Crypt Stalker

A game by Sinclair Strange for PC, originally released in 2020.
Crypt Stalker is a sidescrolling actioner heavily inspired by classic Castlevania games from the NES era, before the series crossed into the open world metroidvania genre that it is known for today. You take on the role of Gladys, a descendent of the eponymous demon-slaying Crypt Stalkers, who must stop an invading demonic force with her whip and pistol.
It seems that demons are able to open portals into crypts in the human world after every 90 solar eclipses, and their latest invasion begins in the Egyptian pyramids of the damned. The story is limited to short introductory and ending sequences and is presented in poorly-written English to replicate the shoddy translations of Japanese games that Western gamers received in the early days of console gaming.
There are multiple options available to the player at the start of the game, including an NES-style console version of the game, a Gameboy-style handheld version of the game, and a challenge mode, with a boss rush mode becoming accessible once the player completes the game’s console version in Original mode. The console version is the default option and offers two difficulty modes. Original mode has all of the levels and allows the player to save and resume his progress. Casual mode has fewer enemies, removes some level hazards, and shortens the overall experience from nine levels to six. The player cannot save in Casual mode, but the easier difficulty allows this mode to be completed in a single sitting in well under an hour, whereas the Original mode takes much longer to complete on a first attempt.

Console Game
Gladys is able to perform a 2x variable jump, and she can attack to the left or right with her whip or pistol while standing, jumping, or ducking. While the basic platforming and whip mechanics mimic that of Castlevania, Gladys has a much higher movement speed than that of the Belmont clan, and she is able to change directions in midair, making her movement less stiff and allowing her to deal with platforming challenges more easily... although she is still knocked back when taking damage.
Like the Castlevania series, there are hovering objects that can be broken to reveal pickups, and these include bags of money (strictly for scoring purposes), bullets or magazines for your limited-ammo projectile weapon, whip upgrades, new projectile weapon types, and the occasional health restorative, 1UP, or time-extending hourglass.
There is only one whip upgrade, and this transforms your normal whip into a flaming whip, allowing you to do double damage. This upgrade is lost when you’re killed, but whip drops are frequent, so you’ll have an upgraded whip for most of the game. The whip has a wide area of effect, striking slightly behind and above when you swing, and even hitting enemies that are low to the ground without the need to duck… although this also negates some of the strategy involved in having these smaller enemies in the first place. With a button press, you can swap over to your projectile weapon, and all of your weapons can absorb enemy projectiles.
Your default pistol is quite weak, doing the same amount of damage as your standard (non-flaming) whip, with many enemies requiring four shots to kill, so the only advantage to using this weapon is its increased range. The pistol can be switched out for a number of other weapon types, which are acquired by grabbing their corresponding letter icon. Any new weapon you pick up takes the place of the previous one, and there is no way to swap back if you change your mind or accidentally grab a weaker weapon.
Weapon types include a laser that penetrates obstacles and enemies, and a 3-way split shot, both of which are no more powerful than your default pistol. A high explosive weapon doubles your killing power (making it as strong as the flaming whip), and it has a slightly larger blast range than a regular bullet. Finally, there is the neuro shot that not only explodes on contact but it leaves behind a sizeable cloud, allowing you to kill most enemies with a single shot, or take down multiple enemies in close proximity.
On rare occasions, the player encounters grapple points and is able to use his whip to swing across gaps. This can be tough since the player’s horizontal movement is slowed whenever he attacks in midair, making precision swinging a bit difficult. Given the slow wind-up for a whip attack, it’s best to swing early… especially when tasked with making multiple grapples in succession, which doesn’t occur very often. Fortunately, spikes only cause a bit of damage, so it’s possible to recover from some mistakes, but bottomless pits spell instant death.
Most levels are standard left-to-right scrolling affairs, but the player is prevented from moving the screen to the left, preventing him from travelling back to earlier parts of the stage, which is a gameplay element largely unseen since the NES era. This restriction also affects vertically scrolling areas, which unfortunately means that a mistimed jump can cause the player to be killed by falling off the bottom of the screen rather than landing on a lower platform.
There are also some areas where the screen auto-scrolls vertically in chunks, requiring the player to time his movements and even run off the top of the screen into the HUD area. The HUD is part of the playfield, with the player and enemies occasionally moving into this region. Unfortunately, the tight vertical camera scrolling means that the camera sticks to the player when jumping or falling, which makes this movement somewhat jarring, and there are multiple occasions where the player must jump to attack breakable objects that are above the visible playfield and hidden behind the HUD.
Gameplay is changed up with moving platforms, crumbling platforms, conveyor belts, and the occasional underwater section, per genre conventions. In underwater areas, the player must find air bubbles to restore his draining air meter periodically. Players can also break open certain objects and walls to reveal 1UPs or the ever-popular mysterious wall chicken.
Some of the more interesting level elements are arrow block platforms that move when you touch the arrows, allowing you to control their upward or downward movement. Here, you must move and attack to deal with enemies while also positioning the platforms so you can jump over hazards. It’s easy to perform a sidestep to avoid an attack and accidentally touch the arrow, smashing yourself into an obstacle or scrolling yourself off the screen for an instant kill. Arrow blocks are also used in place of traditional auto-scrolling elevator sequences, leaving you in control of your upward movement.
There are also areas where the lights dim over time, switching from fully lit to partially lit to completely black (except for enemies). The player must flip a switch to turn on the lights and then hurry to the next switch before the lights go out, lest he find himself attempting to navigate the level without the ability to see the platforms around him.
Each of the nine lengthy levels is divided into sections, but strangely not each section acts as a checkpoint, so it’s possible to die and be sent back two or three sections to repeat a large chunk of gameplay when you die. And if you lose all of your lives, you must start the level over from scratch. This high level of repeated gameplay is reminiscent of the penalties imposed on players in the early days of gaming, although it is lessened somewhat by the presence of infinite continues.
Once the player makes it to the end of a level, he is confronted by a boss. Boss behaviors are fairly simple, and they often leave themselves open to multiple repeated strikes. Also, if the player manages to stockpile a lot of ammo, it’s possible to take down many bosses from a distance without a great deal of effort.
The modest bar for defeating bosses means that players are less likely to make it through an entire level only to be killed by a boss and have to start the level from the beginning, but it also means that these encounters are less technical experiences and less harrowing than some of the more memorable battles in the Castlevania series.
Once a boss has been defeated, the player is granted a score bonus for his remaining health, time on the clock, and unspent ammo, and the player's health is refilled. While the game contains a nice-looking overworld map, it isn’t displayed when the player moves from level to level; rather the player moves from the boss victory fanfare directly into the next level, and the world map is only shown when the player leaves the game and returns to select a level.
The game unfortunately suffers from some glitches, particularly when the player is knocked back while taking damage. This can cause the player to get stuck in the middle of a block and unable to move, requiring that he wait for an enemy to kill him or wait for the clock to run down and send him back to the most recent checkpoint.
The game’s visual design limits sprites to four colors each (3 colors and a transparency), keeping in line with games of the NES era. There aren’t a great number of enemy types, and their designs and animations are simple, but their behaviors are clearly communicated to the player. The game includes some of the tile coloring glitches from the early days of sidescrolling games, to which the player can opt to enable flicker and slowdown for a more authentic classic console experience, and the game is accompanied by an adventuresome chiptune soundtrack. In many NES games, backgrounds were simple or consisted of mostly solid colors, and that is often the case here, but some visual themes are overly complex with garish clashing colors that make it difficult to parse the environment.

