In all my time as a gamer, across multiple platforms and every conceivable (read: desirable) genre, no one word has been as captivating. In times seemingly long since passed, that word indicated to me that I’d be able to enjoy the entirety of the game with a friend at my side, fighting against the forces of whatever madman or robot overlord dared to terrorize my newfound digital domain. That promise alone was typically enough to warrant a significant degree of forgiveness for the flaws of whatever medium allowed me this freedom of enjoyment; the ability to play with a friend was much more important than the little frustrations of a poorly laid out control scheme, the roadblocks caused by strangely animated enemies with even stranger damage mechanics, or repetitive level design.
Unfortunately, times have changed. Many modern games that tout cooperative gameplay only feature side missions or limited cooperative interaction, rather than the full on co-op campaigns of old. Playing with a friend seems now an afterthought to playing against your friends, or playing online against other human beings. Crimson Nights, a Steam greenlit game that appears to harken back to games like Gauntlet and Castle Crashers , is a four player co-operative game described simply by its developers as “a Multiplayer Dungeon Crawler Video Game”. It was Greenlit on Steam on June 10, 2016, and saw a release date of Jan 2, 2017.
Developed by “Crimson Nights Team”, the title has surprisingly little in the way of posted information regarding its development and creators. A list of the developers’ Steam accounts is accessible through the game’s Steam Greenlight page, but that remains the singular source of information regarding the team that brought Crimson Nights to life. The title enjoyed a showing in Phoenix at Comic-Con, and shortly afterward, the Greenlight was lit.
There is, however, the Steam discussions page. Primarily utilized by the select few users who use the medium to report the game’s numerous bugs, it paints a bleak picture of a seemingly unfinished title that wasn’t released in an “Early Access” capacity. Upon playing through the game, the above picture is made much clearer…but not much better.
Clearly inspired by Castle Crashers, Crimson Nights allows four players to fight their way through a restricted variety of worlds that vary in cosmetic detail and feature only a few unique enemies each. With the exception of those few enemies unique to each in-game world, there isn’t much in the way of diversity to the array of baddies that seek to impede player progress; Our brave, color coded knights will face down legions of bugs, supported by a few bipedal minions, on each level of Crimson Nights. Fearsome.
So fearsome, in fact, that they appear to scare even themselves. Enemies will have much difficulty maneuvering about the interior of the same dungeons they themselves protect, frequently becoming bound by each other in confined spaces and open ones alike. This, combined with a terrible relationship between attack animations and actual damage dealt leads to a frustrating and somewhat confusing PVE experience; That same Skeleton who stood in place and took no damage from your swings a moment ago may rear back for what seems to be an eternity before swinging his weapon in the wrong direction, somehow damaging the player. Conversely, it may draw back its weapon and instantaneously cause massive damage; The lack of consistency is not only noticeable, it’s somewhat baffling. At times, enemy damage dealt even appears to be applied as an area of effect with no visual indicator at all.
Our good knights, however, have something of an equalizer…don’t they? With two weaponry slots (one melee, one ranged) and a third equipment slot (initially occupied by a shield), our oathkeepers should be well outfitted to face down the random forces of the insect world. Unfortunately, shield mechanics appear to be bugged and may or may not actually block incoming damage from enemy forces. Melee weapon swings cause noticeable knockback on impact, but can be frustrating in that their damage timing doesn’t usually match up with the animation, and sometimes will not register at all on targets that appear to be vulnerable.
Following an encounter with a mini-boss, players are afforded the opportunity to upgrade their gear in an equipment shop in exchange for their hard-earned coins. Weaponry and shields of various types are typically available, with a potion table offering the player’s only opportunity to regain lost health. What the game fails to make clear is that potions will replace the player’s shield entirely, and without warning, leaving him or her defenseless and wasteful the next time they press the key intended to activate shield block.
Sudden and interesting lack of a shield got you down? No worries! In Crimson Nights, death only results in starting over. From the beginning, and without any reward for progress. These are no minor frustrations encountered during gameplay in Crimson Nights – they’re the entirety of the gameplay experience, minus a few constant bugs that tend to reset player progress mid-game. The above combined with repetitive level design of a small and highly restrictive nature turns what could have been an interesting co-op retrogaming experience into a true chore in no time.
A chore indeed, and it doesn’t stop there. Crimson Nights was, despite being greenlit and released on Steam, clearly designed with an Xbox controller in mind. Throughout the game, you’ll find no real explanation as to the keys utilized on the keyboard, as admitted by the developers themselves in the discussions section of their Steam store page. A listing can be found sticky-posted to the top of the discussion for Crimson Nights detailing what should have been listed within the game itself. For those players who would leap in anyway, determined to figure the control scheme as they play, there awaits another surprise; The keys are not even slightly what you might imagine they would be.
Graphically, the game delivers what’s promised on its store page, which is more than can be said for some greenlit titles. It features 2D graphics in a “beat-em-up” sort of view, where the player may move horizontally and vertically while engaging. Level designs are occasionally difficult to interpret due to unintelligible pixel art, leading to situations where the player will find him or herself trapped against an object that simply appeared to be part of the floor. Bosses are large and imposing, and generally well made, while smaller monsters are boring and repetitive copies of one another with little to no variance in design.
Indeed, it’s difficult to locate the cooperative spirit of old in modern gaming. So difficult that I’d still say a cooperative game would receive some serious consideration despite numerous faults or shortcomings, even in the face of more beautifully rendered or well-conceived products. Unfortunately, while Crimson Nights sought to bring some of that cooperative magic back to the modern gaming scene, it will likely go down remembered by few, and remembered fondly by even fewer. Its numerous and glaring faults are in no way unique to Steam Greenlight, and it’s sad to say that this title, polished in appearance by comparison to many other titles on Greenlight, fails entirely to stand out in any way from the already overpopulated (and still growing) crowd of hopefuls that pack the market’s graveyard.
It goes, of course, without saying that the ability to come together and create a project of any sort is an achievement worth note. Being Greenlit on Steam is additionally an achievement worthy of pride, and an opportunity, besides. With a little luck, the “Crimson Nights Team” might learn from this experience, and bring put forth a better offering in the future.