Devolver Digital’s latest game within their stables of gory, bizarre, and irreverent releases is Massive Monster’s Cult of the Lamb, a casino game so perfectly-pitched to the Devolver crowd that it is hard to trust it wasn’t an in-house project. It is a cult simulator, but with cute li’l woodland animals rather than bloodthirsty human-types or Cthulhuses (although you may get a Cthulhu skin within a pre-order bonus, actually), making all of the ritual sacrifice and cannibalism look so cuuuuuuuute.
That mix of cutesy and culty may be the culmination of several, many months prototyping and flinging ideas at the wall in Massive Monster HQ, however now that the overall game has gone out, it’s receiving reviews that produce all that work worthwhile (our review is just around the corner, don’t worry PC codes were delivered sooner than Switch ones!).
Those early reviews have really cottoned to what’s in the centre of Cult of the Lamb’s appeal. Polygon calls it “Animal Crossing meets Dante’s Inferno“, Ars Technica says that it is “Animal Crossing meets the dark arts”, and Digital Trends also compares it to Animal Crossing, but blended with Ari Aster’s Midsommar. Are you currently sensing a style?
That wasn’t actually the intention. Cult of the Lamb initially grew out of a need to mix together colony simulators and roguelikes, and the Animal Crossing stuff came much later and mostly unintentionally. “As Cult of the Lamb grew we started seeing a lot more similarities with Animal Crossing,” says James Pearmain, the Art Director at Massive Monster. Actually, the original ideas weren’t Animal Crossing-like at all.
“We experienced several different ideas before landing on Cult of the Lamb! Among the very earliest ideas was about Girl Scouts that grow magical weapon plants to fight with.
Then your game was an afterlife simulator where you’d your town of minions and had to torture individuals delivered to hell. In another version of the overall game, you played as a God that lived along with a floating whale, and had to dive right down to the dangerous world below to get new followers for his or her tribe…
We dragged ourselves by way of a large amount of different ideas, and threw away lots of work – we really wanted a concept that people want. Once we chosen the tagline Start your personal cult of woodland worshippers, the overall game really began to pull together because the aesthetic and theme became closely linked with the gameplay.”
– Art Director James Pearmain on the scrapped ideas behind Cult of the Lamb
The team decided in early stages that they wished to create a game that has been character-led, and Cult of the Lamb grew out of this. The theory was about venturing out into dungeons, finding new characters, and bringing them back again to base, and that meant making characters with personality ones which were worth saving and keeping.
As Cult of the Lamb grew we started seeing a lot more similarities with Animal Crossing
“We wanted them to be animals,” says Pearmain. “It meant each one of these could look unique and visually interesting. At that time we started seeing similarities with [Animal Crossing] you have your little village with animals travelling, accumulating and planning your town Needless to say, after we added the Cult theme and started introducing darker elements such as for example rituals and sacrifice, it began to feel a little more evil than AC!”
The animals in the overall game range between foxes and frogs (the existing trendy indie game animals) to elephants and giraffes, with an increase of to come within free future updates. Similar to Animal Crossing, there is a wide variety of critters to befriend and/or sacrifice, you start with the most obvious favourites. “We viewed several lists of the very most popular animals,” says Pearmain. “Everyone has their favourites, and I needed to make as many folks as happy as you possibly can… We also considered some fun, more obscure ones that folks may not expect!”
But we’re obtaining a little before ourselves, here. Cult of the Lamb begins like any normal day: You’re slightly sheepy, having a pleasant time, when suddenly oh no! you obtain snatched up as a sacrifice to appease the Old Gods. Nevertheless, you are rescued from death by way of a mysterious, imprisoned entity called THE MAIN ONE Who Waits, who’ll grant you another chance at life when you can free him. Appears like a good deal!
That feeling of time investment and slow progress provides wonderful sense of ownership and joy over your island… or cult
That dark beginning can’t hide the sweetness behind Cult of the Lamb, though. Sure, most of the game is spent sacrificing both your most-devoted followers and your non-believers alike to THE MAIN ONE Who Waits, but you will also be farming, fishing, flirting and fighting to supply your cultists with a house. And although the pet Crossing similarities weren’t deliberately, they can fit well with the themes of the overall game.
“We enjoy the sense of creativity in [Animal Crossing],” Pearmain tells us. “The theory your island is yours to develop and decorate nevertheless, you see fit… that feeling of clearing up and growing your island as time passes, and eventually own it bustling and filled with cute animal villagers… that feeling of time investment and slow progress provides wonderful sense of ownership and joy over your island, or cult.” Who says a cult can not be wholesome? Many individuals, probably.
And what would an Animal Crossing-like game be with out a fishing minigame? “Every game must have a fishing mechanic,” says Pearmain, semi-jokingly. “How come Metroid not need fishing? Bad game. Mario 64 – no fishing! Its a negative game.”
How come Metroid not need fishing? Bad game. Mario 64 – no fishing! Its a negative game
Obviously, he’s not serious, but fishing minigames have grown to be somewhat synonymous with games offering high-octane action and fishy downtime. “We really wanted Cult of the Lamb to possess a good mixture of fast-paced action… and slower, more reflective moments of downtime, to clean those horrors of the dungeon crawling away,” says Pearmain. “Just like the aesthetic juxtaposition of cute and scary, light and dark, we wished to have that contrast in the gameplay aswell. Fishing fits effectively with those slower, more reflective moments.”
Cute animals, fishing, crafting, villager maintenance… up to now, Cult of the Lamb probably seems very Animal Crossingy, having an added layer of, you understand, cult stuff. But Pearmain assures us that there surely is plenty more behind the cutesy stuff, too. Cult of the Lamb draws inspiration from games like Hades, Binding of Isaac, Don’t Starve, and Dead Cells all games with death and decay as core elements of their story and the DNA of the games is woven through Cult of the Lamb’s tapestry as much as its cuter counterparts. For instance, it is possible to marry multiple cultists, throw villagers in the stocks for bad behaviour, and feed said villagers to your devoted followers without their knowledge. Tom Nook doesn’t look so very bad now, eh?
Spouses are a lot more valuable to the gods [as sacrifices]
Actually, Pearmain says that Tom Nook will be first to be sacrificed in his alternate-dimension Animal Crossing island… but that he’d marry him first. “Spouses are a lot more valuable to the gods,” he says, worryingly but he’s just discussing just how Cult of the Lamb places higher importance on ultra-devoted sacrificial cultists. Hopefully.
So, Animal Crossing and Cult of the Lamb could have a lot in keeping at first glance… but Cult of the Lamb’s cutesy wrapping belies its much darker tone underneath, developing a tantalising juxtaposition of cute-and-creepy which has did wonders for other stories during the past, like Adventure Time and Happy Tree Friends (does anyone remember Happy Tree Friends?).
So, what could Animal Crossing study from Cult of the Lamb? “Sometimes it’s good to be evil,” says Pearmain. “If you are cute enough, you will get away with anything!”
Cult of the Lamb has gone out at this time on the Nintendo Switch. Our review will undoubtedly be out soon, so look out!