A term we need is gaming’s equivalent of literature’s “novella”. Deliberately shorter games that still provide a complete experience, just over less time. Sadly “gamella” is too awful. But whatever that word might be, it would perfectly describe The Excrawlers, a twin-stick action game that crams in everything I want from the genre, into a few-hour vignette.
With a sword in one hand (X) and a bow and arrow in the other (?) (right analogue), you are tasked with clearing out enemies from levels, gathering this-run-only bonuses, while perma-levelling up your attacks, defences, crits, etc. At the same time, there are mini-quests to complete, secrets to find, and in each three-stage chapter, a boss to defeat. It’s just, rather than being something you plug away at for days, this one will take you a handful of hours.
At this point I’d usually tell you what The Excrawlers is about, but it’s so astonishingly poorly written I genuinely cannot. From its typos on the opening screen, to its incomprehensible gibberish throughout, I gave up trying to fathom who I was, where I was, and what I was doing. And while it likely would have added a fair amount to the experience to know what’s going on, it didn’t much matter, because the core game is plenty of fun.
Just know that there are a bunch of different enemy types to battle, each with their own unique attack-styles, with unique sets for each of the game’s five chapters. It’s a lot of fun developing different techniques for each type, and then attempting to perform three of these at the same time when they’re all fighting you at once. Things can get pleasingly frantic, without being impossible, and in one of the weirdest sentences I’m ever going to write: the boss fights are perhaps a bit too easy? Wait, no, forget I said that. Given the number of games I’ve not reviewed on Buried Treasure because of boss fight spikes, I’ll take it.
Along the way, you pick up all manner of crystals, five of which can be equipped at a time to improve stats, and triplicates combined to make more powerful versions. You also level up with great frequency, meaning you can really bump up your abilities, such that by the end of the game, when replaying the first chapter, I felt invulnerable.
(There also appear to be choices you can make that affect the storyline between chapters, but again it’s so impenetrably nonsensical that I really didn’t know what decisions I was making.)
There are a few bugs here. I’ve gotten stuck in a doorway right before a boss fight, which meant I had to replay the entire preceding chapter again. The dodge is also a bit flaky – and a bit odd, in that it only makes you invulnerable to some ranged attacks, and it’s not clear why. Oh, and the UI for gem combining could also be a lot better (please know you can scroll up and down the list, but only with the d-pad and not the analogue, and you’ll thank me for telling you).
But this is a £4 game that delivered me a whole day of merry entertainment. And while there are obviously better, bigger-budget versions of the same conceit, there’s something very pleasant about it all being reduced down into something smaller. It’s a real shame the writing is such drivel, but it’s otherwise a solid little morsel.
- Game Dynasty, Digital Worlds