REVIEW: Crypt of the Serpent King

Despite some stellar-looking titles in the bunch, I haven’t always enjoyed Rendercode Games‘ releases. They’ve occasionally been more about style over substance. But, generally speaking, each new title has been slightly better than the last in terms of its playability1. Crypt of the Serpent King ($1.00) is the developer’s swan song on XBLIG, and while it feels like the culmination of Rendercode’s work on the service, it’s still lacking in some spots. Important spots.

Crypt of the Serpent King - Screen

This dude is pretty and ugly. Pretty ugly.

Crypt is best described as a first-person hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, with some light RPG mechanics. Traversing a series of labyrinthian and randomized floors (don’t worry, the minimap fills in as you explore), you’re tasked with finding a certain number of keys to unlock a boss room, fighting dozens of baddies in-between. The RPG aspect comes in the form of gaining experience, used to level up your personal attributes such as health, melee attack power, and speed. Finding gold in chests scattered throughout allows you to purchase new weapons between stages, choosing from melee (sword, halberd2, etc.) and a pair of ranged bow options.

Depending on the level of difficulty chosen, you’ll find less food (recovers your health) and gold, which should force you to play conservatively and purchase new gear wisely. Then again, dying in Crypt isn’t as roguelike as you might think; you keep all experience and gold you’ve found even after death3, mitigating any disasters that might befall you. On the reverse side, ‘Hardcore’ mode attempts to please masochists, taking away the map and the chance to heal.

There’s enough variety in the enemy and boss types, to be sure, but the same can’t be said for the way you approach each of these fights. Essentially, so long as you start your attack animation and ‘walk into’ your foe by the time you’re swinging whatever weapon you have equipped, you’ll deal damage and avoid taking any yourself. This makes all basic encounters a cinch, and reduces every boss fight to a simple, repetitive exercise of attack and retreat, attack and retreat.

Crypt of the Serpent King - Screen2

Less tense than it looks.

And ‘repetition’ is the operative term in Crypt of the Serpent King, as each level looks and plays out exactly the same, regardless of the randomized layout you’re given4. There’s only a handful of room / hallway types, and the visual ‘sameness’ that greets you at every door opened and every corner turned begins to wear out its welcome by a few stages in. Add to this the increasing key requirements (each floor tacks on another missing key) and the requisite backtracking that implies, and you’re all set for tedium.

To be fair, messing around with different weapons can be fun, and Crypt of the Serpent King‘s art and enemy design may be impressive, but ultimately, the varying difficulty levels and only slightly-changing layouts can’t do enough to mask the game’s more serious flaw of repetition. As is, it’s merely a pretty and passable dungeon crawler that’s capable of more.


EDIT 10/16: There’s been an update to the game that addresses some of the issues I mentioned above, adding enemy spawns in the corridors between rooms, as well as a few tweaks to the flow of combat, which should make things a little more varied.

  1. There’s definitely been improvement if you’re counting from The Monastery (terrible) up to Assault Ops (decent) and onward, which I am. 
  2. My personal favorite. Excellent range, and the piercing attack is quick enough to stop most of the enemies’ attack animations. 
  3. Depending on who you talk to, this can either be a very good thing, or a very bad thing. 
  4. Enemies come in pairs, and are only ever found in ‘key rooms’, which basically takes away any tension or surprise that random exploration might have supplied. Even with the dull combat, random enemy placement would’ve helped to mix things up further. 

31 thoughts on “REVIEW: Crypt of the Serpent King”

    1. Even though we all knew this was coming, I can’t help but feel saddened by the news. Hunting for gems in the XBLIG service has been a lot of fun over the past few years, and it’s allowed me to play some really great games (as well as some proper stinkers!).
      I’m encouraged to hear that they’re looking into ways of conserving the games, as there are still a handful of my favourites that haven’t been ported to Steam or Desura so XBLIG is the only way I can play them.


