Horror Meets Cute
I live in a small house with my fiancé. Our lounge room is decorated with ouiji boards, a framed autograph from John Carpenter, countless horror blu rays and Animal Crossing plush dolls. We appreciate all things cute, all things horror, and don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.
It’s reasonable to assume then, that so too are Massive Monster, as their latest title, ‘Cult of the Lamb’ marries the macabre with the adorable, combining both to create what is easily one of the best games of the year. One moment you’ll be planting flowers with your cult members, dancing and singing gleefully with a tortoise and a hedgehog, the next you’ll be fighting Lovecraftian abominations in a eery forest, hoping you’ll make it home in time to eat a piping hot bowl of stew you made from a freshly harvested cult member corpse.
If Cult of the Lamb sounds extreme to you, in a lot of ways it is, but it is extremes at both end of the previous mentioned styles: cute and horror. In any other game, the content would be enough to transport us back to the early 90’s when violence in video games caused parents and politicians to collectively lose their shit like Mortal Kombat did. It might even send us back to the 80s when Dungeons and Dragons caused “Satanic panic”. Thankfully today, games are more accepted and the majority of media consumers understand when ultraviolence is executed in a hyperbolic manner for comedic sense.
Cult of the Lamb mixes multiple game genres and combines them to be much greater than the sum of their parts.
Flash of the Blade
Cult of the Lamb casts players as wee lamb who is about to be sacrificed by the Four Bishops of the Old Faith, and their cult members. At the precise moment that an axe is about to meet their neck, however, the Lamb is teleported to another plane of existence, and brought before an ancient god. This God, known as The One Who Waits, seeks revenge against the 4 Bishops of the Old Faith, and promises you power and revenge if you act as their vessel. As revenge and power beats a premature fate, you naturally agree.
From here, the game wastes no time taking the player through its tutorial stages. Similarly to other 2D dungeon crawlers like The Swords of Ditto, players can slash, dodge roll, and move in multiple directions. They can also wield powerful spells in the form of curses. These can be as simple as throwing powerful fireballs and explosions, to multi-directional tentacles, and more. Curses cost fervour, which is dropped by defeated enemies, and found in various containers that you can smash. Coming to grips with the game’s combat will happen extremely quickly, as Cult of the Lamb’s combat is markedly simplistic. This doesn’t mean that players won’t be challenged, however.
Not Your Typical Dungeon Crawler
Enemies come in all manner of shapes and sizes, and I have to say, in an era where everything feels absolutely done to death, Cult of the Lamb surprised me with some truly terrifying original beasts. Lovecraft meets Cronenberg and I don’t know what else as tentacles, teeth, spikes and slime all manifest in the purest form of nightmare material I’ve seen in quite a while. Lamb’s enemies will attack from a distance, up close, dodge, swarm, flank, and more. No matter how many times I repeat an area, the enemies always keep me on my toes at higher difficulties.
Throughout a dungeon run, players will come across various rooms and characters. One such room is a shop selling items for your camp or items that when purchased, have a chance to appear in future dungeons, such as curses and weapons. Another is a mysterious crow, who will offer you a draw of a tarot card, which act as a perk or buff for that current dungeon run. Another will sell you a follower, or hapilly eat them if you don’t want to buy them.
At the end of every dungeon is a boss. The 4 Bishops of the Old Faith have their sub bosses and once they are defeated, you take on the Bishops themselves. These boss fights vary in difficulty but the game never feels too hard. I’d argue the game’s learning curve is pretty perfect, actually.
Once you defeat a bishop you’re able to continue going on dungeon runs in that area, at an increased difficulty, replaying boss battles and teleporting back to your camp or shuffling the dungeon and going again. This is especially handy when you’re running low on resources and need to gather them in a hurry, but it also acts as a survival mode of sorts where you can truly challenge yourself.
