Courier of the Crypts

A game by Emberheart Games for PC, originally released in 2019.
Courier of the Crypts is a puzzle-based adventure starring a young courier on a mission to deliver a letter to the guardian of the crypts in a nearby town. The crypts were once a religious place, but now dark forces are at work within their walls, and something evil lurks in the depths of the ancient temple. After a 3-day walk, the courier arrives at the temple and encounters a lazy curator inside the entrance who claims to be too busy to deliver the letter to the guardian himself (too busy sleeping, as it turns out). The courier picks up a torch to light his way into the lower levels of the crypts… but soon after he enters, the floor crumbles beneath his feet and he finds himself trapped below.

Fortunately, the courier has kept hold of the torch and lights it to see his surroundings. The torch becomes the courier’s most valuable tool as he makes his way through the crypts, as many areas are shrouded in darkness. The light from the torch only illuminates the immediate area, leaving the courier to explore dark corners to find switches and doorways that slowly open the path forward. But the torch flame is not an infinite resource, and its magical light must be replenished… or the courier can choose to extinguish the flame to conserve its magical energy.

Throughout the game, the player is able to extinguish and re-light his torch as needed, and additional energy may be added to the torch by smashing dome-shaped objects in the environment, providing partial restoration. Occasionally, the player encounters a large torch that refills the meter completely and also acts as a checkpoint, and the player may return to the large torch as many times as he likes to restore the meter, but the checkpoint itself is only activated once. Other actions within levels also trigger checkpoints, but this isn’t always apparent to the player.

In addition to providing light, the torch affects enemies differently, with most spiders being repelled by the light – unless you to touch them or attack them, in which case they will pursue you – and other creatures being drawn toward it. The player can use these behaviors strategically to sneak past enemies or draw them into traps. This is important because the player’s weapon is also a limited resource, taking the form of rocks that may be thrown at enemies… but they're not incredibly effective. It takes three rocks to kill a single spider, and sometimes the player encounters several at once, making avoidance the best option.

The player later encounters more powerful limited-use weapons, such as exploding spider eggs that detonate on contact, and the player can cycle through these weapons with a button press. Explosives are also used in boss encounters to destroy enemies or objects while avoiding the surrounding projectiles, traps, and enemies.

Rocks are also necessary to fully explore the environment, as they are used to break certain objects. These include the aforementioned torch-restoring orange domes, as well as windows and furniture. Furniture occasionally blocks doorways, preventing them from being opened from one side until the furniture is broken on the other. Breaking windows sometimes leads to hidden passages beyond them, and each level of the crypts has several secret areas to uncover, along with a few relics and lots of coins, as indicated on the summary screen at the end of each level.

Players are free to return to previously-completed levels to try to find all of the secrets and relics, so it’s often best to save extensive exploration for a future run, focusing on survival for the first. That said, finding money in the crypts allows you to visit a shop between levels to make purchases, including increasing your maximum heath, the ability to toss rocks at a longer range, and slower magic consumption for your torch. Upgrades are expensive, but you can return to previous levels to farm for money as needed.

Environments are densely-packed, using nearly every inch of space on the screen… but this is not immediately apparent to the player, given the use of light and darkness as a primary mechanic. What initially appears to be a lonely hallway may turn out to be a corridor lined with rooms or secret passages. Only by moving into the dark corners can the player fully make sense of the layout, and often completing puzzles reveals hidden areas immediately adjacent to previously-explored rooms. That said, because of this darkness, it is sometimes difficult to tell where you need to go next in order to continue, and it is sometimes difficult to physically see open pathways, resulting in a bit of aimless wandering.

Puzzles come in several varieties and involve genre staples like flipping switches, triggering floor plates, pushing blocks, and seeking keys or other inventory items to unlock doors and activate objects in the environment. Some puzzles focus specifically on the use of the torch. For instance, there are magic fields that disable your torch when passing through them, and re-enable it upon passing through a second time. By finding a switch in the level, it’s possible to bypass one of these fields to effectively reverse its effect… activating your torch in areas where it previously was deactivated, allowing you to use its flame to light other torches and open up new parts of the level.

There are dangers lurking in the darkness, including giant spiders that behave differently based on their color schemes, with some shooting webs that slow you down and keep you from using your torch, along with spider eggs that hatch when exposed to the light. In a nice touch, there is a menu option to change spiders into beetles for those of the arachnophobic persuasion. You'll also encounter loping undead creatures and other monstrosities, as well as traps that take the form of rolling logs, projectile-firing objects, and popup spikes. Players must be particularly mindful of aural cues that indicate nearby dangers – such as the sounds of spikes jutting up and being retracted – since these traps are often not visually apparent until the player is too close to them to react. The player has only three hearts in his health meter, and restoratives are rare, so it’s best to use caution.

The game consists of more than 20 individual levels, and the puzzle-oriented nature of these levels - as well as the darkness of the environments - keep the overall pace of the game slow, resulting in lengthy level completion times on a first run. Aesthetically, the game offers chunky low-rez environments with a strong focus on lighting. The game has a distinctive atmosphere and that enforces a sense of mystery and danger that comes from exploring the crypts, which is supported by an ominous soundtrack and accompanying ambient sound effects such as crackling fires and running water.

Courier of the Crypts was developed by Emberheart Games, a one person studio based in Slovenia and headed by Primož Vovk. Music and sound effects were composed by Zdravko Djordjević, also of Slovenia. The game got its start in 2011 as a Ludum Dare project, which was fleshed out over the course of eight years. This was the studio’s first commercial release.