      The book of XBLIG, Chapter the final:

      “AND SO IT WAS. The high court announced the end of the land, promising to preserve what history was there. Our bravest souls and champions all lined up in the grand room of the castle and all they could do was listen.

      There was no stopping Scaos now. The royals had given up on that. But the knights of the realm did not care. The lords and ladies, the loyal free peoples of the land banded together for one last charge to save their homeland. It was after all the community that brought them together.

      The night before the battle was remarkably calm. Good jokes, good food, warm fires. Shanties were sung, stories were shared, the last sunset was watched from atop a ridge. The purple sky looked comforting as the orange star fell to earth and sunk like a ship at sea, it’s light remaining on Castle Hurley to the end. The castle stood proud as did it’s owner and his retinue. It was the end, but they wanted to do but one thing. They wanted to face it well.

      And face it well they did.”

      Man I’m gonna miss this stuff.

    3. @ImTheMetalLord: Good finds, man, and thanks for posting. You beat me to it. In fact, I found it odd that someone was asking me if I had any plans to cover ID@Xbox games; it didn’t even register to me that some XBLIG news might have dropped. … I’m a terrible blogger …journalist. 😉

      @Edgar Alan: Same here. Fully-expected this announcement for the past year, really, and to have it official now… it’s not easy. Of course there’s plenty of great games to come out of the service (and I still feel we’ve got some in the works… …the coming year will tell), but this is definitely the kind of news that hits you in the feels. You can’t dedicate parts of your life to a cause or service and not feel something when the end is finally announced. A sad day, to be sure, but one we knew was coming. Curious as to their ‘conservation’ plans, though. That’s pretty cool of them.

      @Saansilt: Well put, good sir! We shall defend Castle Blog… ahem… Castle XBLIG… to the very last gamer!

      … Two years, though. We’ve got two years. Still plenty of time for memories and great games. 😀

    4. They said that they will support the system but for the past month and a half xblig reviewing only functioned for a few days. We can’t see sales, add new games, submit or review at the moment. I think all the news and buzz has distracted them from keeping things working.

      Once everything is back online I plan on releasing Apoc Town and maybe one last big multiplayer game like block king.

      Thank you Tim and everyone here for being so awesome the past year that I’ve been developing, and for sticking with xblig over the years. What a difference you all make!

    5. @Chris: I think that’s why I chuckled to myself a bit when I read that ‘no new subscriptions can be purchased’… thinking, shit, does it even work and allow you to buy a subscription if you wanted to? Currently broken pieces aside, I guess it’s kind of a good thing to at least have a definite ‘end date’ set. There was always that cloud of uncertainty over XBLIG, and what and when it would happen.

      Much thanks to you and all the other developers too! I’m looking forward to what the Devs put out in the next year. I think it’s safe to say we all love XBLIG, flaws and all, and everything the ‘indie’ label means to us. The service is / was groundbreaking for what it represented, and even though ID@Xbox isn’t as inclusive, it could be argued that both it and other other indie programs wouldn’t be quite what they are today if XBLIG didn’t sort of ‘pave the way’ for them, in a sense.

      Oh, and thought I’d add this link from Polygon; down in the comments, somebody mentions Really Scary should be ported to Xbox One. 🙂

    6. Chris made that comment Tim about Really Scary. LOL

      I just want everyone to know that there is still rumors that the existing indie library on the 360 will become backwards compatible on the One. So even though there will not be new releases after the year is up we can carry the games we love over to that console with us. They also confirmed that we will still be able to play them on the 360 which leads you to believe the rumors about BC.

      Indie Games FTW!!!

