Cult of the Lamb is Hello Kitty but if it hung out in a graveyard at midnight in high school

Cult of the Lamb is Hello Kitty but if it hung out in a graveyard at midnight in high school

Posted by Max Runeare on 27th Sep 2022

Cult of the Lamb is a cutely-satanic dungeon crawler that is a lot "The Binding of Isaac" and a little "Animal Crossing"

Evoking a cutesy art style that mostly manages to avoid becoming too dark for its own good, Massive Monster’s Cult of the Lamb seems to have found a place in the (mostly dead) hearts of the best of us. An addicting roguelike that pulls the bulk of its influence from The Binding of Isaac, you’ll be navigating randomly generated dungeons taking down both cute and grotesque creatures and cultists with a variety of weapons and spells, all while building a repository of resources to upgrade your cult’s campsite and members in an almost Animal Crossing-like management sim. It’s a formula that really evokes the “just one more run…” gameplay loop that Hades and Binding of Isaac nailed so well.

Here’s the particulars of gameplay:

Cult of the Lamb’s combat gameplay is straightforward: you have a basic attack and a spell, a dodge roll, and that’s it. Your spells use mana that regenerates when hitting enemies so you can’t just spam them, and you’ll be relying on your main weapon most of the time. Weapons include daggers, swords, axes and claws, and all have their own speed, power, and overall feel. These are randomly assigned to you along with a random spell at the beginning of each run, keeping you on your toes, but limiting your flexibility.

During your run you’ll have the opportunity to upgrade your abilities (through acquiring tarot cards that are somewhat ironically not actually tarot cards), and your weapons, giving you the opportunity to change up your style, but don’t expect anything to drastically change gameplay.

But that’s only half of the story. The other half comes between runs, much like Hades: building and running your cult.

Through some plot convolution and death, you are tasked with building a cult to worship an old, imprisoned god. You do this by recruiting followers and keeping them happy and believing, through constructing buildings for amenities, worship, and housing. You’ll be able to interact with them on a one-on-one basis, offering them gifts and (conveniently) being able to read their minds for their needs. It’s a little closer to Sim-management than Animal Crossing, as you can have actively negative repercussions for actions. You’ll be able to perform rituals and other actions to try and offset these negatives, in an attempt to keep the cult balanced so you can keep harvesting valuable resources to grow stronger through their worship.

You’ll also discover other visitable locations where you can play minigames for resources (knucklebones anyone?), and acquire new quests from various NPCs to help you further your cult. All of the quests and gameplay are on a constantly running day/night timer, so you need to also be wary of where you’re spending your time since your cultists will not in fact live forever and ignoring your camp for too long can have dire consequences.

But how well does all this really coalesce into a functional game? Mostly great, with a few rough spots.

Hades sort of ruined the perception of the amount of polish to expect from an indie studio. Combat mostly feels good here but does have some weirdness to it. Attacks can occasionally whiff when you expect them to hit due to some wonky hitboxes. Enemies flash white before they attack which is useful, but things can get so hectic on screen that indicators like this (and getting hit) can occasionally get lost amongst the chaos. Screens are full of destructibles like grass, bones, and structures, but as a result I found myself getting overwhelmed with the amount of assets on screen with no clear delineation between them. It’s not enough to ruin the experience, but it is noticeable enough to know that it has been executed better.

You can conduct rituals to help keep faith up and manage other community resources, including sacrificing members (giant Lovecraftian tentacles rise out of a portal and pull them into…somewhere!), helping them “ascend” (they rise up to the ceiling and then body parts all fly down), and even just celebrating with a feast. You can also enact doctrines for the cult which can help offset some of the negatives. Some cult members are disturbed by sacrifices? That’s ok, just enact a “belief in sacrifice” doctrine and everyone will HAVE to like them! It’s dark and humorous at first until you realize how grim it all really is.

As for the base-building and community-management: It’s not without its faults. I ran into a number of bugs where some buildings would no longer function after moving them, requiring I spend the resources to build them again. It also suffers the same asset-overload that combat does, where things can get confusing and lost amongst the sheer amount of stuff on screen.

The minigames are fun, and mostly designed to be a break from regular dungeon-crawling gameplay. The timer looming overhead though means that sometimes you’ll have to do what’s more immediately required of you instead of what you want to, but hey, cultin’ ain’t easy.

It’s also worth mentioning that the cutesy tone isn’t without its own fault. As a result of the tone, the entire fact that you’re building a cult, indoctrinating potentially unwilling subjects, and sacrificing/subjugating them is all given with a dose of “aw, isn’t this cute?” with no regard for actual consequence. It’s almost Happy Tree Friends-esque in how dark it can be while also attempting to be cute. I don’t think this game needed to take itself more seriously or even acknowledge this, but I felt it’s worth mentioning as I often found myself going “well, this is dark…” with the cutesy charm wearing off quickly.

If Cult of the Lamb does one thing very well, it’s cultivating an addicting gameplay loop. I often found myself losing hours to tasks such as “oh well I just need a few more bones for this ritual, so I’ll do 1 more run” and “well I want to finish up this quest before the timer expires, so I should work on getting this built”. It’s all successful enough in keeping you engaged, particularly if you’re enamored with the black and red tone the entire game is painted in. If you’re looking for that next game to scratch the roguelike itch and cute-dark things are your jam, Cult of the Lamb will welcome you with open arms… and never let go.

Note: I played the Switch version which has its share of performance issues. The game is locked to 30 fps and has dips even further down when things get hectic, especially in your campsite where you have hundreds of sprites on screen doing…stuff. I also had a few instances of the game locking up or getting stuck in a loading loop. Performance has improved since launch, but if you’re looking for a smoother experience over one on-the-go, I would recommend PS4/5, Xbox, or PC.

Cult of the Lamb is currently available digitally on PS4/5, Xbox X/S, Switch, and PC.