Rift of the NecroDancer Preview – Not Your Daddy’s DDR

While there have been a few games in the genre that have really sunk their hooks into me, I’ve never been a big fan of Roguelikes. Brace Yourself Games’ Crypt of the NecroDancer has floated around my periphery for years now, but despite being a rhythm game devotee, the game just never appealed much to me, given the slow progress inherent to its format. Thankfully, their upcoming spin-off/follow-up Rift of the NecroDancer seems poised to give me exactly the kind of experience I had hoped for.

Rift sets itself fully apart from Crypt, being a more structured experience that mixes familiar-looking music stages with Rhythm Heaven-esque minigames and, at least in the demo I played, a visual novel-style story presentation. While the full format of this title hasn’t yet been finalized, I was excited enough by the things I saw that were finished to be fully sold by the end of my twenty-minute demo playthrough.

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Being no stranger to things zooming towards me down a BPM-timed highway, I jumped right into the demo on the harder difficulty level (which illicited a raised eyebrow from the PR rep next to me). While the three-lane map of the typical music stages may look familiar, there’s a lot more to keep track of than meets the eye.

Rather than arrows or notes, Rift throws dozens of monsters at the player, and staying on top of them requires even more split-second hand-eye coordination than your everyday Dance Dance Revolution map. Each monster has a different gameplay mechanic, either needing to be hit multiple times, needing to be hit in more rapid rhythm, or sometimes even moving between lanes and forcing the player to work out where they’ll land by the time their beat comes up.

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This twist on the conventional format was exciting enough to leave me breathless as the difficulty ramped up in each song. Many of these titles add complexity by just throwing even more notes at the player, but Rift makes things a bit more fair for the player. If I failed, it genuinely felt like it was because I simply wasn’t paying enough attention to a gameplay mechanic and not because my hands couldn’t physically move fast enough to hit everything.

The demo also threw two minigames at me in between songs. The first one placed me into a yoga class that was timed to a beat which I had to interpret as it was coming up. It was both rather simple but also quickly escalated to more precise timing. The other was a boss battle where I had to dodge the boss’ attacks to the pulsing music, and this was the one part of the demo I got to be actively frustrated with.

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While the fight only took me two attempts, on the first try, I was finding it difficult to tell when I had finished dodging the successive attacks and was meant to be on the counterstrike since this was the only period during which I could deal damage. The game would remind me that I was supposed to be attacking, but I was missing half of the opportunities I had because the tell wasn’t quite clear enough. (The PR rep said he was taking that feedback and that I was not the only person to make this comment.)

Rift of the NecroDancer looks set to thoroughly shake up the rhythm game format when it launches this year, and no amount of small annoyances with its demo made me any less excited to see what Brace Yourself has in store for the full game coming out later this year.

Rift of the NecroDancer is coming to Steam and Nintendo Switch in 2023.

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