Devolver Digital’s latest game in its stable of gory, bizarre and irreverent releases is Massive Monster’s Cult of the Lamb, a game so perfectly crafted for the Devolver crowd that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t an in-house project. It’s a cult simulator, but with cute li’l forest animals instead of bloodthirsty human-types or Cthulhuses (although you can get a Cthulhu skin as part of a pre-order bonus, actually), which makes all ritual sacrifice and cannibalism look bad so cuuuuuute.
That combination of cutesy and culty is the culmination of many, many months of prototyping and pinning ideas on the wall at Massive Monster HQ, but now that the game is out, it’s receiving reviews that make all that work worthwhile (our review is coming soon, don’t worry – PC codes were sent out earlier than Switch ones!).
Those early reviews really cottoned on to what is at the heart of Cult of the Lamb’s appeal. Polygon calls it “Animal Crossing meets Dante’s Inferno“Ars Technica says it is “Animal Crossing meets the dark arts”, and digital trends also compares it to Animal Crossing, but mixed with Ari Aster’s Midsummer. Do you feel a theme?
That was not really the intention. Cult of the Lamb initially grew out of a desire to mix colony simulators and roguelikes, and the Animal Crossing stuff came much later – and mostly by accident. “As Cult of the Lamb grew, we started to see more and more similarities with Animal Crossing,” says James Pearmain, the Art Director at Massive Monster. In fact, the initial ideas were not Animal Crossing-like at all.
“We went through a lot of different ideas before we landed on Cult of the Lamb! One of the hottest ideas was about Girl Scouts growing magical weapon plants to fight with.
Then the game was an afterlife simulator where you had your city of minions and had to torture the people sent to hell. In another version of the game, you played as a God who lived on top of a floating whale, and had to dive to the dangerous world below to find new followers for her tribe…
We dragged ourselves through a lot of different ideas, and threw away a lot of work – we really wanted an idea that people loved. Once we decided on the tagline ‘Start your own cult of forest worshippers’, the game really started to come together as the aesthetic and theme became closely tied to the gameplay.
– Art Director James Pearmain on the scrapped ideas behind Cult of the Lamb
The team decided early on that they wanted to make a character-driven game, and Cult of the Lamb grew out of that. The idea was about going out into dungeons, finding new characters and bringing them back to basics, and that meant creating characters with personality – one that was worth saving and loving.
As Cult of the Lamb grew, we began to see more and more similarities with Animal Crossing
“We wanted them to be animals,” says Pearmain. “It meant that each one could look completely unique and visually interesting. At that point we started to see similarities with [Animal Crossing] – you have your little village with animals running around, building your town and planning… Of course, once we added the ‘Cult’ theme and started introducing darker elements like rituals and sacrifice, it started to get a bit feel worse than AC!”
The animals in the game range from foxes and frogs (the current trendy indie game animals) to elephants and giraffes, with more to come as part of free future updates. Like Animal Crossing, there is a wide range of animals to befriend and/or sacrifice, starting with the obvious favorites. “We looked at a few lists of the most popular animals,” says Pearmain. “Everyone has their favorites, and I wanted to make as many people as happy as possible… We also came up with something fun, more obscure that people might not expect!”
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, here. Cult of the Lamb starts like any other normal day: You’re just a little sheep, having a nice time, when suddenly – oh no! – you are picked up as a sacrifice to appease the Old Gods. But you are saved from death by a mysterious, imprisoned entity called The One Who Waits, who will give you a second chance at life if you can free him. Sounds like a great deal!
That sense of time investment and slow progress gives a wonderful sense of ownership and joy over your island…or cult
However, that dark beginning cannot hide the sweetness behind Cult of the Lamb. Certainly, much of the game is spent sacrificing both your most devoted followers and your non-believers like The One Who Waits, but you’ll also farm, fish, flirt and fight to give your cultists a home. And while the Animal Crossing similarities weren’t on purpose, they fit the game’s themes well.
“We really like the sense of creativity in it [Animal Crossing]”, Pearmain tells us. “The idea that your island is yours to build and decorate as you see fit… that sense of your island cleaning up and growing over time, and eventually have it bustling and full of cute animal villagers. .. that sense of time investment and slow progress gives a wonderful sense of ownership and fun about your island, or cult.” Who says a cult can’t be healthy? A lot of people, probably.
And what would an Animal Crossing-like game be without a fishing minigame? “Every game should have a fishing mechanic,” says Pearmain, semi-jokingly. “Why does Metroid do not have fishing? Bad game. Mario 64 – no fishing! It’s a bad game.”
Why doesn’t Metroid have fishing? Bad game. Mario 64 – no fishing! It’s a bad game
Of course, he’s not serious, but fishing minigames have become somewhat synonymous with games that offer high-octane action and fishy downtime. “We really wanted Cult of the Lamb to have a good mix of fast-paced action… and then slower, more reflective moments of downtime, to wash away those horrors of the dungeon creeping away,” says Pearmain. “Like the aesthetic juxtaposition of fun and scary, light and dark, we wanted to have that contrast in the gameplay as well. Fishing really fits those slower, more reflective moments.”
Cute animals, fishing, crafting, villager upkeep… so far Cult of the Lamb seems likely whole Animal Crossingy, with an added layer of, you know, cult stuff. But Pearmain assures us that there is also much more behind the cutesy things. Cult of the Lamb draws inspiration from games like Hades, Binding of Isaac, Don’t starveand Dead cells – all games with death and decay as core parts of their story – and the DNA of these games is woven through the tapestry of Cult of the Lamb just as much as its cuter counterparts. For example, you can marry multiple cultists, throw villagers in the stocks for bad behavior, and feed said villagers to your devoted followers without their knowledge. Tom Nook doesn’t look too bad now, does he?
Spouses are much more valuable to the gods [as sacrifices]
In fact, Pearmain says that Tom Nook would be the first to be sacrificed on his alternate dimension Animal Crossing island…but that he would marry him first. “Spouses are much more valuable to the gods,” he says, worriedly—but he’s just referring to the way Cult of the Lamb places higher importance on ultra-devoted sacrificial cultists. Hopefully.
So, Animal Crossing and Cult of the Lamb may have a lot in common on the surface…but Cult of the Lamb’s cutesy cover belies its much darker tone underneath, creating a tantalizing juxtaposition of cute-and-creepy that’ t has worked so well for other stories in the past, such as Adventure time and Happy Tree Friends (anyone remember Happy Tree Friends?).
So, what could Animal Crossing learn from Cult of the Lamb? “Sometimes it’s good to be evil,” says Pearmain. “If you’re cute enough, you can get away with ą̶̹̔̇n̵͇̱̈ᴙ̴̯͛ţ̶̹͌h̸͖͌i̵͇̠̐̀n̷̯̉̚g̷̫͎̔!”
Cult of the Lamb is out now on the Nintendo Switch. Our review will be out soon, so stay tuned!
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