One of the reasons I’m taking it easy this week is because I’ve been short on sleep every single night since I got home from visiting a friend. Nothing’s wrong, I’ve just gotten completely absorbed into playing Cult of the Lamb every night. Sure, I’d probably be cutting myself off long before 1 or 2 in the morning if I had the chance to start playing before 1030 and wasn’t a little desperate to do anything enjoyable and relaxing with my evening. I’ve had errands, laundry, and Dungeons and Dragons games every night since I got home from visiting a friend, and while Dungeons and Dragons is enjoyable, it isn’t relaxing. It takes real effort and focus to run a game and while I don’t regret my decision to run a session this week, I do wish I was better rested going into the week. I would feel a lot less like rubbish if I was. And who knows, maybe I would have actually followed-through on my decision to “just play a bit” of this addictive combo rogue-lite and management sim instead of losing track of time until I started nodding off at 1 or 2 in the morning.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the game is the smoothness of the animation. Every move feels incredibly fluid as I steer the titular Lamb around the map, to the point that even the occasional loading issue (I’m playing on the Switch, which has some trouble after it’s been running for over an hour and you load into a new area or a new day starts) doesn’t feel too bad. The facial expressions shift and react to what you’re doing with the same fluidity, regardless of if the player character is making them or one of your cultists is. Every single nonplayer character gets the same loving attention for each of their animations, even if they have fewer than the player character does.
Even after hours of play, the same old actions feel fresh and interesting to watch simply because of how smooth and stylized they are. I’ve seen the Lamb do this little dance with my cultists dozens of times now, using the “Inspire” ability, and it’s still fun to watch. It takes the perfect amount of time and, since the dance is mirrored by the cultist you’re inspiring, it’s always fun to watch the cultist’s face animations change from reverence to joy and then back again.
I’ve still only barely scratched the surface of the game since I haven’t had much time to dedicate to it yet, but I’ve been enjoying every minute so far. It manages to avoid most of the hang-ups I expected to have by making it clear that most of the cultists are willing participants in their own sacrifice, death, and occasional incredibly-disgusting endeavors. This is not a game for someone who isn’t alright with blood, murder, poop-cleaning, and cartoon vomit (among many, MANY other things), but they sidestep a lot of the potential coercion issues by making a world of cultists, clear and present magic, and old gods filled with people are just genuinely into this stuff. Some people ask you to sacrifice them and, like, all you’ve done is magically float, build them basic amenities, feed them, and then fight back against the dominant power structures that provide them with the same stuff but in much more of a “you don’t have a choice but to worship us” way. In your cult, you actually do stuff for your cultists enjoy or request, like bring them flowers, give them gifts, rescue their friends or relatives, and take their feedback (or maybe develop your own iron fist with which to rule) to improve cult retention during the brief lives of the cute animal creatures that seem so intent on dedicating themselves to death, worship of a dark god, and pulling pranks on their fellow cultists.
Honestly, it’s game whose tone is difficult to describe since it covers some incredibly dark stuff with a cutesy veneer, but the game makes it clear from the outset that the themes and story elements of the game are trying to say something. One of the first bits of text you see when you start a new file is a message that reminds you that only one head can wear the crown at a time, and there’s some excellent metaphor work at play given the animal-adjacent features of the cultists and the fact that the one who is lifting up the titular character (a lamb) looks an awful lot like a wolf. I can’t wait to get further into the plot of the game so I can see how all this plays out in the long run [pre-posting edit: too bad that’ll have to wait a while due to bugs, but more on that coming Monday the 29th].