Cryptmaster Review: Words Fail

This game designed around words should have chosen them more carefully.

Photo: Akapura Games

At the start of Cryptmaster, you’ll preside over four former heroes—now zombies—who are prodded along by their eponymous resurrector. Of course, having rotted for so long, they’ve lost all their abilities and memories, and this first-person dungeon crawler’s entire conceit is wrapped around you needing to help them literally fill the blanks in their memories by typing out the unfinished words that hover beside their avatars. Each time you kill an enemy or solve a riddle, you’ll pick up one or more letters as loot, revealing them in your currently equipped words like a game of Hangman. It’s a novel way to nod to text-based adventures of old, but after a few hours into this 10-ish-hour adventure, it grows T_R_SOM_.

Every action requires that you must first successfully type out a word (to learn it) and then type it again every time you want to use the action. You want the warrior Joro to hit someone? Type HIT. You want assassin Syn to jab someone with her knife? Type JAB. It helps that each character has their own thematic set of words, with the bard Maz mainly gaining musical words that heal or amplify his allies and the sea witch Nix being able to summon a bunch of sea creatures, but growing an arsenal of vocabulary words doesn’t make combat any less repetitive.

Beyond encounters with enemies carrying shields that block words containing certain letters, there’s little reason to mix up attacks. This is doubly true given that many abilities are clearly superior to others: Unless you’re trying to avoid a specific letter, there’s never a reason to, say, summon a fish that can hit twice when you can summon one that hits thrice. Moreover, because each non-basic skill costs as many souls (currency) as it has letters, the game incentivizes players not to use any 10-dollar words. Consequently, battles are often more terse than tense.


The game is at its best early on, as you test the flexibility of your interactions. When asked to defile an altar, there are many things that you can type, and it’s an enjoyable surprise to hear terms like PISS accounted for (“Yes, give it a good soak”), or to have an NPC reluctantly concede that POTATO is as valid a response as NEEDLE to his question “What has eyes but can’t see?”

It’s fun to see how well the writers predicted what players might do, sometimes coming up with very specific humorous responses. Each of the four main chapters has its own vignette-like quest that you must complete in order to reach the surface, and the earliest are the most creative and fleshed out. (The first playfully tasks you with proving yourself to be royalty by robbing crowns from a tomb and finding a way to marry the local, lecherous toad king.) But this is all surface-level scripting, on par with any classic adventure game, and the novelty is short-lived.

YouTube video

When it comes to the words that you type out, Cryptmaster would have benefited from more follow-through. You type words like MELLIFLUOUS and SUMPTUOUS, gaining new combat skills or character memories in the process, and then move on to the next word, but the words are disconnected from the narrative, serving a purpose only in combat.


As each character levels up by learning an undefined number of words, you can tack additional letters onto their name. This is valuable because each time you take damage, you lose at least one letter, and a character who loses all their letters is incapacitated until being healed. But it’s telling that no matter what letters you choose, the narrator promptly announces that he’ll continue to use the original names. The message is clear: Your choices don’t matter. (Not for nothing is the half-baked optional card game rightfully called WHATEVER.)

Frustrating as the game may be, the real-time typing is at least trying to be original, and the visuals, with their detailed black-and-white pencil-sketching succeed both as an homage and modernization of the wireframe environments of Wizardry. The sound design is also particularly alluring, whether it’s the metal combat track that accompanies the god of doom or the odd bells and whistles that ring out across the trickster’s demesne. And half of the game’s puzzles—the ones where you must decipher the unseen contents of a chest by typing out interactions like TOUCH or LOOK—really nail the feeling of being a mindless zombie, as you must blindly grope toward the names of familiar objects (like a SHIELD). The same, though, can’t be said for the remainder of the puzzles, as they’re all recycled riddles, like “As I was going to St. Ives…,” and no matter how they’ve been reworded, they’re shockingly formulaic.


Above all, Cryptmaster suffers from you having too many words to learn and there being far too few chapters in which to do so. Even if players are Wheel of Fortune savants, unlocking every word for each character requires hours of retyping the same combat commands. Even an actual zombie would beg off after piecing together words like PARADIDDLE and AMBERGRIS for such meager rewards as another scrap of backstory. This is especially so in the last level, a straightforward corridor that strips away the illusion of exploration provided by the more elaborate mazes and NPC quests that preceded them. By then, you’ll have long come to the realization that this game designed around words should have chosen them more carefully.

This game was reviewed with code provided by Akapura Games.

 Developer: Akapura Games  Publisher: Akapura Games  Platform: PC  Release Date: May 9, 2024  Buy: Game

Aaron Riccio

Aaron has been playing games since the late ’80s and writing about them since the early ’00s. He also obsessively writes about crossword clues at The Crossword Scholar.

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