PAX: Rift of the Necrodancer finds charming fun in focusing on the rhythm

Rift of the Necrodancer

Take me to rhythm heaven

It might, at first, seem like Rift of the Necrodancer is going back to rhythm basics. Previous release Crypt of the Necrodancer experimented with a rhythm twist on the roguelite formula to great success, while Rift looks to dive back into the pure rhythm genre. But a combination of great mechanics, variety, and charm all combine to make Rift of the Necrodancer‘s styles harmonize well.

We got to sit down with a demo of Brace Yourself and Tic Toc Games’ Rift of the Necrodancer at PAX East 2023, showing off three different stages of the game. Its core is still rhythm-centric, with extremely good tunes backing the action. The approach, at first, seems like musical routine: slimes roll down the track one beat at a time, and I had to hit the arrow keys (left, right, up) to strike them down, sometimes in combination, or hitting down to hit all three lanes at once. Easy enough, right?

Image via Brace Yourself Games

Not so easy

Turns out, not all enemies are simple one-hit-kill slimes. Some are bats, which jump to other lanes after you’ve hit them once, so you’ll need to watch and take note. Some slimes take a few sequential hits on the beat to clear, while skeletons protected with shields need sub-divided bashes, and the undead leap across lanes, and you can start to see how this all escalates.

The Rhythm Rift mode was the first play mode I saw, and definitely the one I latched onto the most. While it has those shades of lane-surfing bops like Guitar Hero or Amplitude, the use of enemy varieties to create quick moments of adaptation and execution feels great. Seeing a bat come down a lane by itself, hitting it once, then seeing it hop over and back a beat to line up with a slime for a double-hit can instill some surprise and excitement, but it feels great to read that and nail the Perfect timing.

After grappling with the Normal difficulty, I ran it back on one notch harder, which added even trickier foes to combat. I dig that more difficulty doesn’t just mean more notes, but also reading and adapting to an ever-evolving chart.

Strike a pose

The second stage I played through felt like a direct Rhythm Heaven homage. Necrodancer hero Cadence, who in Rift of the Necrodancer is a bit of a fish-out-of-water, attends a yoga class. So as the teacher strikes different poses and the students follow suit in rhythm, you end up being the final beat in the bar.

Image via Brace Yourself Games

It’s hard to describe in words, but there’s a very natural, understandable cadence to these sections. The chant of “Tree!” and then one, two, and you answer on three, just works, the same as it did in Rhythm Heaven. Timing will switch up between double-time, half-time, and all sorts of syncopation meant to keep you on your toes.

This is a good place to mention, as well, that Rift of the Necrodancer is extremely charming. The art for Cadence and the supporting cast is fantastic and the music from Danny Baranowsky and collaborators is on-point, and the little moments of success or failure in the yoga sequence were heightened by Cadence’s reactions.

A literal beat-down

The last section I played was styled after Punch-Out!!, as Cadence brawled with a songstress in some strange dimension. Again, it was quickly and readily legible what I should be doing, as strikes hit left or right, encouraging me to dodge and strike back.

Image via Brace Yourself Games

And again, Brace Yourself finds ways to switch it all up on the spot. The foe snickers and switches up her sides, or throws one on each in quick succession. I had a little bit more trouble getting the timing right on the counterattack punches here, but in a way that felt like I was still adapting, rather than anything Rift of the Necrodancer was doing.

Though that was the end of the demo, I wanted to jump back in and play more. I sincerely still, while typing this, want to go back to some of the harder Rhythm Rift stages and master them. This feels like a varied, charming celebration of rhythm gaming fun, bolstered by the world of Necrodancer. And it clicks neatly into place like a metronome, in a way that makes me very interested in the final game.

No release date has been set yet for Rift of the Necrodancer.

About The Author
Eric Van Allen
Senior News Reporter - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.
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