If you grew up playing typing games, you’ll adore Cryptmaster

A floating head looks in a box in Cryptmaster.
Akupara Games

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on the kinds of games I played as a kid growing up in the 1990s. That’s not just for nostalgia’s sake; several new releases this month hark back to that era. Crow Country is a throwback to PlayStation 1 horror games, while Endless Ocean: Luminous almost plays like a big-budget educational game. But nothing has brought me back more than Cryptmaster.

Published by Akupara Games, Cryptmaster is a traditional dungeon crawler with a very untraditional twist: It’s a typing game. If you instantly know what that means, there’s a good chance you’re nursing some mid-30s back pain right now. Games that taught kids how to type on a keyboard had a mainstream moment in the 1990s thanks to high profile games like Mario Teaches Typing.

Cryptmaster imagines what it would look like if that genre broke out of the education realm and evolved into something all its own. It won’t teach you how to type, but it’ll test how quickly you can tap out words to attack hordes of monsters. The end result is one of 2024’s most creative games, one that proves that we’ve still only scratched the surface of the inventive ways a game can be made.

Typing of the dead

In Cryptmaster, players control a party of four dead warriors trying to escape a dark dungeon with the help of a creepy companion. It immediately leaves a strong impression before even getting to the signature gameplay that makes it so unique. A stark black-and-white art style makes it look like a graphic novel penned with thick ink, while delightfully hammy voice acting makes the adventure feel like a high-end tabletop RPG run by an enthusiastic dungeon master.

The main hook, though, is typing — and Cryptmaster gets the most out of it. Aside from using arrow keys to navigate labyrinthian corridors, almost everything is controlled by typing out words. When I find a treasure chest, I first need to type out a word like “box” to crack it open. To actually get the item inside, I need to try and deduce what it is. When I type words like “taste” or “touch,” my eerie pal gives me clues to help me figure it out. When I have an idea, I type out that word. It’s a simple video game interaction turned into a puzzling guessing game.

A skull says a riddle in Cryptmaster.
Akupara Games

That design philosophy is present throughout Cryptmaster to great effect. To fish, I need to type out the name of the creature in front of me to cast my line. Similarly, I can pick up bugs by typing out their name and then craft potions by using the letters in those names as ingredients. Dungeons are dotted with skull totems that have me answering full-on riddles. There’s even a card minigame that has me selecting letters to fill the names of my creature cards and activate their powers. There’s a surprising amount of gameplay diversity here pulled out of a deceptively simple task.

The power of that system shines in two spots. First, there’s combat. When I engage an enemy in battle, I need to type out my attacks to hit. Each of my four characters has their own set of commands, from “hit” to “zap.” Battles are a fast-paced game of strategy and memory as I quickly chain together commands before an enemy takes me down (the letters in my characters’ names cleverly denote their health).

There’s some surprising depth to battles, as my party’s abilities can synergize with one another’s. One character knows words that can reset other characters’ cooldowns or give their attacks buffs. There’s even some clever puzzling to some battles. In one area, I take damage anytime I type the letter S, forcing me to change my strategy. Constantly typing out words can wear thin, especially if you can’t remember a huge list of commands, but Cryptmaster thankfully includes great tools to accommodate players, like predictive typing and a slower turn-based mode.

There’s a clever approach to character growth here too. As I adventure, each of my party members always has a hidden word next to their name on the bottom of the screen. Whenever I loot treasure, solve riddles, or catch fish, I’m actually getting letters as loot that reveal the hidden letters, Wheel of Fortune style. Once I figure out the word, I type it out to acquire a new skill or a bit of backstory. If I guess enough, I level up, allowing me to add another letter (one health point) to a character’s name. Ingenious systems like that push Cryptmaster well beyond the concept of a traditional typing gam to being a total reinvention of well-treaded RPG tropes.

Characters fight a frog in Cryptmaster.
Akupara Games

The human touch

Even something as banal as NPC chatter feels entirely fresh here. When I talk to someone in a town, I can actually converse with them by typing out words. Characters are shockingly responsive, with many having a sizable vocabulary. The titular Cryptmaster is even able to say a lot of words I type back to me or comment on what I’ve said. When I type too many swears, he steals one soul (the game’s equivalent to mana) and puts it into a swear jar as punishment. Interactions like that make Cryptmaster’s world feel more alive.

What especially strikes me here is that Cryptmaster accomplishes something that others are currently dreaming of. Publishers are currently flocking to generative AI tools to create more immersive gameplay experiences where it feels like characters actually interact with players. I saw that firsthand at Game Developers Conference this year when I tried Ubisoft’s own AI demo. It’s a technical feat, though one with notable limitations. The AI-voiced characters I spoke to felt lifeless, flatly reciting drab AI writing. Cryptmaster, by comparison, is entirely human made — and the difference shows. There’s far more personality to expressive rats and frogs thanks to the true craft behind them.

Cryptmaster is one of those curiosities that you need to try for yourself to see how well it clicks together. Even with some repetitive battles and mazes that are hard to navigate due to the black-and-white style, Cryptmaster effectively makes unfashionable ideas feel brand new again. Just make sure you have your typing fingers ready. You’re going to need them if you want to survive.

Cryptmaster is out now on PC.

Editors’ Recommendations