My first instinct on seeing Gibbous was ‘not another Lovecraft game’! It sometimes feels like I spend more time playing and reviewing titles based on the douche-master’s work than I do with my children. Although given the chances of slime, nightmares, and an unaccountable sense of dread from both activities it’s easy to mix them up.
Gibbous gets a pass though, primarily due to being a fun – and funny – take on its HP source (sorry, not sorry). Its promise to be a fusion of Monkey Island and the Necronomicon is a lofty aim, but one which Transylvanian developers Stuck In Attic largely achieve, making this perhaps the most enjoyable Lovecraftian title of recent times.
The excellent cartoony visuals of Gibbous look and feel like a vibrant mixture of classic LucasArts (as you remember them rather than their actual pixelated glory) and Don Bluth animations such as Dragon’s Lair. The animation itself is good and the character design is of a high standard. There are obviously dark streets and mysterious shadows, but everything is a far cry from the usual muddy browns and greens of most Cthulhu-inspired games.
Thankfully, the usual point and click issue with identifying interactive points is easily remedied by pressing the space bar to highlight. This quality of life improvement is always welcome but particularly so here when the writing is so enjoyable. Many items and background details can be examined multiple times to uncover a number of spoken responses, all of which are nicely acted with a real sense of character.
You begin the game as the hard-boiled PI, Don R Ketype, commissioned to locate the unholy Necronomicon by a mysterious and anonymous client. Your investigation takes you to the town of Darkham where you meet a gentle librarian by the name of Buzz Kerwan before getting yourself kidnapped by a sinister cult. Following this unfortunate event, you take over the role of Buzz and find yourself in possession of the Necronomicon. Upon returning home you foolishly read a passage aloud and magically enable your pet cat, Kitteh, to talk.
Kitteh, perhaps understandably, is less than happy about this turn of events and thus your quest begins in earnest. Balancing the unholy horrors of Lovecraft with the wonderfully silly central quest of stopping your cat from talking makes Gibbous a fantastic and genuinely witty take on Lovecraft’s oeuvre.
Your adventure sees you alternate between the roles of Buzz and Don, with occasional sections as Kitteh. Both characters follow a similar play style but their individual personalities shine through item descriptions and flavour text. I enjoyed the variety of playing as both, which worked well in keeping things fresh. Stuck in Attic are clear admirers of Lovecraft’s storytelling, but not so much of his problematic social views, so make a point of having a diverse range of characters occupying their game world. This is done pretty subtly and works better than the recent Sinking City’s somewhat clunky attempt to depict racist views as a historical necessity.
As well as the obligatory Lovecraftian areas, Darkham and the less than fragrant Fishmouth, Buzz and Don’s investigations take them to Paris and even the developers’ home country of Transylvania. This geographical range helps to offer variety in the background and also widens the cultural influences of the writing. The Transylvania section in particular plays out more like a classic Hammer horror film than the maddening cosmic horror the game’s subtitle might make you expect. There are some very interesting accents in use at times, but these simply add to the charm and humour.
With so much positivity already, it must be pretty clear that I really enjoyed Gibbous. However, an adventure game needs more than charm and good writing to succeed. The quality of puzzles must also be of a high standard. Gibbous follows a very familiar formula in that you often find yourself trying every item and exhausting all lines of dialogue in order to progress. While this may sound uninspiring, the upside is that there are very few truly obscure moments, and the game itself is very self-aware about the usual conventions. Kitteh can be asked for advice and her feline abilities come in hand – or paw – at times too. As the game moves on, don’t forget the Necronomicon itself. It stays in Buzz’s inventory throughout and often proves useful.