- Developer: Cat-astrophe Games, MobilWay
- Publisher: Ultimate Games
- Genre: Adventure, Role-Playing, Board-game
- Released: 6th January 2022
L’ ah ngnah nafl l’ ah, cahf ah kn’a.
“Theater of Shadows. The name conjures up a stage filled with acts and shows that bring about despair and hopelessness in its audience. Fitting then, for this title…”
…is what I would’ve gone with had I not given this game more of a chance after my initial play-through (as well as a cursory look at the game’s store page on the eshop). The developer’s ‘cat-alogue’ doesn’t really bring much to the debate either, so it really was left to this title to defend itself.
You play Killian, who is on a bleak quest through the island of Esha searching for his kidnapped twin sister, Eileen. You immediately meet the kidnappers who force you (through threats to Eileen’s safety) to perform illogical tasks for them.
For a game based on the Cthulhu mythos though, it really isn’t that creepy. You get the occasional really odd and mysterious event, but that’s just it; isolated spooky happenings. While some on their own may be indeed unnerving, ultimately they add nothing to the greater narrative besides atmosphere.
Also the events repeat after awhile, breaking immersion for the most part. There are only so many missing hunter family events (two) one can experience without eyes rolling up, for example. There are a few points in the main narrative that takes an interesting twist, but overall the story doesn’t rise above its manufactured mediocrity.
Each locale and local on the island are drawn out in a bold comic-book style, and this extends to the monsters you meet as well. Animations are limited to the monsters, as they swoop/slide/slither onto the screen.
Some of the creatures really do look like your worst nightmares. It’s such a pity then that the lack of overall variety in enemies causes repeated encounters to feel more like a chore rather than an experience to melt your mind.
As for the aural department, I wouldn’t be able to hum any tune from this title even if you were to put a revolver to my head. Not much to say for SFX used either. It really all was background noise… which I guess is a form of praise as I didn’t feel any of the sounds used to be out of place.
The game is billed as a 2D-roguelite, but it really is more akin to Ludo. They say that the map is procedurally generated. I mean, technically the truth? It really is just the same map while jumbling the contents of the locations you can travel to, as well as items found, enemies met, and the key areas to achieve the day’s goals.
Random numbers play a part within the enemy encounters themselves too. You don’t carry weapons, so these events boil down to trying to run away with as little damage as possible. There are options here to use your stamina to give yourself a higher chance to escape, but ultimately how you fare is up to your luck.
There is another option to use your sanity to chase away the enemy, but this requires stumbling across the method to do so during your explorations. As each method is exclusive to each enemy, you might come across one that does nothing for you in your current run, which is typical really.
Let me share something with you, dear reader, about myself: I fare horribly with games that deal with luck or die-rolling. My first couple of rounds in this game had me tearing my hair out trying to survive the seemingly endless amount of enemies while my stamina, health and sanity (you have these three attributes to babysit throughout your journey in Esha) constantly depletes depending on the different actions taken. I was so very close to giving up within the first hour or so.
Fortunately it does get better with multiple attempts. As it is a roguelite, there are a few elements that carry over when you do eventually die. One would be costumes that increase/decrease your inventory space or the amounts of talismans you can equip. I would choose to wear costumes that boosts my inventory capacity, as having extra healing items literally is life-saving.
Another aspect that gets carried over successive playthroughs is the aforementioned methods of chasing away enemies. As you start to accumulate these, enemy encounters become trivial as long as you have sufficient sanity to afford this. Luckily, running across a hospital or an abandoned house will allow you to scavenge and with luck you’ll leave pockets full of restorative items.
Overall, this game while not a pinnacle of any sort, does have a somewhat compelling gameplay loop once you get in the groove. To reach the end of a run will not take you too long, but the game does encourage multiple playthroughs with the promise of different endings depending on the choices you make through your journey.
Should you get this title, one tip I can give you is: ‘loot like a kleptomaniac, use items like a junkie’. The game can be quite generous with health items, so just keep yourself topped up for the occasional unlucky encounter.
2.5/5 – if you’re looking for a quick experience, this may fit the bill. Honestly can go either way for myself. It’s got just about enough for me to recommend people give it a shot, but maybe during a sale?
Available now: $9.99
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*a review copy has been generously provided for this review