Lovecraft’s Untold Stories Review

People seriously need to stop trying and align certain games with one another. I get it: at the core, some games are similar in mechanics or presentation to others. That doesn’t even remotely make them the same game, however. Take, for example, the world of platforming. Technically speaking, Mario and Sonic are both platformers, and they both existed in similar timelines. But if you approach Sonic like Mario and slowly bounce through different areas to find hidden objects, you’ll run out of time and die before you reach the first goal ring. Inversely, if you just run SCREAMING through a stage in Mario without any real regard to what’s going on around you, not only will you probably die, you’ll definitely miss something that you wanted to find. I say these things because LLC Blini, creator of Lovecraft’s Untold Stories, should try and break far, far away from any games that look vaguely like their creation, because it is a far, far different beast.

Looking at Lovecraft’s Untold Stories from an outside, flash perspective, you’ll notice certain things and immediately start to get a prejudice notion about how things’ll play out. Rogue-lite with RPG elements, twin stick shooter, character unlocks…these all scream for a certain subgenre of games that I love and enjoy immensely because of how fast you can dive into them and then just wallow around for a bit. The indicator that there’s a Lovecraft influence shouldn’t even be a speed bump in the supposition: Tesla Vs. Lovecraft is one of the best twinsticks that I’ve played on the Switch, and there’s almost nothing to do with the actual works of Lovecraft whatsoever (except influencing the enemies and bosses). The pixel graphics automatically put you into a certain mindset as well, as the ragged edges and darker designs could easily fool a player into thinking that this is going to be a grand “blow up a ton of square cultists and demons” sort of foray. However, it only takes one playthrough to realize how deeply, woefully wrong you are.

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is an immense exercise in patience, strategy and puzzle solving. There is so much focus on what you pick up and utilize that you need to actively make notes and plan while you’re playing through the game to make it anywhere. Your inventory is limited, so, for the first character that you play as (the Detective), you need to make judgement calls about what’s most important to you, namely keys, explosives and healing artifacts. There isn’t a ton of difficulty initially in terms of baddies to shoot and taking care of rushing demons, but, even on easy mode, you can’t blindly barrel forward and expect the game to help you. In order to make it anywhere, you constantly need to be examining things, finding out more about them and, guess what, slowly losing your sanity. A common theme in Lovecraft’s works, maintaining a balance between your sanity and your knowledge is important: you can’t progress very far without learning more about the eldritch horrors erupting around you, and you’ll end up killing yourself if you delve too deeply into madness without checks and balances. There are things strewn about the different levels that help to bring back your sanity (a hummingbird in a cage, for example), but they are few and far between compared to the number of things that drive you slowly closer to insanity. Still, ignoring these things altogether and choosing to stay sane also keeps you ignorant, and thus the game can’t really progress, because you’ll instantly go insane when you find the Great Old Ones. It’s a scary, tenuous balance.

On top of that, the different levels that you encounter within Lovecraft’s Untold Stories are immense. Each room doesn’t seem very big, but even the beginning mansion expands to several screens worth of places to explore, and it can take a new player (or even an unlucky old one) something like 35 minutes to finally ferret out everything you need to face the first boss, and then to find the aforementioned boss. You can discover a lot along the way, but, for the first play through, most of it is useless: those books you find everywhere aren’t meant for you, at least not at first. You don’t necessarily move so quickly between the dark and repetitive screens, so referencing the minimap constantly is the only way to keep your real life sanity in check. Players will seriously become discouraged when darkness is creeping in, you keep getting killed by spike traps, and you’re no nearer to moving onto the hospital than you were two hours ago. However, keep it up: it gets better.

Once you understand the nature of Lovecraft’s Untold Stories, you shift your mindset and can really start to enjoy the game. You notice that everything has fantastic and thorough descriptions, enough to make you appreciate the creator’s real passion for the Lovecraft world. Things like The Sunless Sea or Sundered certainly acknowledge their Lovecraft influences, but very few games pull things straight from the Mythos universe and execute them with aplomb. Being able to stay focused on the task of careful exploration and memorization of locations means that the game makes more sense, and the shooting and exploding part is more of a means to an end than the primary source of entertainment. You’ll never hit an amount of enemy density that makes it absolutely necessary to find a bunch of new weapons or things like that, but there’s enough challenge in the bosses that you’ll horde and use heal kits accordingly. The tone and atmosphere of the different levels is enthralling, and fans of the books will give so many nods to the references that you’ll get whiplash.

The design of the world within Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is also wonderful. Each stage is carefully crafted to mimic a classic setting in the Lovecraftian sense, from the mansion to the abandoned hospital to Innsmouth itself. You’ll get a real feel for the world, starting with headstones and creeping vines and ending with encounters with the Queen Spider, the Star Spawn and, yes, some of the great baddies themselves. The boss battles are where the game really shines: thanks to the largeness of each room, you really need to move your behind around, whether you’re shooting off with a shotgun, hurling spells, or simply trying to get some good melee attacks in. Each character that you unlock does change the approach to the game, but you gotta make things work at the detective first before you can be an unholy ghoul and run a totally different (but equally informative) circuit.

Sadly, for all the cool things that are happening in Lovecraft’s Untold Stories, the port for the Switch, as of now, feels like it runs absolutely terribly. Players have to sit at a black screen, with nothing happening, for a full 40+ seconds before you can even see the Unity logo, which is just unbearable. Moreover, after you get into the game, it mostly loads okay, but it still bugs out on occasion. More than once, I was killed by enemies, and then, instead of starting from the beginning, I got teleported to another room, where I was forced to walk around and not go anywhere, because the doors weren’t responding since I was dead. I ended up needing to kill myself again with dynamite so I could respawn, and, on another time, I had to force quit and then sit through the long load again before I could get into it. It doesn’t seem like much, but, for a modern digital game, 40 seconds of NOTHING is a massive amount of time.

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories has a ton of content within, and will absolutely thrill fans of the Lovecraft novellas who want to see the lore brought to life in a proper video game. There needs to be some QOL updates, however: some way to move faster as certain characters, and another patch to fix the load time as soon as possible. I think there are possibilities that we could see a great hit on the Switch, but, for now, we may need to stay in the dark so that we don’t go mad from the sights unseen.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories Review
  • 6/10
    Gameplay - 6/10
  • 6/10
    Graphics - 6/10
  • 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
  • 6/10
    Replay Value - 6/10
0/10
User Review
0/10 (0 votes)
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Comments Rating 0/10 (0 reviews)
Overall
6/10

Summary

Lovecraft’s Untold Stories weaves a proper tale of horror and mythology, but trips itself up with too many variables that could discourage new players.

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