Crowded as Xbox Live Indie Games is with farting massage simulators, it can be hard to find worthwhile titles. That's why we sift through all that rough to unearth a few gems. That way, you get the skinny on quality games and we get to indulge our secret passion for fart machines. This week, we take a look at the Zeboyd Games retro RPG romp, Cthulhu Saves the World.
Let's just start with the premise of Cthulhu Saves the World: You take control of Cthulhu, the squid-faced, winged god created by H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu emerges from the sea after centuries of slumber only to find his dark powers immediately sealed away by a mysterious holy wizard. A narrator then informs the player that the only way to break the curse is to become a true hero. Quickly breaking the fourth wall, Cthulhu informs the narrator that he was eavesdropping and now knows how to break the curse.
Thus begins his quest to become a true hero, but only so he can restore his world-rending powers and wash the earth in a tide of insanity and despair. Oh, it's also an RPG inspired by the 16-bit adventures of yore.
As you may have gleaned from the premise, Cthulhu Saves the World plays out with tongue planted firmly in cheek. There's plenty of funny dialogue, which is made all the more absurd when uttered by Cthulhu, one of the more terrifying literary creations of the last century.
The game also plays on many of the established tropes of 16-bit era role-playing games. It's not too long, for example, before Cthulhu (and his newfound party member Umi) happen upon a band of heroes bent on destroying him. These characters all bear striking resemblances to familiar RPG heroes, from masked thief to wavy-haired heroine to dashing swordsman. Honestly, it sort of felt like I was crashing someone else's game of Phantasy Star.
The battle system should be familiar to RPG vets as well. Presented from a first person perspective, players choose from various spells and techniques to launch at well-drawn foes. There are a few welcome wrinkles to battles, though, most notably the insanity system. True to his history, Cthulhu and his party can drive enemies insane with certain techniques, making them more susceptible to damage. Don't overdo it, though, as certain enemies become more dangerous when insane. Consecutive hits also build the party's combo count, which can be used to unleash powerful combo finishers.
Most of the more onerous RPG tasks are cleverly simplified in Cthulhu, too. Players don't have to futz with lots of different potions to heal various wounds and status effects. Instead, the game uses precisely one type of potion that cures all ailments and restores hitpoints. Furthermore, the game can be saved at any time, and players can instantly warp to any town they've already visited.
It's rare to find a game that is both entertaining and genuinely funny, and so far Cthulhu Saves the World is both. When asked for his pitch for Cthulhu Saves the World, Zeboyd's Robert Boyd told Joystiq, "Play the demo - if you don't laugh in the first 5 minutes, I'll be very surprised." Having played the first five minutes -- and a great deal more -- I'm inclined to agree.
Want to try out Cthulhu Saves the World? You can queue it for download on your Xbox here via Xbox.com! The full version is 240 MS Points ($3). If you've discovered (or created) an outstanding Xbox Live Indie Game and think it deserves some more visibility, email Richard aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "Xbox Live Indie Gems."