Eldritch – PC
Developer: Minor Key Games, LLC
Publisher: Minor Key Games, LLC
Release Date: October 21, 2013
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
Reviewed by ryanvoid
Scores of video games have attempted to recreate H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, creating painstakingly eerie surroundings and monsters that look like pixelated crimes against nature. Eldritch, on the other hand, uses goofy 16-bit graphics and hopping fish people that make tiny squeaks as they attack you. That’s a good thing.
It’s refreshing to play a game adapted from subject matter that normally takes itself absurdly seriously. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, for instance, falls flat purely because it fails to live up to the promise of its source material; if the works of Lovecraft are centered on an unnameable, primordial dread, attempting to pixelate that nameless dread and give it hit points usually becomes an exercise in pure narm. There’s only so much cosmic terror you can feel while being menaced by a pixelated Father Dagon who makes funny noises when you throw harpoons at him.
Eldritch is a fairly straightforward roguelike with obviously Minecraft-inspired graphics, and the aesthetic of the game works perfectly with the lighthearted, goofy atmosphere. Need to approximate alien architecture with impossible dimensions? Use wavy pixelated bricks that protrude like stone goiters. Getting attacked by a floating horror that could generously be described as a Shoggoth? Make it look like a levitating marshmallow with a single winking Maybelline eye.
Even with the obvious similarity to Minecraft’s graphics, any comparisons are superficial. Nobody would dream of calling Minecraft’s aesthetic a ripoff of Doom’s purely because of its graphic format, and Eldritch is a very different game both in execution and in gameplay. Not so much “building complex environments and nurturing creativity” as “punching cultists and knifing fishpeople for money.” The environments are surprisingly diverse – you trudge through frozen tundras, musty basements, and libraries, looking for upgrades and artifacts. Because, you know, Lovecraft somehow always translates into “adventure archaeology” at one point or another.
The roguelike aspect of the game does become frustrating at certain points, and because the levels can be difficult to navigate, you tend to die a lot. Three-foot falls can knock out your health pretty quickly, and it can be a bit of chore to gain any traction and progress through the game because you keep dying and winding up back in the library. Certain enemies are impossible to defeat and have no hit points, and you figure this out shortly after shooting a gun at one of the floating amorous nightmares that chase you down and kill you. You can store your money in a bank so that it’s there to purchase more items from the helpful fishpeople merchants, but it can be very discouraging, especially if you’re not used to roguelike dynamics. The upside of this feature is that it helps ground the atmosphere of the game in something challenging, rather than only providing a farcical romp through the environments.
The other problem with the game is that it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. If you’ve played the game for an hour, you’ve pretty much explored every feature the game has to offer. The things it does, it does well, but if you aren’t completely sold on the game mechanics starting out, you’re never really going to get into it. It’s primarily about hunting for artifacts, attacking things, and running away from a plethora of goofy monsters. While a lot of the monster mechanics are varied enough to keep it interesting, and the difficulty progresses nicely as you navigate through the level, the flavor can wear thin very quickly. There isn’t even a compelling storyline (or really, any story at all aside from notes left by other adventurers) to hold your interest. Sure, it avoids the pompous self-seriousness of other Cthulhu mythos games, but the flipside of it is the disposability of a game that never tries to get you emotionally invested. At its core, it’s a send-up of Lovecraft that never manages to make any sort of point about why the cheesy graphics are there for any reason other than “lol blocky monsters aren’t actually scary.”
Still, I’ll take a 16-bit parody of Lovecraft’s work over another game featuring NPCs that yell “Ia, ia, Cthulhu fthagn” over and over until the scariest thing is a non-functioning mute button.
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