    7. @ImTheMetalLord: Did he really? I didn’t recognize the user name, but I guess that’s some sly self-marketing at work. 😉

      I wouldn’t want to get my hopes up about playing those games on One (call me pessimistic on that), but I see no reason why they wouldn’t let us continue to play them on the 360 so long as that console remains online. Once Live support is over, though… so too ends XBLIG, if we’re going by the current online-required rules. Would still like to know more about their conservation plans and what that entails…

    8. LOL..I was joking about Chris posting that.
      You do realize that Live was supported on the Original Xbox for 5 years after the Xbox 360 came out. And the user base was so much smaller on there then exist on the 360. It’s going to be a very long time before they stop supporting live simply because of the amount of money they are making and will continue to make from it.
      At last check there are over 75 million 360’s in use and additional 25 million One’s. BC was enacted not only due to the requests but also due to the money that will continue to be made from it.

      I’m a realist and the reality is as long as they keep making money it won’t shut down and you may be right about the Indie games not being BC since they stated you won’t be able to purchase any more games in a year but will be able to continue to play them. No money to be made in BC. But Live will be supported for a very long time in my humble opinion.

    9. Ah, I gotcha. Humor sometimes doesn’t translate well from text, and I thought I had missed something obvious. 😦

      Yeah, I don’t think Live is in any danger of shutting down on the 360 for all the reasons you mentioned, I’m just being a pessimist and stating that, eventually, it will be shut down. Let me put it another way; people will have probably lost interest in XBLIG and whatever games they bought for the service BEFORE Live support on the 360 ends. The moral of the story is… buy up whatever you like within the next two years, and proceed to enjoy. 🙂

  1. The game shows potential, but (wonderful places) blogs like this site, owned by Tim, are like strippers when the bouncers are not around; you can touch any part of her body, then say very slowly (this is an incredible indie game review site) blog in her ear. I wonder if french strippers shave, answer this when you arrive again to this (wholly inspiring and relentlessly entertaining website) blog, Tim.

    1. Aww, thanks for all those compliments, sir. They are much appreciated! I’m glad that people think so highly of this fine website!

      Oh, and I was quite surprised to find that they do shave. Well, in some areas, at least. 😉

  2. Let me see if I understand this correctly. Tim the (fantastic writer) blogger who (writes beautifully) blogs about Indie games on his (truly wonderful) blogging site has no (easy) blogging way to eradicate or fornicate (!) my comments anymore?

    Tim the (excellent writer) blogger sure is in for some (enlightening) blogging comments that might just tilt his blogging wheel when he returns from bloody ol’ France. Hope he don’t get his blogging knickers all bunched up over my (well-thought out) blog comments on his (awesome) blog site.

    1. Oh, I must thank you, good sir, for the kind remarks you made above! You are a scholar and a gentleman! I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such high praise, but trust that I will double my efforts to maintain the brilliance you described above! Cheers! 😀

  3. Tim,

    No sweat regarding your criticisms of dollar games. After all, that’s what this blog’s high-quality review website ( 🙂 ) is about, so I understand where you’re coming from. Is it fair to be harsh on games that only sell for a dollar? I suppose. But I will also add, whether their games turn out “great” or not, many of these designers invest a lot of hard work into something that only sells for pennies. I don’t know that I could do that. So I say “kudos” to these guys for “sticking it out”. In my opinion, even a mediocre title is an achievement at one buck a pop (that’s why I give Crypt of the Serpent King high marks). I know that I’ve played a handful of DLC games that were well worth their $1 value (“Escape Goat” from Magical Time Bean and “Cursed Loot” from Eyehook Games are a couple that immediately come to mind). In my book, those are stellar titles and it’s astounding (and even a shame) that they only sold for a dollar.

    1. Agreed, and thanks for making me feel even more guilty… 😉 Yeah, it’s actually worse than that, since Microsoft takes its cut from that dollar. ‘Pennies’ is quite accurate. If it’s any comfort, a lot of great XBLIGs have gone on to publish updated games / sequels in a more lucrative medium, like PC / Steam, ID@Xbox, or Playstation’s push for indies. Escape Goat 2 is one such example, and it’s well-deserved. XBLIG has always been considered ‘a start’ for developers moving on to bigger things, so I like to think— and I’m totally creating a justification here— that we as a community help mold these games into those bigger, better versions through our critiques and our ‘dollars’.

