Developer: Zeboyd Games
Last year, Zeboyd Games' Robert Boyd put himself on the map with Breath Of Death VII: an award-winning Xbox Live Indie game that paid respectful homage to classic 8-Bit RPGs even as it gleefully parodied their weaknesses. This was soon followed by Cthulhu Saves The World, which pumped up every aspect of the storytelling, combat and exploration. The key to their success and critical reception was that they weren't just shallow parodies, rather, they were exceptional RPGs in their own right that actually equalled the games upon which they're based. Or dare I say, they surpassed.
Put simply, the Xbox Live Indie Scene just wasn't big enough for these two titles... so after months of tweaking, scheming and coding, Boyd has managed to bundle them both together with loads of new content for less than two pounds. Or to use its official title, the Cthulhu Saves the World: Super Hyper Enhanced Championship Edition Alpha Diamond DX Plus Alpha FES HD – Premium Enhanced Game of the Year Collector’s Edition (without Avatars!).
That's quite a mouthful... and luckily, it's absolutely delicious. Here's why you should buy it.
Lovecraft fanatatics and those who plug into geek culture should already know who Cthulhu is. He's the demon priest of the Old Ones, a terrifying and primal force of nature whose power defies the laws of nature and sanity. These powers, though, have been drained by a mysterious sorceror... leaving Cthulhu washed up in more ways than one. The only way to regain his strength and godhood is to become a true hero - and thus the erstwhile primordial horror sets out on an epic adventure to reclaim his honour and mind-shattering death magic.
Cthulhu Saves The World is based on typical 8-Bit era archetypes, notably the original Final Fantasy, Earthbound and Phantasy Star. You'll meet a selection of party members, explore some sprawling maze-like dungeons, trade in towns, grind for experience and face off against some major bosses; growing in strength and capability all the while. It's a pleasingly familiar experience to be sure, but rather than just aping (or worse, mocking yet emulating) genre conventions, Boyd has studied what made the original classics great and improved on the mechanics.
Combat, for example, is a streamlined turn-based affair where each party member stacks up their orders and acts according to their speed statistic. So far, so bleeding obvious, but Cthulhu can use a number of attacks to render his enemies completely insane. This debuff increases both their vulnerability and damage, meaning that timing is absolutely paramount to success. A combo meter can be filled to unleash powerful finishers - but to avoid the temptation to turtle and spam these devastating attacks, foes increase in strength with with successive turn. Working out whether to strive for the finishers or attempt to finish battles quickly is a tactical edge you'll rarely find in games of this nature, and comes to the fore in the frequent boss fights. The ability to save anywhere, retry battles and refill health after each engagement means that you don't have to hold back, and can treat each fight as a single event without the fear of being instantly bushwhacked afterwards.
Pleasingly, Boyd has found a perfect compromise between the need for meat to put through the grinder and the aggravation of frequent random battles by capping the number of random encounters. The counter for each map is clearly visible in the options menu - and once you've met your quota, you'll be left alone. You can then optionally summon extra battles if you're determined to stay ahead of the difficulty curve. It's a simple and elegant way of solving an age old problem.
The word elegant can't really be used to describe the maps, though, which is one of the few weaknesses of an otherwise exceptional package. Phantasy Star veterans will instantly feel right at home (or run in terror) as the dungeons tend to be ugly, barren affairs that are either extremely linear or overly confusing. The battles and personality-laden character art more than make up for this issue - and frankly, the visual style is enough to put it firmly out of your mind. Cthulhu Saves The World is a respectful 8-Bit homage through and through, featuring some unique attractive character design and hand-pixelled sprite work. An addictive soundtrack rounds out the presentation and will doubtlessly lodge deep within your mind for several days. Damn it.
We can't go any further without discussing the humour and storytelling. Cthulhu Saves The World is genuinely hilarious and delights in poking fun at Lovecraft, RPGs and shattering the fourth wall at every opportunity. It's not just a parody, though, as the exceptional writing quality is inherently funny in and of itself. The fact that the game is mechanically competent provides a base of authority from which to deliver the funnies; contrasting wildly with the likes of Deathspank and Eat Lead: The Return Of Matt Hazard. Developers take note: if you're determined to parody, make sure you don't fall prey to the very things you're attempting to mock!
As well as the lengthy (and graphically optimised) adventure, the PC edition also contains plenty of extra features that unlock once you've completed the game. Director's commentary, a bestiary, unlockable character art and an entirely new mode featuring a bevy of new female player characters. The Cthulu's Angels mode is raucously good fun and an entirely different way of going - as well as adding some much appreciated extra value.
And of course, you'll then have Breath of Death VII to play through. I could fill another article with exactly why we love its irreverent storyline, well-written characters and equally bonkers premise - but instead, I'll just mention that we reckon it's one of the best Indie games of 2010 and leave it at that.
So... you'll get two great games, loads of bonus features and a barrel of belly laughs for less than the price of a bus ticket.
- Two great games
- Loads of new features
- One negligible price
- Some miserable map design
- Arguably proves that the XBL Indie Scene is commercially disastrous
- Arguably proves that £40 RRPs are commercially ridiculous
The Short Version: Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.