STAFF REVIEW of Crown Trick (Xbox One)

Tuesday, October 5, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Crown Trick Box art There’s no shortage of roguelites out there, especially with smaller indie games, so when a new game releases that sells itself as a roguelite with plenty of replaybility, my interest is piqued but I keep my expectations in check. Developed by NExT Studios and published by Team17, Crown Trick is the latest rougelite that claims to add something unique to the dungeon crawling adventure, though doesn’t shy away from its high difficulty and challenge, living up to the roguelite genre at the same time. Crown Trick places you deep in a dungeon that requires a lot of planning and thought, as the key to winning is knowing that when you move, so do the enemies, much like SUPERHOT. Oh, and it’s available on GamePass, so there’s little to no barrier to checking it out if anything so far sounds interesting.

You play as Elle, a young girl who is trapped in the Nightmare Realm. As you wake you’re greeted by Crown, a sentient and literal crown that informs you about your unique situation and will guide you throughout the dungeon that you’re now trapped within. As you get to know Crown better, it’s clear that it looks down on most humans, though takes a liking to Elle, helping her as she fights within the dungeons, defeating handfuls of enemies, mini-bosses and bosses along the way. As you explore further you’ll uncover the secrets that the Nightmare Realm holds, trying to delve deeper as you search for answers and who is responsible. All of the dialogue is done in text popups, which is fine and expected for a smaller indie game, though having it narrated would have added more to the experience.

Like many roguelites, you can expect to die quite often, especially for the first few hours before you get a grasp on all of Crown Trick’s mechanics as you guide Elle through randomly generated dungeons and enemies, making slight continual progress each run. As you explore the dungeon each time, you’ll come across handfuls of different weapons, relics, familiars, NPC’s and more. Beautifully animated, Crown Trick’s main catch is its turn based strategy gameplay and combat that has enemies move the same time as when you do. You’ll have to not only use regular swords, axes, spears and more, but master elements, spells, familiars and a bunch of interesting abilities, making each run a unique experience.

Crown Trick begins with a tutorial, teaching you the basics of movement between each room that is gridded. With an isometric camera, you can see everything from a top down view, allowing you to see the grid, enemies and placement of other objects so you can start to strategize. When Elle moves or acts, that’s when time flows, so you can take your time to plan what you exactly want to do, even able to skip a turn by clicking in the Right Stick if it’s better to stay in place and wait for enemies to approach you instead.

Every weapon, ability, spell and familiar has its own attack pattern and best time of use. An axe for example will attack every square surrounding Elle whereas a spear may pierce three squares in front of her at a distance. Other weapons will attack in a ‘T’ shape and other abilities can be cast at quite a distance or can be set as traps for enemies. As you start every new run you’re given the choice of two randomized weapons. Some will have higher attack values but maybe not the pattern that you prefer. Others will have certain buffs or bonuses, though you can find new weapons along the way when you clear or reach certain rooms. You’re also given a list of randomized familiars to choose from to begin your journey as well, eventually able to equip two. Because of this randomness, some runs may not go very well whereas others will go great because of the luck you had at the beginning.

Since enemies move at the same time as Elle, you can get caught in an attack or pinned in a corner if you don’t plan your movement right, which is where your Blink (teleport) comes into play. This allows you to travel across a handful of squares away from an enemy. Some attacks will surround Elle, with the squares showing how many moves until you take damage, so you need to always be conscious of when your Blink is available since it has limited uses per room.

Every enemy has a shield that blocks or negates some damage. If you’re able to break their shields you’ll be able to score a few extra hits as they’ll be stunned, so this is a tactic you’ll have to learn if you want any success later in the dungeons. There’s even a combo system in place if you can break multiple enemy shields, so there are plenty of mechanics to learn that will take a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best. You can also use objects and the environment to your advantage, such as blowing up barrels, tossing fire onto oil patches, zapping water squares with lightning, etc.

Defeating a mini-boss allows you to use them as a familiar, basically granting you access to two spells based on their element. These cost mana to used, varying on their power and usefulness. Thankfully after each room clear you’ll have mana refill, but boss rooms are much more challenging and a bit more drawn out. You’ll be able to equip two familiars at a time eventually, easily swapping between skills with the ‘Right Trigger’. With a couple dozen familiars that are randomly spawned as you go down each dungeon floor, there are plenty of different and unique mini-bosses to defeat so that you can use them on subsequent runs.

Each room is unique every time you play, as are the enemies, room layouts and relics. Relics are special bonuses that you can find that act like passive buffs for the rest of your run. Finding these can dramatically change how successful you are on a run, and since they stack you can make some really interesting and powerful combinations the longer your run lasts. Other rooms will have special treasure chests that will net you bonus gold or weapons, and some rooms will have a large crystal where you’re going to have to make a decision. These crystals will offer great bonuses, like refilled health, mana or items, but maybe these bring a curse or will hurt you. It’s a ‘risk vs reward’ system that adds some light humor if you take the time to read the fine print.

When you die, and you will many times, you wake back up at the main hub. Before going back to your desk to enter another run when you fall asleep, you’ll be able to spend Soul Crystals you find along a way, a form of currency that can be used to upgrade many facets of gameplay, like improving your potions or other upgrades that will be permanent in subsequent runs, making each run slightly better. These vendors must be saved in rooms during your dungeon adventures, eventually housing at the hub once their room is cleared and they are rescued.

With over a hundred monsters, a handful of crazy bosses, loot goblins, dozens of skills, abilities, relics and more, there’s plenty of see every time you play and start a new run. There is just enough incentive and unlocks that make for a persistent progression, like blueprints that allow for specific weapons to have a chance to appear in new runs, while keeping things interesting and fresh with every run being procedurally generated. Successful runs and finally beating a mini-boss or large boss gives a great sense of accomplishment, as does having a specific strategy work out exactly as you planned.

NExT Studios has done a wonderful job with its artistic design and aesthetic. The design is basic but the hand drawn visuals and animations give Elle and each monster some character, showing that a lot of love went into it. Looking as though it came straight out of a book my daughter would read or cartoon she’d watch, Crown Trick will delight with its colorful and cheerful visuals. As for its soundtrack, the music and sound effects of weapons and spells are interesting, but nothing as memorable. Having voiced dialogue probably would have immersed me into Elle’s adventure more, but the music that kicks in during boss sections was always a treat.

Crown Trick surprised me with its synchronous movement mechanic, adding a unique layer of strategy but allowing me to play at my own pace. If you’re into dungeon dwelling or roguelites, there’s something of value here with its charming style and great artistic style. For those not sure or on the fence, Crown Trick is available on GamePass, making trying it out as simple as it gets to see if it hooks you.

**Crown Trick was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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