      Also, we don’t refer to this site as a …. ‘blog’ …. around here, so I had to go ahead and edit your comment to reflect that most-important reality. Apologies, sir. It’s not 2015 here, it’s 1984, and you damn-near committed a thoughtcrime! 😀

    2. Haha, he said the evil word 😈

      Welcome to thexblig, your friendly site for everything XBLIG related, hosted by the one and only, Dictator Hurley…

      give me a B
      give me an L
      give me an O
      give me a G

      what’s the word?
      BLO…BL..SITE 🙂

    3. @Soosh: You’re sooo mean! 😀

      But yeah, yeah, I’ll edit that shit right out like it never, never happened. Just fluffin’ try it! 👿

      But, then again… an FYI, I’m heading to France for the next week, so it’s a free-for-all here. No moderation! Call it a bl… bl… well, you know, all you want. Thanks to spotty internet and a rollercoaster itinerary, I probably won’t be able to reply to anything / edit whatever you guys write. 😦

      Au revoir, ladies and gents!

    4. Leaving for a week? Where is the real Tim Hurley? He has obviously been kidnapped and replaced with this shallow imitation. The real Tim Hurley would NEVER vacate his consoles and unwholesome man-love for Destiny for some place as proletarian as France. Canada, yes. France, no.

      TO ARMS!
      TO ARMS!
      Prepares cologene and suit

    6. @andregurov: And I’ll have you know it was damn hard to go without a console for more than a week. And to go without Destiny on top of that!?! Torture, I tell you. Pure torture, the very essence of ‘first world problems’! Lucky for me, this vacation took place before the next expansion came out. Had I missed the launch week, I would have been inconsolable! Er, in-console-able, rather. 😉

      Also, bonus points for using proletarian in a sentence.

      @Saansilt: Granted, I didn’t visit the entire country, but you know what France lacks? …a measurable amount of redheads! I think I saw maybe two, and they were probably tourists. Not sure where they are. Must be a drought or something. 🙂

    7. And so F.R.E.E.D.O.M. remains disappointed.

      Redheads are now like unicorns. V.I.P.E.R. is winning….

      Thanks for looking Tim.

    8. @Saansilt: No problem! Happy to be an unofficial redhead-census taker! 😉 Alas, they are a semi-rare commodity, it seems. Maybe they need to import some from Ireland?

  4. Have to admit I was quite excited when I read the description on the marketplace. First-person dungeon crawler? Randomly generated levels? Really sounded like an instabuy… until I played the trial. While the graphics are pretty good, gameplay is rather dull and I sadly lost interest after I played the trial for a third time.

    Now, it would be a bit unfair to judge a game after playing it for roughly 18 minutes (excluding loading times), but reading the review, which is spot on, I presume I didn’t miss much.

    It’s a shame really, it could’ve been a really good and fun game. But who knows, if Rendercode Games update the game and implement some (or all) of the things Jeffrey_M suggested it could become so much more than just a pretty looking, but ultimately dull experience.

    Again, it’s a bit of a shame, because this game has a lot of potential.

    1. Indeed, on paper…. er… digital paper… er… okay, internet paper, the game sounds promising, but I get the feeling that a lot of players are going to have an experience in the trial similar to yours. It is a bit of shame, too, because the game has its moments, they’re just few and far between, with the rest being repetitive (I’m literally not lying when I say that every level plays out the same as the last).

      Unfortunately— and I’m trying to see things from a programmer’s standpoint here— I doubt a lot of our suggestions would be easy additions to make in-game. Rendercode’s focusing on Steam now, too, and I can’t say I blame him. It’s a shame that XBLIG doesn’t have the community it once-maybe-slightly-kinda-might’ve-had, and we could see more games updated beyond their initial release.

