Call of Cthulhu, a beloved horror Table Top RPG (TTRPG) and adaption of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, got an adaption of its own on the Nintendo Switch. It’s not the first adaptation of any Cthulhu Mythos material, but it is the official adaptation of the TTRPG in particular. Cthulhu and everything that goes with it is centered around being a psychological horror experience. The TTRPG, which I played once years ago, has managed that to great effect. So, does the game hold up? Here is our Call of Cthulhu Nintendo Switch review
Before we dive into the review, we need to put the TTRPG in context and briefly explain what the Cthulhu Mythos is in general. If you have played the TTRPG or read any of Lovecraft’s books around that Mythos, feel free to skip the next paragraph. For those who didn’t do either, I’ll sum it up briefly in the paragraph below.
The Mythos around Cthulhu is a widely revered collection of stories that were written from 1928 on by H.P. Lovecraft, a great writer but horrible person. His books are regarded as pillars of what became the psychological horror genre and it’s lingering effect on the audience.
The TTRPG takes those elements and makes them playable, just like Dungeons and Dragons made Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings playable. The unique advantage of TTRPGs is that they essentially allow you to do everything you can think of, as long as it’s at all possible, you’ve got the stats for it and your Game Master allows you to try. Now that you’re caught up, let’s get on with our Call of Cthulhu Nintendo Switch review!
Call of Cthulhu Nintendo Switch Review
The game greets you with a foreboding title screen, immediately building atmosphere. You are Edward Pierce, a WWI veteran who’s now running a private detective office while trying to numb his nightmares and mental trauma with booze and pills. You haven’t had a real case in a long time and, should you fail to get one quickly, you’ll lose your license. Thankfully, a rich businessman seeks your help. The death of his daughter haunts him and even though the case was closed, he asks you to get back into it and find out the truth. With that, you make your way to Darkwater, a haunting island where she died in a fire alongside her family.
Call of Cthulhu Nintendo Switch Review | The five abilities
You get seven abilities, five of which you can actively improve with character points you earn over time by playing and two abilities that you can only improve by actually finding objects in the game world that correlate with them.
The five abilities you can improve with points are as follows:
- Spot Hidden – Exactly what it says, it helps you find hidden objects. Specifically, depending on how many points you have invested, some objects are hidden by way of them not existing
- Eloquence – Your skill in diplomatically driving a conversation
- Strength – Physically brute-forcing problems
- Investigation – Pierce’s ability to piece together the evidence/analyse the situation and increased lock picking skills
- Psychology – How deep Pierce’s empathy and understanding of other people is
These abilities vary wildly in their usefulness. For my play through, I invested pretty much everything I had between Investigation and Spot Hidden, the latter of which I maxed out as soon as I could as it is the ability I find most useful. If you don’t have a high Spot Hidden value, it’s a lot harder to gain important pieces of information by yourself, which in turn limits your options in how you can approach conversations with other characters. Investigation covers things that are hiding something, but Pierce might be too thick to understand that if you don’t have at least some investment in that.
In the first ten hours, I only needed Strength once and even then, my stats that I had from the start of the game were enough for the situation. Eloquence could help in some conversations, but in most you can manage a similar outcome with clues from Spot Hidden and Investigation, which themselves have more than just conversation application. Psychology is in a similar position to Eloquence and it seems like it’s mainly there to provide a different flavor to the situation, should you have invested in that.
As I touched on, there are two abilities you can’t improve by yourself if you didn’t boost them at the start of the game, those being your understanding in Medicine and Occultism.
To improve on that front, you need to explore, get your hands on books, and search occult symbols and letter conversations between different people, essentially everything that can provide optional lore. Which is a fantastic way to reward the player without somehow inventing a game-y reward like general experience. Sadly, this just amounts to you focusing on the object and getting a quick blurb next to it. The game gives you the option to rotate the object, which could provide further insight or give hidden clues, but it’s a missed opportunity by not adding anything to the experience.
Another mechanic is what I like to call “Detective Vision”, where (on specific scenes) Pierce briefly turns into Sherlock Holmes and reconstructs the scene in his mind. For the first eight hours, he mainly states the obvious, but slowly comes back around when things don’t appear to be as clear cut, making it feel more like a first-person point & click game. While we are on the subject of looking into the game, let me tell you a bit about the graphics.
Call of Cthulhu Nintendo Switch Review | Dated graphics
One of the first things you notice when you get to play is that the visuals look dated. Textures have laughably low resolutions and animations are stiff and lifeless. Sadly, that lifelessness doesn’t support the horror theme, rather it seems like school theater where nobody really likes the play. The game is riddled with cut scenes for pretty much every major character interaction or story beat. These weirdly switch between essentially pre-rendered and in-engine back and forth, often even multiple times in the same scene.
This further accentuates the lacking visuals when you’re actually allowed to play. There are also major problems, like clipping, that seems too obvious to be missed by QA testers, as well as lighting problems. At the start of the game, you are prompted to set your gamma levels very low, to support the horror aesthetic. While atmospheric at times, this makes it really hard to see when the screen turns to blinding white light for transitions into/out of Detective View or even when you are too close to a wall while carrying a light source.
The level design also doesn’t impress. Levels have little variation in their respective design, which is either irrelevant because you get pulled on a string with little deviation or get frustrated because it’s difficult to create an accurate mental map. This becomes dangerous when a good part of your game consists of underdeveloped stealth segments.
Most notably, there are no audible footsteps from enemies. In order to understand how you can evade guards, you have to wait around a lot as well as be in the right position in the first place. Since you have no audible confirmation of where enemies are, this can easily turn into a frustrating game of catch. Once you managed to get into that precious position, you’ll see what their way too simple walking loop looks like. Visibility cones are inconsistent, and light penetrates through objects seemingly in an attempt to mitigate the lack of audible information for stealth.
Call of Cthulhu Nintendo Switch Review | The good, the bad, and the ugly
While the game manages to hold your interest by balancing out good and bad for the most parts, there are a handful of areas where it simply falls short. One of which is unforgivable:
At every point where it gets interesting, the game wrestles control away. You get into a tense situation and in the moment where you feel like it’s important to do everything right because the stakes are high, the game just throws you into a cut scene. These end in the same “twists” that cheapen actual death/failure.
After hours of this, you finally get thrown into a situation where you actually are in control. Without spoiling, these were the most infuriating parts because after dying dozens of times, you finally reign victorious and go through with your plan which I won’t spoil here. Essentially, the game just throws its hands up into the air and says “That’s not what I wanted you to do even though everything pointed you toward that conclusion.”
Call of Cthulhu Nintendo Switch Review | The Verdict
However, one good thing came from all of this. I now know where I stand on this game. It’s a graphically sub-par, not really thought out, cheap horror ride with some excellent ideas thrown in when it comes to interacting with the world. Sadly, that doesn’t help. To bring up its TTRPG roots, it feels like you are playing with the worlds 3rd most restrictive Game Master who doesn’t actually have anything prepared for when you inevitably want to stray from the path they want you to go on.
It doesn’t work as a horror game because it doesn’t give weight to failure and it definitely doesn’t work as an adaptation of the source material, be that the books or the TTRPG.