Cthulhu Saves The World is so good and so hip and yet so faithful to the 16-bit games it parodies so well, that it makes me want to spew all sorts of filth about how some of its influences, like, Final Fantasy and EarthBound, will forever be the greatest games of all time, period. It's an inspiring game for anyone who is really into the genre, as it tickles so many memories.
But, really, all you need to know is that Cthulhu is that it's a well designed turn-based RPG that feels, somehow, both old and new at the same time. Its mechanics, including combat and movement, and several points of design, including its dungeon and its world design, are ripped straight from the 16-bit era. Yet, over the top of all of this, there's a layer of modernization that informs the entire experience, making it faster and fresher than the games it apes.
The Great Old One's rise is as quick as his fall. In the game, you'll play as a significantly less powerful Cthulhu, as the unknowable loses his vast magics the second he bubbles up from the sea to unleash hell on Earth. A pesky adventurer is the culprit, and as a narrator delightfully informs you, the only way to get back your intergalactic-shattering powers is to become a "true hero" -- like the one that just bagged you.
The irony isn't lost. There's a quirky edge to everything in the adventure, from the miserable characters you'll meet, to the story that's told, developer Zeboyd Games does a masterful job injecting humor and edge into every possible crevice. Expect fourth-wall breaks, rips on tropes, and occasional commentary on gamer or video games culture.
In the opening hour, for example, you'll hear a joke about used game sales and how the price of games drops pretty fast. And this is just minutes before you take on a band of heroes defiantly blocking a ladder in the service of good. Cthulhu, on the other hand, is still an evil being. He's openly defiant and melancholy, in addition to sarcastic, when he talks about his situation with other people.
What makes this all particularly interesting is the game's wrapper. It has most of the trimmings and systems of an old-school, 16-bit RPG. You'll wander around a poorly scaled world map looking around aimlessly for the next pixelated dungeon, visit towns and their smiths, talk to townspeople who have nothing meaningful to share, and engage in tons and tons of random battles along the way. The game's offbeat humor and knowingness bolster these components, making them feel, somehow, fresh -- if you have the baggage.
The mechanical tweaks are solid. Battle is particularly sharp. Zeboyd Games prioritizes speed and dramatic flourishes over strung-out, overly long combat. As you fight, a combo meter builds. The higher the multiplier, the higher attack values of certain attacks rise. After each turn, even your enemies also become more powerful, which pushes up the tempo.
You'll have a handful of crazy attacks at your disposal, which boost and lower character stats on the fly. Cthulhu's special insanity attack, for example, can turn monsters into a useless pile of sludge or, in some cases, super freaks -- while your own attack value increases. It's a curious mix, but one that has felt good so far. It's also nice that you can save anywhere, just in case a battle gets out of control.
The early game progression is pretty standard, if you're wondering. You start out in a dungeon, then move to a village, and then move into another dungeon. Along the way, you meet an overly energetic girl who has some sort of magic connection to water and battle a misunderstood boss monster on a rope bridge. Eventually, you'll wander the halls of a place made to test the mettle of heroes and you'll find a new companion.
This is my first time through Cthulhu, but it probably won't be for some of you. This game first appeared on XBLIG and PC around a year ago. We quizzed porters TinkerHouse about any possible inclusions or exclusions, and asked about why it picked up the task.
"We jumped at the chance to work with Zeboyd and bring their game over to mobile because we already knew it made great retro RPGs and that Cthulhu Saves the World was considered an indie darling," a representative told us.
"We tweaked the control scheme to take advantage of the touch screen functionality, but other than that we purposefully steered away from any major changes. It was already a great game and we didn't want to mess around with the interface and ruin the vibe," he said, via e-mail.
And it's true: the PC interface has been salvaged. To pick options, you'll need to flick up or down. Movement is handled via an invisible, touch anywhere style of joystick. Otherwise, two gigantic "A" and "B" buttons handle prompts.
"It's a funny, engaging, and surprisingly deep retro RPG experience. If anything, it just needs to get in front of a wider audience. And the App Store definitely has that."
Chtulhu hits this June 28 across iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch for $1.99. Above, we've got a big video that shows off the first 20 or so minutes of the game, if you're into picture-pictures instead of word-pictures.
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