Crypt Stalker Switch Review: NES-Like Demon Slaying

by David Sanchez April 20, 2024 @ 9:24 am

Crypt Stalker Video Game

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch

Developer Sinclair Strange gets it. Crypt Stalker is one of those games that looks and feels like something from the NES days. It has rich, retro visuals and sound. Mechanically, it performs like something from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. And it’s tough as heck, but it doesn’t hate you — well, maybe a little. That’s not to say that the game feels old, though. It just feels classic. It took a little while, but the game is finally available on Nintendo Switch, where it’s certainly right at home.

Tales from the Crypt

Crypt Stalker 2D Platformer

You take on the role of Gladys, the titular crypt stalker who’s tasked with defeating hordes of demons that have suddenly appeared. The whole plot is very much in line with ‘90s fantasy and horror-action shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a hint of Evil Dead. (Actually, Gladys the Crypt Stalker would’ve been a pretty rad title, too.)

The story is kept simple and to the point, but it works. Crypt Stalker isn’t the type of game that’s filled with lore, even if the premise, basic as it may be, is kind of interesting. As much as I’d love to find tidbits of backstory akin to something like Dark Souls or Elden Ring, this isn’t that type of game. It’s old school in every way, even in how it presents its plot.

You’re Whipped

Crypt Stalker Nintendo Switch

Gladys is armed with two main weapons: a cyber whip and a blaster. Both work well depending on the situation you’re in. The whip is great for close encounters, though it does have some range to it. The way it arcs also helps take out enemies that may be positioned in trickier spots. Meanwhile the blaster is perfect for taking out monsters at long range. This weapon comes in especially handy when you’re trying to traverse cleverly placed platforms and you’ve got enemies shooting projectiles at you or simply lying in wait on the other side.

Both the whip and the blaster can be temporarily upgraded with different pick-ups you find along the way. You can transform your melee weapon into a flaming whip, which makes it so that you’ll need to deliver less strikes to kill enemies. On the other hand, the blaster has a few different upgrades available. You’ve got spread shots, powerful burst shots, and even laser shots that go through multiple enemies. These all add some variety and feel different enough that you’ll definitely have your favorites.

Like the NES games it’s inspired by, Crypt Stalker is not an easy game. There’s a little bit of Castlevania here in terms of tone, but much like the also-retro-inspired Infernax, a traditional Metroidvania this is not. You’re never backtracking or finding upgrades that unlock new paths. This is a straightforward action-platformer that relies on straight-up challenge to keep you busy. Though it’s not exactly a one-to-one comparison, I’d say Crypt Stalker is more akin to something like Ninja Gaiden or Contra versus either Metroid or Castlevania.

Crypt Stalker Combat

The platforming gameplay on display here is difficult. The controls aren’t clunky, but to say they’re as tight as something like a Mario game — or even more recent indie platformers like Gunbrella and Analynn — would be false. There’s a tiny bit of jank here, especially when you’re moving up slopes and staircases. This becomes more evident when you’re trying to outrun environmental hazards like rising lava. Admittedly, there is a retro-fied charm to the slight stiffness, but when you’re trying to reach the end of level and fail for the ninth or tenth time, things can get frustrating.

Boss battles in Crypt Stalker are a great deal of fun. Each of the bosses offers a unique experience, and your reflexes and timing will be put to the test. None of the main demons ever feel impossible, but they will give you a hard time, especially as you’re trying to learn their attacks and patterns.

One of the trademarks of NES games was just how anxious and nervous some of those titles made you feel. Performing the platforming and combat feats successfully in a lot of older games had you holding your breath as you clutched the controller in your disgusting, sweaty hands. It was great. It had been a minute since a video game turned me into a nervous wreck, but Crypt Stalker did exactly that. It was oddly invigorating.

More Than One Way to Stalk Those Crypts

Crypt Stalker Handheld Mode

This is one of those games where you’re very likely to say, “We need more games like Crypt Stalker.” Well, the dev team was prepared for that by giving you more Crypt Stalker all in one single package. For starters, there are two modes for the main campaign: normal and casual mode. You can probably run through casual mode in a single sitting, but it’s not exactly an “easy” mode. It’s lighter on challenge, and there are less stages, but it’s still a worthwhile adventure.

Normal mode, on the other hand, gives you access to all nine levels, completely free of any level nerfs and ready to provide you with the full nerve-wracking experience.I played through both modes, and there’s something to like about both. Normal mode is the ideal way to play, but if you’re looking for something less punishing, casual mode has you covered.

That’s not all in terms of content, though. Crypt Stalker also includes a pseudo-Game Boy version of the game, complete with green screen filter. It’s shorter at only four stages, but these are four entirely new, very challenging stages that only share a thematic style with the main campaign. It’s a pretty cool addition, and it’s super reminiscent of the days when console games had handheld counterparts. The controls are a little bit stiffer here, and there is lower-quality sprite work, making the whole thing feel like an authentic Game Boy game. It’s kind of wild, really.

If that wasn’t enough, Crypt Stalker also includes a “lost sequel” to the main story mode. This mode throws in six more full stages that are even more challenging, if you can believe it. The lost sequel is really cool because it doesn’t just feel like levels that were originally intended for the main game. No, this mode feels like a proper sequel, complete with new enemy types, environmental hazards, bosses, and level types. One level has you battling enemies, performing tough jumps, and dealing with a strong gust of wind that pushes you back, increasing the challenge exponentially.

If value is an important factor for you when purchasing a game, then you should be aware that Crypt Stalker gives you a lot for $7. You get the main story mode with nine levels, a “Game Boy version” with four levels, and a sequel with six levels, all in the same package.

Oh! And if that’s not enough for ya, you also get an intense boss rush mode and a challenge mode. Boss rush is pretty much what you’d expect, but challenge mode is a really awesome extra. This adds 18 more original standalone stages that require you to clear them with certain parameters and limitations, such as no weapons, no-hit runs, and limited jumps. That last one is quite dastardly, as you’ll only be able to jump a certain number of times per stage, which is difficult to do in an action-platformer. It makes for quite the rush.

Wait, This Isn’t an Actual NES Game?

Crypt Stalker Boss Fight

A lot of care and attention went into the presentation of Crypt Stalker. The game’s pixel art is great, and there’s a level of authenticity here that’s easy to admire. The developers even added screen flicker and slowdown in areas that are heavily populated by enemies and projectiles — of course, you can turn these off in the options if they bother you, which is a nice touch.

The game’s digitized music and sound effects are also great. There are some catchy themes, and while nothing may stand out as incredibly memorable, the music works well.

If you love old school action-platformers, you should play Crypt Stalker. This game is highly entertaining and will keep you busy for a while. It’s a fully-loaded, well-rounded title, and literally all of its modes are worth checking out. Truthfully, the $7 price tag would be worth it for the main campaign alone. That Sinclair Strange added all of the extras included here just makes it even easier to recommend Crypt Stalker, which is a perfect fit on Switch whether you’re playing on your TV or in handheld mode.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

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