Crown Trick is a turn-based roguelike developed by NEXT Studios and published by Team17. You play as Elle, a young girl brought into the Realm of Nightmares by powers unknown and tasked with defeating the nefarious Duke Vlad to bring peace and balance to the world. Using nothing but a staggering array of weapons, items and magical skills, Elle and her mysterious crown-shaped companion known as… the Crown must venture through floor after floor of enemies and traps to seek their goal.
Story – The Power of Dreams
The game’s protagonist is a girl named Elle, who has been pulled into the Realm of Nightmares by the winds of fate. Upon her arrival there, she meets a mysterious and unusually talkative piece of headwear, which explains her situation and introduces itself as the Crown, ‘the observer and guardian of the Nightmare Realm’. Taking its place atop Elle’s head, the Crown explains her task: to defeat the heinous Duke Vlad and bring peace not just to the Nightmare Realm but to her own world too.
As stories go, it’s pretty by-the-numbers, but it does open up a bit with a few twists and turns later on in the game. You can also pick up Dream Fragments throughout the game – essentially journal entries that provide some flavour and lore to the world-building efforts. Overall the story is fairly straightforward, but it’s dealt with in a pleasing enough way that I didn’t really mind. And besides, the real meat of a game like this is in its gameplay, which ticked a lot of boxes for me.
Gameplay – Turn-Based Chaos
Crown Trick is an interesting beast when it comes to its gameplay. You’ll come across all the gold standards of the modern roguelike: procedurally generated content, a home base featuring unlockable merchants and talent trees to make each subsequent run a little more interesting, if not directly easier, and dying, of course. A whole lot of dying. But it’s all wrapped in an unusual and much more strategic veneer than its hack-and-slash brethren.
The most obvious and important mechanical difference is in its turn-based nature. Now, hearing the term ‘turn-based’ might make you think of classic RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but there’s vivid energy to the gameplay here that makes it feel more like a cutesy grid-based version of SUPERHOT at times. Time progresses when you move, attack, or use a skill or item. That means that you can sit on the same tile for as long as you like, examining the state of play in the room and working out a strategy before taking action and moving forward.
This sounds like it would make things easier, but this game is anything but. You usually have to get pretty close to an enemy to attack it, and you can easily get surrounded with few avenues of escape. Add some varied and deadly environmental traps into the mix, and things can get pretty wild pretty quickly. Every micro-choice you make in the game becomes a risk/reward analysis: if I attack this enemy, will I put myself in a position to be taken out by that one? If I blow up this poison barrel, am I going to have to trudge through it myself in a few turns’ time? Can I get the last few hits in on this boss before they wear me down?
That level of strategy and choice extends far into the mechanics and systems of the game. As you explore each dungeon, you will come across numerous weapons, items and relics, all of which you can choose to pick up or leave behind. You can only wield one weapon at a time, and there’s a limit on how many items you can carry, so it becomes an interesting puzzle trying to work out which ones work best for the environment you’re in and which can be safely discarded.
Weapons come in nine varieties – swords, axes, spears, daggers, gauntlets, staves, pistols, rifles, and shotguns – all of which play slightly differently: for example, the ax hits all the squares around you, while the spear hits two squares in front of you. On top of that, each weapon you come across has some extra randomised attribute or two to spice things up: perhaps this spear will deal an extra hit to an enemy two squares away, or that sword will increase your defense when it’s used. There’s so much variety and granularity in the weapons system alone that you’re sure to find a playstyle that suits you.
Your other main option for dealing damage in Crown Trick is going to be magic skills. Upon defeating certain mini-boss style enemies, you can unlock them as a Familiar, granting you two skills of theirs to use while they accompany you. You can have two Familiars travelling with you at once, granting a total of four skills to use in combat. These, too, are pleasantly varied: you can shoot flames at enemies, summon a monster to do your bidding, and inflict all sorts of status ailments on your foes at will, limited only by your supply of MP.
The final type of upgrade you’ll happen across in your journey is the relic. These powerful items give you passive bonuses and abilities that might help you increase your critical hit chance, expand the range of your teleport move, provide immunity to certain status effects, or any number of other things. Relics are immensely useful and can make or break a playthrough, though some of the descriptions of their effects are a little bogged down in jargon.
The running theme of choice in the gameplay is perfectly encapsulated by some of the rooms you’ll encounter while exploring. While most of the rooms on a map are going to be standard enemy encounters, sometimes you’ll come across a special chamber. This might feature a gacha machine where you can wager your money for a chance to receive a rare item or a cursed chest or totem which provides you with a powerful relic or weapon in exchange for some nasty and inconvenient price, like being unable to earn any money for the next few rooms or being unable to switch your weapon for the remainder of the floor. One of the more off-the-wall ideas which I quite enjoyed were the rooms with a strange crystal pillar in them which, once interacted with, provide a sort of text-based choose-your-own-adventure vignette where you can get rewards (or punishments) depending on how you deal with the characters within.
Overall, Crown Trick provides a very fun gameplay loop. There’s enough variety in its systems and mechanics that going through the usual roguelike spiel of dying and replaying over and over doesn’t get too stale, and once you get into the swing of the turn-based battles, it can be very satisfying to line everything up just so to deliver a devastating blow to your enemies.
Graphics and Audio – More Dream Than Nightmare
The game’s visual style is very cute and expressive. Most of the characters and enemies look like something out of a storybook, and the animations are, for the most part, fluid and full of personality. The visual design of the levels, too, is nice: each different area feels distinct from the others due to little details like a different style of door and the kind of containers they have strewn about each room.
The UI is full of information but remains surprisingly clear and helpful, considering how much there is to keep track of. You wouldn’t expect a default game screen that includes icons for health, magic, status buffs/debuffs, equipped skills, a mini-map of three types of currency and myriad other bits and pieces to be especially readable but Crown Trick somehow manages it better than some other games with less information to express. The turn-based nature of the game probably helps in this regard – if the combat were more fast-paced, I’d imagine it would need to be more streamlined to help the player find the information they need quickly, but as it is, the interface works admirably.
One slightly irksome thing I experienced with the visuals was that the camera angle often obscured things on the ground with bits of level geometry like walls and pillars. For many items, it wasn’t too bad as a thin pillar of light showed that there was something on that tile, even if you couldn’t see what it was. However, considering the importance of strategy and foresight in pretty much every encounter in this game, being unable to see that an enemy was planning an attack for a particular square because it was obscured by a column was quite frustrating. I also encountered some minor performance issues such as stuttering, short freezes and somewhat lengthy loading times. Hopefully, though, this was just a minor issue with optimising the game for Switch and will be fixed by a patch in the future.
The music is fine – as I played through, I found it neither added to nor detracted from the overall experience, which in many ways is what you want from a game like this. Each area has its own theme, which suits it pretty well aesthetically, but the purpose is always to be in the background, unobtrusive. The sound effects, on the other hand, are pleasantly punchy: you can really feel it when your hits connect with an enemy, which makes much of the combat feel very satisfying.
Crown Trick was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a key provided by PressEngine.