178_cryptworldfrontlawnYou can never tell when you’re going to find the gold. Just the other day I ran into a cool little free indie game by Cicada Marionette, with a smashing soundtrack by Ella Guro aka Liz Ryerson. There’s also a Lilith in there, among several others.

It’s an exploratory and simple puzzle solving first person funfest that reminds me of a very primitive DOOM without firepower. The action is mainly internal as you uncover the world’s secrets and accomplish your goals.

And what a world it is—a surreal, disturbing, nonsensical nightmare world of messed up people and situations. Everyone is selfish, stupid, deluded or unfriendly.

179_cryptworldpeeYou are the only person, it seems, who has any agency. Your main ability is the ability to pee—a curious choice that is both ridiculous and a secret clue to the primordial mythology of every heroic journey.

A unicorn goddess has awakened you to find her missing plot coupons before her evil rival blows up her messed up nightmare world out of self-centered grief. Meanwhile, a monstrous chaos god waits for a chance to break free and turn the nightmare world into a really boring and empty nightmare world.

Life is rough when you’re the protagonist with the deciding vote.

The graphics are blocky, pixelated old school images that recall the simple programs of the salad days of video game design. The gameplay has to rise to the occasion in such a case, and delightfully it does.

180_cryptworldcryptsofaYou gather resources, do fed-ex quests, and click around looking for clues. This isn’t as easy or as ho hum as you might think. Everything about this game is warped to some degree, often against assumptions.

For example, you come across an underground fast food cafeteria inhabited by ghoulish skeleton people. They all appear to be worshipping the counter where the fast food is dispensed, like a group of cultists.

It’s an obvious mockery of fast food, and one could easily take it as an attempt to be disdainful while hiding behind a ‘just kidding’ façade. But the detail of the conversations with the burger cultists—the attention paid to the material—suggests that a lot of serious thought went into the observations that were articulated in this scene in the game.

That’s both disturbing and a valid, relevant statement. You are witness to a scene of unconscious horror that makes you question whether this world is worth saving. Who would want to save this dispensary of banality and mindlessness?

181_cryptworldpilgrimeshopThe soundtrack really makes the game. The sound effects are calculated to throw you off and undermine your expectations. Again, it may seem like the gameplay is just being funny or difficult, but it’s consistent throughout the entire experience. This is a statement of building cognitive dissonance. I applaud this commitment.

The music is at times sad, alarming, or pensive. It matches the game world perfectly. Approaching the unicorn goddess to give her a status update, you’re surrounded in an unearthly dirge that approximates being in the presence of a divine being. It’s eerie and beautiful, a small master stroke of game genius.

Then she tells you to buzz off if you haven’t got all the plot coupons and you shamble away. Who wants to help such a difficult and ungrateful being? Yet, why not? It does make a certain irrational sense.

Later, nearby you discover a corpse in a coffin who tells you how annoyed they are that that goddess is always playing her music so loud. They can’t get any sleep!

182_cryptworldtunnelsYou have to decide what all this means.

I found the music and the graphic blob of what I presume is some kind of unicorn or pony a strange experience that stays with you in a really powerful way.

But then, when you look at it objectively through her treatment of you and the opinion of one of her own denizens, you realize it’s also mundane and grounded in imperfection.

You know, I want a game to move me. I want it to be fun. I want it to make some kind of internal sense. Crypt World hits all of these for me. Unforgettable scenes, inventive ideas with some bite to them, relaxed gameplay that draws you in, and a storyline that evokes a mostly broken world limping along.

Just when the bitter nihilism gets to be a little too much, the game shows you a small piece of beauty. Rescue the gold bugs and they build a stunning temple in your basement honoring your heroism. Eat enough fast food and you unlock a passage to a mysterious retreat within your own being. These are oddball discoveries that are deeply touching and a reward for staying with the game.

I had to keep playing just to unlock some of the more accessible mysteries.

Is Crypt World a place I’d want to be? Hek no, talk about a depressing, bizarre place. You know though, a lot of the concepts in the game are worth meditating on. That we have all lost our way, maybe for good, is an important idea to consider.

The mirror the game presents us with reveals some unsettling reflections. The best you can hope for is to be a pawn of the gods, which allows you self-determination within a very limited scope.

Then there is everyone else, trapped in their private game trap of saying and doing the same thing over and over. And maybe some positive thinking protagonist will change the world a little for the better so that what you repeat is at least decent.

Scary, isn’t it?

Mainstream games like Okami or Rune Factory Frontier are in almost every measurable sense better than a game like Crypt World. They too can bring important moments to the forefront of our consciousness even though they are many times more complex and polished.

But as in mythology, the basic experiences are the most important and powerful ones of all. Pee, poop, spit—These things are transformative and have the true magic that moves things forward.

As much as I love those two mainstream games, I was never able to finish them. Too much of a good thing. Crypt World I finished several times. Just right.

Crypt World operates in the realms of the underworld of our consciousness, much like a dream. It’s an impressive achievement that demonstrates the value of originality, vision, and determination in crafting gameplay. I had a very satisfying and enriching time with this quirky little gem.

5 out of 5 Stars of the Magi

And tips his hat.