      Oh, and by the by, speaking of former XBLIGs making it big on newer consoles, you guys should totally check out Shutshimi (I’m sure Soosh remembers our epic high-score chasing! 🙂 ) again if you have a PS4 / Vita / Steam. The game was fantastic on XBLIG, and it’s even better now (and I swear no one paid me to say that!)!

  5. Curious about Crypt of the Serpent King and want to go dungeon diving for… dungeon pearls, I guess? Thanks to Rendercode Games, I have one code to give away. Reply to this comment, and the game is yours!

  6. For a buck, I thought this title was pretty good. After all, for only $1, what can one expect? The game plays like an RPG-lite title, and it personally reminded me in some ways of an upgraded version of Intellivision 2’s old “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin” from back in the day (1983). Of course, it’s not, but that’s what I got from it.

    I agree 100% with the review. In my opinion, with a few tweaks here and there, this title could’ve been, not a blockbuster, but it could’ve at least been knocked up a couple of notches on the “fun, quality and replayability” scale. It comes close, but its “closeness” simply reminds you of what it could’ve been, and yet is not – a better-than-average DLC title.


    Each of the game’s seven levels has a single enemy. A new, tougher “boss” version of that enemy is faced at the end of the level after all the keys are acquired and the gate to the “boss room” is opened. Level one has rat-men with a rat-man boss, level two has goblins with a goblin boss, and so fourth. Ogres, skeletons, knights, spiders and serpents round out the game (but maybe not in that exact order – I’m writing this from memory).

    After the “boss” is defeated, advancement to the next level is awarded, and the player is then allowed to purchase new weaponry or upgrade their attributes (Strength, Health or Agility).

    I thought the graphics for this game were excellent. The enemies are detailed and well rendered. As is the dungeon itself. It seems that at least a little care and thought went into this aspect.

    In my opinion, the following changes would’ve made this game even better and provided it with more enjoyment and replayability:

    1 – Random enemies per level, with enemies occasionally spawning in hallways (not just in “key rooms” or “boss rooms”).

    2 – Different dungeon appearance per level. Maybe the dungeons could look more creepy and foreboding as the game advances. Currently, every level is identical. This detracts from the feeling of “advancement” per level.

    3 – Improved enemy AI. Current enemy AI is that they follow you once they spot you, and they don’t stop following you until they’re dead.

    4 – Breakable boxes and barrels with goodies inside. Currently, this aspect of the environment cannot be interacted with, they are simply background graphics.

    5 – Secret rooms with treasure and goodies.

    6 – Some kind of reward at the end.

    As a $1 DLC game, Crypt of the Serpent King has great potential. It would be nice to see a further grab at that potential some day. “Return to the Crypt of the Serpent King”, perhaps?

    1. Hey Jeffrey:

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for the comment! 🙂

      Believe it or not, I struggle with the ‘it’s only a dollar’ argument A LOT. It’s like a constant devil sitting on my shoulder, telling me to stop being so hard on indie developers. It’s a tough call to make on some borderline games, and it certainly makes me look like I’m being an asshole whenever I shoot down an otherwise decent game.

      That said, I agree with what you mentioned, in tweaking the enemy spawns and adding more, well, interesting things. The levels needed some more visual variety, that’s for sure. Flickering torches, maybe, or at least a darker overall tone. To me, that would’ve set the mood, and the random enemy placement would make the game a lot more fun / challenging. Instead, I was speeding through hallways towards the end, skipping gold (which I really didn’t need by then) and food (also didn’t need, thanks to the easy combat) and tricking my way through enemies to gather up the necessary keys. It was more about fatigue than fun, and that’s never a good thing.

      It still has its merits, though (the final boss is a throwback to another game by the developer, which was neat). If this does turn out to be Rendercode’s last game on XBLIG, it’s not a bad way to go out. I do congratulate him on his entire game catalog, and wish him the best of luck in the future.

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