Going on a dungeon run in Lamb is a perfect experience. Rooms, weapons, curses, tarot cards, rooms and their contents are all shuffled around randomly. You’re aware of the possible contents within, but its in their mixing that the game offers unpredictable challenges. One run saw me defeated before I reached the boss, as all enemies were jumping quickly and spreading poison, while I was dealt a very slow hammer as a weapon. I couldn’t keep up with their sheer number of attacks. Thankfully, I was sent back to my camp where I tried again. This time, I had a poison dagger and I managed to be speedier than the speedy.
Shiny Happy People
When you’re not on a dungeon run, you’re running your camp. Running your camp feels like the polar opposite of a dungeon run. There are no baddies, no frantic pace. Instead, you’ll be wanting to make the short lives of your followers as blissful or as punishing as you see fit.
Followers have needs and desires. At the beginning of the game, not much more is needed other than food and a bedroll, but as your flock grows in number and in faith followers will need more advanced buildings and camp features. They may even issue a request. Some of these can be humurous or outright disturbing (or both). I had one of my followers, Gossimer, ask me to prank Neddy Narwhal by making him eat a bowl of poop. Not being one to upset Gossimer, I agreed. Then Gossimer said “no way will he fall for it a second time!” however, Neddy did fall for a bowl of poop again. Finally, Gossimer said we should kill Neddy Narwhal, which I declined. Neddy was a good gardener after all.
In addition to fulfilling requests, players can give sermons, perform rituals and issue doctrines for their cult – provided they have unlocked a church. Sermons give prayer, which is used to increase the power of the red crown you wear. Rituals also increase prayer, but cost materials to perform and need to cool down between uses. You’ll unlock very powerful rituals as you progress through the game, such as sacrificing followers, holding funerals, marrying followers, bonfire dances, feasts, and more. These also affect your followers negatively or positively, should you decide to rule with fear or love.
Your followers also give faith, which is used to unlock divine inspirations for the camp. Basically, the more faithful your flock, the more you can upgrade your camp. You can bless your followers, inspire them, offer them gifts, fulfill requests and more to increase their faith. Just don’t marry and smooch everyone or they will get jealous!
A Fiendishly Clever Mix of Genres
If you’ve seen previews from those kind of games sites, you’ll see reductive comparisons to Cult of the Lamb and other games. It’s not quite Animal Crossing meets The Legend of Zelda, but there is something to be said about how cleverly it blends and defies the genres that inspire it. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, either, but merely offers players an engrossing mix of life-sim, town management and dungeon crawler – with an adorable coat of paint, err…blood.
Each element of Cult of the Lamb compliments the next. The art style is cute as heck, like a Tokidoki meets Hot Topic vibe, or if Stuart Gordon directed a Happy Tree Friends Halloween movie. Horror and cute is very in right now in homewares, fashion, and more, and it’s wild to think we haven’t seen it executed this well in a video game in recent memory.
The sound design is also excellent, lending a spooky atmosphere to dungeons, or providing a terrifying soundmix for rituals, followed by an adorable “ahh!” from your cult. Seriously, these little critters treat sacrifice and demonic chanting with the wholesome enthusiasm of the Care Bears as they shoot rainbows from their chests. I love it.
The animations are also executed brilliantly. When the Lamb begins to run, their face goes from wide eyed whimsy, to a mischievous squint and smirk. They delight in some of their attacks, wearing an evil grin on their face, and at other times they a bundle of adorable fury, raining down crushing blows on their foes.
And it’s all rewarding as heck. A near-perfect experience that leaves the player wanting more. This is truly a phenomenal game that has the serious potential to be game of the year. A GOTY Lamb (a goaty lamb?). It’s a fantastic mix of genres that is accessible and most importantly, incredibly fun.
Cult of the Lamb mixes multiple game genres and combines them to be much greater than the sum of their parts. It is adorable and macabre, and literally perfect for the hordes of goth gamers that play video games while watching horror movies. You should devote yourself to it willingly.