Crimson Alliance is the grand finale of this year’s XBLA Summer of Arcade promo. It’s a dungeon crawler; the latest of a long string of games in this genre of the past year or so. You may be asking yourself: gee, do I really need another one of these? Is it worth my while?
As a long time fan of the dungeon crawler genre, I will honestly say there’s a lot to like in Crimson Alliance. Before I get down to the specifics, let’s talk about the game’s basics. The story is pretty standard, involving an evil sorceress, a monster-infested city, and, of course, the standard three heroes: rogue, warrior, and wizard. Players can pick any of these three hero types (so if someone picks the rogue, others are not locked out of that choice) in local, online, or mixed 4-player co-op. As a side note, the full game complete with all of the classes is the standard $15. As an alternative pricing plan, character-specific versions are available for $10. Everything is exactly the same, except you're limited to playing one of the archetypes. Though I caution people to only go for this cheaper version if you're almost certain you'll never want to touch the other characters, or if saving $5 is worth being locked to one class - because if you regret your choice, you'll have to buy another character version for $10 or the full game for $15 again to play the other classes.
The game is set up mission/level style via a map route (similar to games like Castle Crashers). In addition to the standard story missions, you can unlock challenge missions which reward gold and loot. There are also new stores located on the map that unlock after every few chapter missions. Within the missions, the environments pop pleasingly to the eye, and the level layouts are designed quite well. In a dungeon crawler, players often begin to feel that all the levels look the same after awhile, but I never really felt that way in Crimson Alliance. There’s no minimap for the areas, but they’re fairly intuitive to navigate, so this doesn’t end up being a problem.
Crimson Alliance follows a more casual approach than many of the other games of its genre type, by which I mean that there’s no real leveling or distributing skill points - that sort of thing. Surprisingly, however, this isn’t really a bad thing. You get character progression through upgrading your gear (every character gets a main-hand, offhand, and armor slot). Each piece of gear provides bonuses to up to 5 of your character’s statistics. The first four correspond to each character’s skills (assigned to the A, X, Y, and B buttons). The fifth is straight-up health. This allows players to customize their characters pretty well just through their equip choices (i.e. pick the gear that boosts the skills they like the most).
As long as we’re on the subject of gear, let’s talk about how players acquire it. You can either buy gear at any of the shops you’ve unlocked via the world map with the gold you’ve collected on your journey, or receive it in missions. Challenge missions, for example, often have class-specific chests upon completion. Upon opening them, all players of that class in the game unlock the item to equip. These chests can also be found in secret areas behind hidden class-specific doors in the chapter missions as well.
In addition to the four standard skills each character starts with, players can also unlock their ultimate abilities (and further boosts to these ultimates). These are super abilities that are slowly charged up by killing enemies. The way these are unlocked is via hidden collectibles throughout the levels. Simply unlocking them is pretty easy (something like four of the collectibles unlocks it). Ranking them up (which makes the ultimate last longer) require more and more collectibles per rank. They’re certainly useful in overwhelming situations (e.g. the rogue’s ultimate is a bullet time mode and the warrior’s is a huge whirlwind of doom). Finally, rounding out the character stuff, there are also consumables that often come in handy. These include monster bait, healing totems, short-term deployable turrets, and throwing axes. The healing totems in particular can save lives.
As far as co-op is concerned, there are certainly some nice touches added in. The levels are score based, but the score is shared between players, and you get to see if you got bronze, silver, or gold at the end of the level. If you really want to see how individuals did specifically, there are small boxes under each character that show kill count and longest killing spree, but they’re definitely downplayed. Gold is also automatically split between players upon pick-up. It’s little touches like these that are heartening to see - that truly encourage working together as opposed to competition beneath the surface. You’re much more likely to get a higher score if you work together as opposed to trying to get the highest kill count on your own. Also, no matter which character is hosting the game, the other players aren’t stuck feeling like they’re a sidekick in someone else’s story. A small thing, but certainly appreciated.
So what are the drawbacks to the game? Honestly, I find them to be few and relatively minor. I played through the game with a couch co-op buddy in probably 6-8 hours (the first half on normal difficulty, the second half on hard difficulty), which some may find short, but that’s usually what I expect from an arcade game. Since the replayability is fairly high (going back and getting higher scores, more gold for items, or trying out a different character), I don’t find any fault with the game length. The story is certainly nothing to write home about (and quite sparse with not so great voice acting), but I’m not the sort that looks for story in these types of games. The game may come across as very easy for veteran gamers at first, but turning up the difficulty (the game has 5 levels of difficulty, starting at “easy” and ending at “ridonkulous” - yes, really, “ridonkulous!”) can certainly remedy this. I ran into some graphic stutter a couple times, but nothing too major.
Does Crimson Alliance redefine the genre or do anything ground-breaking? No. Is it a streamlined, slick-looking, accessible dungeon crawler experience? Yes. Crimson Alliance may not entirely satisfy the genre fans that really want the endless farming runs for loot, better loot, and epic loot, but it’s a great game to sit down and play casually, or to convince a friend or significant other who may not play games very much to hop into for a quick 20 minutes.