“Lovecraftian” and “nostalgic” are two buzzwords that have practically lost meaning in today’s pop culture landscape. Every other movie is a reboot, and several horror games trot out tired eldritch terror imagery. Not to mention Cthulu, one of the Great Old Ones himself, is practically nothing more than an edgy teenage meme at this point. With that in mind, it’s easy to go into Transylvanian developer Stuck in Attic’s debut game, Gibbous: A Cthulu Adventure, with a healthy dose of skepticism. It pitches itself as a throwback to the LucasArts games of yesterday, and wears its Lovecraft influences on its sleeve.
It’s a good thing, then, that the developers don’t seem interested in revisiting trends to make a quick buck. Instead, within a few minutes of starting Gibbous, one becomes taken with how authentic everything feels. The first noticeable thing is that the animations and backgrounds, all hand-drawn, are lovingly rendered with lush colors and a definitive style that makes the game stand out from potential competitors. And as soon as the characters start talking, the top-shelf voice actors deliver some of the funniest writing in recent gaming memory. From there on out, the hour or so I spent with Gibbous delivered a steady flow of witty dialogue, clever puns, and enough breaking of the fourth wall to make even Deadpool blush.
The basic gist of the game is that librarian Buzz stumbles upon the Necronomicon (which looks like “one of those British sweater vests” as opposed to being bound in human flesh a la Evil Dead) and opens it, unleashing forces that he doesn’t quite understand. The immediate consequence? His cat, Kitteh, can suddenly speak. This is actually the catalyst to the narrative: Kitteh wants to be a normal cat again, and Buzz wants everything to be normal again, period. Ostensibly, players will help make both those wishes come true, with the help of an eclectic cast of supporting characters, like a Tim Schafer-looking voodoo doctor, an apparently faceless taxi driver, and a creepy little girl straight out of Ringu. Oh, and a detective that was kidnapped immediately after meeting Buzz.
The multiple sub-plots that popped up in the demo were full of the sort of quirky, sarcastic and dark humour that was a hallmark of point-and-click adventure games of the early 90s. Ditto for the varying descriptions of different items, as well as Buzz’s propensity for mocking the player when they make a clumsy leap in logic, or try to use features that aren’t in the game. There’s a real sense of Stuck in Attic not only wanting to emulate the zany, macabre atmosphere of old adventure games, but having enough capable writers in-house to pull off fresh, funny, and original content as opposed to just aping jokes and referencing things they like.
Which isn’t to say that Gibbous isn’t chock full of references to LucasArts and Sierra classics. Just from my cursory playthrough, I was able to pick out homages to Monkey Island and Leisure Suit Larry. I’m sure there are more buried in there that I’m missing. The references, however, are just little Easter eggs, and not the “beating you over the head” sorts of callbacks that these sorts of nostalgia-pitched games usually have on display. Consider them love letters and tributes to their forefathers.
It truly does feel like Gibbous: A Cthulu Adventure is a true successor to a very particular style of adventure game, as opposed to a wannabe imitator. Unlike Double Fine’s high-concept, somewhat disappointing Broken Age, Gibbous actually manages to look, sound, and feel like an old 90’s point-and-click adventure… just with hi-res artwork and modern conveniences (highlighting clickable objects, for example.) It’s clear that this is truly a labour of love for the developers, and on top of that, it has the potential to be one of the funniest, smartest gaming experiences in quite some time.
Come 2017, Gibbous could very well be one of the year’s best if the finished product is as uniformly great as the demo.