This review of Crown Trick is based on my experience playing the Nintendo Switch version of the game.
I was perusing my local e-shop looking for something to sink my teeth into. I had well and truly exhausted my back catalogue – my pile of shame if you will – and needed something fresh. During my rumination, Crown Trick caught my eye. It wooed me with talk of traditional roguelike combat set in a unique dream themed world. It promised me hand-drawn visuals and content that would satisfy my cravings for hours on end. NExT Studios had dropped their line, and I gobbled up the hook like a lobotomised goldfish. My interest was piqued, my e-wallet was lighter and my desire to die had reached new heights.
You play as the adorably deadly, Elle. She wakes up in the Realm of Nightmares and promptly bumps into an omnipotent Crown. After a heated debate on the value of the human experience, Elle forges a pact with the fancy dome piece and sets off on a daring adventure. Her goal – to kill the mysterious Vlad and save humanity in the process. It’s a brisk setup that thrusts you into the action long before you get the urge to hammer the ‘skip’ button.
The Nightmares you are trundling through are actually procedurally generated dungeons. Each floor is composed of a random selection of rooms in a mostly unknown formation. Your goal is to make your way to the Boss, ideally without dying along the way. Rooms can contain enemies, loot, vendors, challenges and other lucrative things so exploration is certainly encouraged – even if doing so risks an early demise.
To survive the game’s smorgasbord of challenges, you will need to engage with the combat system. Unlike most modern roguelikes which typically take a more action-orientated approach, Crown Trick aims to be more traditional. Combat is turn-based with every enemy in a given room moving and attacking every time you move or attack. If you go to boop a dragon on the snoot, be prepared to be beaten to a bloody pulp if you fail to position yourself correctly.
The most obvious method of defeating an enemy would be to simply kill it until it was dead, however, Crown Trick has an ace up its sleeve to make this process a bit more complicated. Enemies have a health pool which works exactly how you’d expect, and they also come packaged with a break meter. Hit them enough times and they’ll be stunned and left somewhat vulnerable. Stun enough enemies in quick succession and your damage will increase exponentially. Combat, as a result, becomes an intricate dance and is all the more interesting for it.
Thankfully you aren’t just punching the various foes that stand in your way. Whilst the game only gives access to two weapon types at first, it quickly opens up to a whopping nine. Each weapon changes how Elle can attack, and therefore opens up new avenues for engagement. The brutally efficient axe can cleave through every enemy around you, whilst the rifle can pluck away from a distance at the cost of a risky reload every few shots. Weapons come in a variety of rarities, with the harder to find variants of each weapon packing extra damage and passive effects that can define your run and playstyle. Not every weapon is created equal, however, and I found that spears and axes, in particular, were easily the most reliable weapons on offer. This made everything else feel like a chore, more than a legitimate option for consistent success.
Alongside weapons, you can collect various relics and familiars. Relics provide Elle with passive boons, such as an increased health pool, or bonus damage should certain criteria be met. Familiars on the other hand grant you potent active abilities and spells. These range from fireballs, to chain lightning, to poison clouds. Elle can equip two familiars at once, and combining their effects to create devastating combos is incredibly satisfying, to say the least. Between weapons, relics and familiars, there is plenty to think about on any given turn – let alone run. That being said, your success on any given run feels preordained. If you manage to find any halfway decent weapon – something that can happen in the first room – the game’s challenge takes a noticeable nosedive. The opposite, of course, is true if you find nothing but tat. Again, the balance just feels a little bit off.
Arguably the most important aspect of Crown Trick’s combat is its movement. Elle can move in the four cardinal directions, giving her a fairly limited range of manoeuvrability. Thankfully, enemies tend to follow these restrictions too. Mindlessly swinging your axe around will only get you so far, and mastering when you strike, and when to hold back will heavily determine whether or not you survive your excursion. Your movement is augmented by Elle’s innate ability to teleport across small distances without expending one of your precious turns. This allows you to engage, or disengage, on your terms, drastically changing how you tackle any given challenge.
Once you’ve gathered all your loot, fought all the enemies and dragged your weary body to the exit, you will be forced to take on the end boss. There are a dozen or so bosses in total, with each one requiring a sharp weapon and an even sharper mind. These encounters are the highlight of the game, forcing you to learn attack patterns, dodge in and out of attack range and unload all your damage in short, controlled bursts. Later in the game, you will start to bump into bosses with multiple life-bars and phases, breathing new life into old encounters.
Whether you perish at the hands of the boss or a simple gribbly along the way, death will send you hurtling back to the real world. Here you can invest your hard-earned cash to unlock permanent upgrades to Elle, as well as advance various subplots. You will spend a fair amount of time here, and there are plenty of things to unlock across the six or so vendors that inhabit the area. It always felt like I was progressing, regardless of how many times I had died – and I died more times than I would like to admit.
Arguably one of Crown Tricks most defining features is its presentation. The game opens with a beautifully animated introductory cutscene, followed by staggeringly representative in-game visuals. Lavish, hand-drawn details can be found on not only Elle but also the cavalcade of enemies that infest the games halls. Even the environments follow suit, with thematic flair erupting out of every conceivable orifice. The visuals do tend to get a tad busy from time to time, unfortunately, which resulted in a few cheap hits from enemies and attacks I simply couldn’t see. The UI is also a little bit small, with a lot of the information hidden behind some pretty clunk controls.
Where Crown Trick truly falters, however, is in its performance. The game was not optimised to run on the Switch, which is made abundantly clear by the numerous hiccups. Freezing and stuttering are all too common when playing for any length of time, sometimes lasting several seconds before the game returns to normal. Loading times are also abysmal, with some of them taking upwards of 30 seconds. When all is said and done, it can take over a minute to restart a run upon death, which only gets more irritating the more you play. It simply doesn’t feel polished enough, which is a real shame.
Overall Crown Trick manages to deliver a solid roguelike experience. Combat ebbs and flows which helps prevent the turn-based elements from becoming stagnant, whilst the progression and story help to keep things feeling new for hours on end. It does have a few balance issues and more than its fair share of performance troubles, but these don’t do enough to ruin an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Toast Seal of Approval
2020 has been a fantastic year for Roguelikes and Roguelites, and I have reviewed a fair few of them. If you’re interested in something a bit more action packed that Crown Trick, then why not check out my review of Hades. Alternatively if you’re a fan of tamogochi’s then NISA’s Roguelike-Tamogochi sim Void Terrarium may be up your alley.
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