Handheld Game
It would be fair to assume that the handheld version of the game would be a simple palette swap from the original game, offering Gameboy greens instead of NES colors, but that is not the case… It’s actually a completely separate experience. This 4-level game offers the same basic mechanics and enemy types, with a whip- and gun-wielding Gladys venturing through levels while fighting enemies, completing platforming challenges, and facing off against bosses.
The game’s four levels are themed after those in the console version, offering the same enemy types, but adding variations on level layouts and boss encounters. Several new obstacles are introduced in this version as well, including falling blocks, giant metal walls that chase you through levels, 4-way jutting spike blocks, and boulder-packed passages that you must whip your way through.
The challenge is increased somewhat over the console version, as it’s much more difficult to avoid taking damage, there are more insta-kill traps. In addition, you only have three lives to complete each level, after which you’re sent back to the level select screen to try it again. This game is presented in the same 160x144 resolution as the original Gameboy, complete with a faux Gameboy housing and battery indicator.

Challenges
Beyond the 9-level original console game, the 6-level casual variant, and the 4-level handheld game, there is a challenge mode offering 18 standalone stages. These challenges are set in an area themed after a laboratory with unique level designs (rather than repeating those from the other game modes), with challenges are broken into groups of three, each themed around a certain gameplay type. These include beating levels under a time limit, with a limited number of jumps, without taking damage, or without some or all of your weapons. The game's boss rush mode is also presented with the laboratory aesthetic.

2D CRED
Crypt Stalker was developed by UK-based developer Joel Sinclair Chappell, a.k.a. Sinclair Strange. Prior to this release, the developer created numerous Flash games under the name Sinclairian, as well as Jet Gunner and Running VoltGun, among other titles.


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