Cryptmaster Review – Typing Be Damned

Cryptmaster Review

I’m not sure what I was expecting with Cryptmaster. At first glance, it kind of has a retro-first-person-shooter vibe. Its distinctive black-and-white art certainly suggests something sinister. Turns out, Cryptmaster is nothing like I thought it would be. It’s a genuinely unique combination of an action puzzle adventure game and a lot of typing. You’re probably wondering what that even means.

Wordle Goes to Hell

It isn’t all that difficult to summarize Cryptmaster’s narrative. You control four heroes and comb through an elaborate, labyrinthine dungeon to power a soulstone. Said soulstone is needed by the titular, ghostly Cryptmaster to free himself of spiritual imprisonment. Honestly, that story premise could lend itself to just about any genre of game.

Where Cryptmaster stands out is in the gameplay mechanics that push the story forward. Every action is text-based. You can’t open a chest, swing a sword, or raise a shield without figuring out and typing the appropriate word. We’re not talking monosyllabic verbs. Some of the vocabulary is advanced. Success comes from both a command of language and luck-enhanced guesswork. Each of the four heroes — Joro, Syn, Maz, and Nix — is powered up by guessing words in their vocabulary lists.

For example, you stumble upon a chest. You type “chest” to open it. To take what’s inside you need to guess its contents based on the number of letters and the Cryptmaster’s responses and clues. Use up all your guesses and you’ll have to move on. It’s possible to change the game’s settings to add more clues, however.

Every action in the game is like this, a combination of assessing the situation and guessing the words to move things along. Another example: you need to destroy some NPC-guarded altars to open the next area. You can do so in a wide range of ways. You could “smash” it, “desecrate” it, or “pee” on it. Yes, the game has a rather broad sense of humor.

Darkest Dungeon

Most of Cryptmaster takes place in a sprawling dungeon of long halls and side rooms filled with treasure, NPCs, and enemies. Several NPCs have side quests and there are many, sometimes quite difficult, puzzles to solve. Occasionally there’s an opportunity to play a word-based game called Whatever. It’s an entirely optional diversion but very engaging. Still, it doesn’t exactly change up the general experience.

If it was a timing-based, twitchy game that required fast typing and quick thinking Cryptmaster would be extra frustrating. As it is, there’s no problem spending a good long time figuring out answers. One small frustration is in the controls. Movement uses arrow keys. While the game supports controllers, the amount of typing makes it impractical.

Playing the Long Game

Cryptmaster’s aesthetic suggests it might be a compact experience but the game is over a dozen hours long, depending on skill at puzzle solving and wordplay. Divided into five lengthy chapters, the game’s black-and-white art is much less repetitive than I feared it would be. In large part, this comes from a surprising amount of detail and engaging animations. Now and then a key item will get visually lost in the scene, and sometimes it’s easy to overlook more hidden treasures. I enjoyed the game’s vaguely Lovecraftian enemy designs.

The game’s voice acting is atmospheric and excellent. Given the number of possible responses and vocabulary words to use, the array of verbal responses is impressive and almost always feels organic. There must be some digital audio magic under the hood, but it’s well hidden.

Games like Cryptmaster are rare. Not just because of a particular aesthetic or unique mechanic, but because they take a core idea and focus it. Cryptmaster is ok with not being for every gamer, but puzzle-RPG fans with a love of words, a wicked sense of humor, and a taste for the macabre will enjoy it.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Unique premise
  • Great voice acting
  • Fun puzzles
  • Engaging art direction

The Bad

  • Can be difficult
  • A bit visually monotonous
  • Controls are a bit clunky