no matter how odd it seemed, CRABS was the only real option. Sure enough, I type CRABS and summon two pinchy pals to help out. Right, right, because she's not just a witch, she's a sea witch. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Akupara Games

Fights in the demo are fairly straightforward, as you'd expect from the tutorial, but I did enjoy glimpses of future cleverness like one enemy having a shield which blocked words containing the letter B. No BOOTing or JABbing that lad for me. Judging by trailers and screenshots, it looks Cryptmaster will have a wide and weird variety of other typing puzzles and challenges when the full game launches sometime later this year.

All this might be a little frustrating if the necromancer weren't such a character. With a voice like the grave and a penchant for dropping into cartoonishly spooky pronounciations, he feels smug, superior, scheming, petty, dramatic, and a bit dimmed by death (and probably a bit dim in life too). He has voiced responses to loads of wrong and inappropriate words you can type too, becoming puzzled or frustrated, like school computer classic Podd with an evil face. He's just a delight. I am delighted with this adversarial ally who surely will not backstab me. Other characters are fun and funny too. I laughed at this game's jokes, which is more rare than it should be. Lovely stuff.

Guessing games in a Cryptmaster screenshot.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Akupara Games

Cryptmaster's demo arrived as part of the Steam Next Fest (having previously briefly appeared last year) but while that event is now over, you can still nab the demo from Steam. The full game will also be on GOG and the Epic Games Store. It's made by Paul Hart and Lee Williams with publishers Akupara Games.

If you want more of the necromancer after playing the demo, Akapura played a Dungeons & Dragons session with him as DM. Hell, I would happily listen to him reading the phonebook.

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