- Developer: Cat-astrophe Games, MobilWay S.A.
- Publisher: Ultimate Games, Cat-astrophe Games
- Release date: 6/1/2022
- Price: £8.99 / $9.99
- Review code provided by Cat-astrophe Games
Introducing: Theater Of Sorrows Review
Part Visual Novel, Part Rouge-lite, part resource management sim, all wrapped up in the slimy tentacles of a Lovecraftian nightmare, I mean, what’s not to love? All of the elements are here: Oddball characters with shady motives, gaunt and pale protagonist, Sanity meters, twins, creepy masks, and mouse murder. And that’s just the first day… On the atmosphere alone, I was pulled into this thing, but, with this many plates in the air, let’s see if this indie title can keep them all spinning into compelling gameplay!
You play as one half of a set of twins, Killian. You and your sister, Eileen, have been inseparable most of your lives. One night 20 years ago, she vanished. Last week, Killian received a letter telling him of the island of Esha and the cult of Gof’nn who has his sister and plans some not so nice things. Killian hops ship and takes off for Esha island, shortly after things take a turn towards the weird and roller coasters all over from there.
While the game basically hits the ground running, it doesn’t always tell you how exactly you’re supposed to do any of this. I was well into my third run of the first day before I realized you could loot almost every location, and indeed, that was the only way to actually survive. You need to manage your stats, craft goodies, and live long enough to stop this cult’s dark and sinister plan. When you die (Not if. When) you get to do it all again, only different; Even some of the story events are remixed when the world resets. You go back and do it again, and hope the dice fall in your favor this time. I mean that literally since the chances of you escaping an encounter are often left to the fate of the dreaded RNG. That can be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting.
The Call Of Cthulu
The game is a single-player, story-heavy, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style narrative that sees you exploring the island of Esha and hitting random encounters that may help push you towards saving your sister or just as easily be some slime skeleton wanting to beat you to death with your own face. Since there is not really any combat to speak of, you can lose a little Stamina and try to Run. This is going to lead to a loss of Stamina and Life as he wails on you and can be rage-inducing. Moving around the map costs Stamina and Health, seeing something disturbing can damage your Sanity, and you have to balance them all using scavenged items, while actually trying to meet that day’s goal. This goal is usually some sort of ritual or talisman you have to do or make, and eventually you’ll get back to the story of Eileen.
You make your way around to each location, encountering either a lootable house with multiple rooms or sometimes one of the many colorful and freaky characters will come to say hello. It’s all going to lead to you losing Sanity, Stamina, and sometimes Health. If you meet that day’s goal, you retire and the game finally saves. But the game can be repetitive and lopsided when you can’t finish the day’s task and fall dead in a field, only to have to replay the last 45 minutes of the game.
Therein lies the biggest rub. The title has so much potential and I really do love the game that I wish this was. The story and all of its twisted glory should be the highlight and the selling point. As it is, you spend far too much time and energy keeping your bars healthy. It’s easy to get lost in the details and there never seem to be enough resources to keep you ahead of the curve. Going mad or falling dead from lack of health, either way, you’re starting that run over again. There are only so many events and you hit the repeat button so often, you quickly start seeing the same ones over and over. A lot. It’s frustrating, because I wanted more of the story, but found myself completely lost in resource management hell more times than not. I almost wish there was a Visual Novel difficulty that removed the Resource Sim parts so we could get all of what this game does so very well.
Colour From Out of Space
The shining star in all of this is the wonderful art, music, and script. The handcrafted, horror-comic-inspired scenes stand out beautifully, even in handheld mode. There’s a contrast of Killian’s dapper looks and the ragged lines of the monsters and various cast members. The colors are very basic and subdued keeping the melancholy feel, with the backgrounds oftentimes monochrome, allowing the cells of the main characters to stand out. The letters were nice and crisp on the text boxes which made reading some of the absolute insane stories all the easier, even with my old eyes. It’s clear when you need to make a decision, and there are great visual cues when things are not going your way.
The music was nice and somber, some of it even fading into the overall ambiance soundscape of the scenes. The only other sounds are the UI and pop-up windows, there are no character voices or spoken lines. However, that doesn’t detract from the feel of this game at all. It absolutely drips Lovecraft from every pore and I wanted to get soaked in it.
In The Vault
The game ran smoothly both on the screen and in handheld mode. The graphics are simple enough there’s no worry of over-taxing the Switch. The music is basic enough to be clearly heard without headphones, but since the game is so text-heavy, it’s very easy to play silently for places and times when you need it. The game doesn’t offer a bunch of options, just a few sliders for music and sound and there are no accessibility options to speak of. If anything, it could have used an Auto Forward for some of the more dialog-heavy scenes.
The Terrible Old Man
I wanted so very hard to love this game. I’d have even been happy to like it. There were so many of the pieces in there that could have been an amazing journey, but it’s mired down with its own gameplay elements that just aren’t that much fun. The game should be depressing because of the story and setting, not because you are thinking how much better the game could have been. It’s got some nice ideas, but it drowns itself in the management side of things. I can’t see us talking about this game five years from now. If you’re interested, get it on sale.
- The art and music are perfect for Lovecraft
- Some of the cast are wonderfully odd
- Everything about the micromanagement of resources
- Gets repetitive very quickly