Don’t read this review. Don’t play this game. Don’t look at me.
Crypt Worlds is a game set in a shitty low-poly, low-res world where everything sucks, the story makes no sense, the characters are bizarre catchphrase-repeating puppets, and your primary means of interacting with the world is pissing on things. And in things. And on people. I’m not making this up. It’s a bad game, an awful game, an indefensible game by all accounts.
But somehow it’s so godawfully bad it loops back around to completely transcendent.
The game begins with the Goddess Moronia appearing to you in a dream. In tiny text that advances too fast to read, she explains that she needs your help to defeat Dendygar, a satanic clipart elephant slash videogames mogul, who scattered her relics to prevent her from stopping his planned resurrection of the old Chaos God. You have 50 days to find all five relics and return them to her. You awaken in your house having caught maybe about 30% of what she said and set off to collect corpse heads, starve yourself to death, commission archaeological digs, become a cyborg, meet asinine, literally-two-dimensional people, and piss on them. And maybe collect the relics, like, if you see one somewhere. You’ll keep an eye out.
I was introduced to the concept of a kusoge (“shit game”) sometime last year by Eva Problems, who described to me an entire genre of deliberately bad games – poorly written, sloppily coded, half-assed graphics assets, inane premises and confusing gameplay. I admit, the appeal was lost on me at the time, but since playing Crypt Worlds, I think I finally get it.
Even if I wanted to criticize it, I couldn’t. Crypt Worlds is perfect. It’s a work of art. Every shitty jpeg-artifacted texture is deliberately chosen and precisely placed, every mind-boggling piece of dialogue gives a sense of character and mood, every moment you want to scream “what the fuck am I playing” – but silence yourself so no one asks “hey whatcha playing there” – is planned in advance. Lily Zone knows exactly what she’s doing, and it’s kind of humbling. I feel like Crypt Worlds laid me low.
But none of that answers the question of why anyone would want to play it. At best, this is a high-concept (or is it low-concept) art piece, right? No matter how well-executed its terrible concepts are, it should still be torturous slog to play, right? Welllllll… Crypt Worlds is actually, kinda, fun? Kinda really fun actually. And funny. The nonsensical characters and events are presented with a completely straight face, which often leads to hilarious situations like the blood feud between the archaeologists and anthropologist druids living in your basement. The fucked-up setting actually holds a number of secrets to unlock, and things progress and change around you from day to day, creating an inexplicable sense of an immersive and living world despite it being populated by 2D jpeg people who only say one thing.
And there’s also an element of resource management to the game. Whenever you pick up food, your piss gauge increases, allowing you to… well, use your imagination. Piss is a valuable resource, required to solve puzzles, unlock secrets, and get, shall we say, alternate dialogue from characters. Picking up food also makes you happier – getting too depressed can result in “God” sending you to Hell temporarily for not taking care of yourself. Of course, even this has the ol’ kusoge twist: every time you click a food item in-world, you gain a random amount of that type of food, which sometimes means you don’t get anything. Ha ha! And behind your house is a garden where you can plant the food you find to grow more food. That’s… totally how gardens work, sure.
So what’s the point? Well, ultimately there are three possible endings: either you manage to find all the goddess relics, which results in a frustrating and anticlimactic “battle” with Dendygar, or the time runs out and Dendygar destroys the world while you and the goddess watch from space. Did I say three endings? Two. I meant two. In any event, all the endings are just as depressed and pointless as the rest of the game – even the “good” ending, after which all NPCs offer generic congratulatory messages, thanking you for things you never did or had opportunity to do.
The overall tone of the game is one of resignation to the horrible. The characters you meet are generally fearful, yet apathetic, worn down to complacency by the baffling, incomprehensible terror of their world, unable to muster more than mild irritation at being pissed on by a stranger. And when I say “terror”, I don’t just mean existential terror. Sky Pilgrimes invade the peaceful Pilgrimes’ homes, murdering them and driving them into hiding. An AI in the tunnels forcibly assimilates all the Skeletal Pilgrimes there, turning them into mindless robotic drones. The archaeologists that live in your basement are constantly being burned alive by anthropologists. And to top it all off, some friggin elephant in a snapback is gonna destroy the world and kill everyone in 50 days! But no one does anything about it, or even talks about doing anything about it. That’s just life! Likewise, any “happy” or “positive” notes are presented as the ravings of the delusional, the hollow platitudes of the desperate and powerless, or the sadistic glee of the sociopathic. The only people who seem genuinely happy are the Knight Pilgrimes, followers of Dendygar, who can’t wait for this horrible world to finally end. So if Crypt Worlds has a point, it’s that there is no point.
To me, a chronically depressed person, that’s a feel that I know. Crypt Worlds feels, in many ways, like real life: you’re surrounded by people with no agency, their lives reduced to a pointless, miserable routine by capitalism, and while you have some choice yourself, it’s a choice between assimilation or oblivion. Cynicism runs deep in this game, but it’s not the acrid cynicism of the misanthrope. It’s the sad, laugh-so-you-don’t-cry outlook that you gain through suffering and mental illness, and that’s the kind of thing I wish I saw represented more in media.
So why make a game as shitty as this? It’s a message. It’s a game about how much capitalism sucks. It’s a game about mental illness shapes our lives, and vice versa. It’s a game about finding humor in awful things you can’t do anything about. It’s a game about repeatedly sleeping all day in hopes that the world will end sooner. So it has to suck. There’s no way you could make this into a AAA big-budget production; if the world wasn’t an awful, terrible mistake, how would you ever have second thoughts about saving it?
Final verdict: If you’re a piss fetishist, don’t get too excited – the piss is more of a metaphor for your inability to change the world in meaningful ways. But if you’re dissatisfied with the world but don’t know how to change it, this game might at least help you laugh a little about it.
(Why am I reviewing a 2-year-old game? Because the creator is crowdfunding a sequel right now! Go support it! Pissing fans rejoice.)