The text-adventure game is almost as old as gaming itself, it is also a genre that is pretty much dead now. For those not in the know, a text-adventure was a genre that was basically an interactive book. Lots of reading and you would guide your character via typing in commands on the keyboard. Occasionally, they would even feature graphics at the top of the screen to accompany the many written words They generally looked like this…
I owe quite a lot to those old text-adventure games as I learned to read and write from them far more than I ever did in school. I guess you could say that those games kick-started my love for writing. Anyway, with the text-adventure genre being all but dead, you don’t really expect developers these days to be making them. I present for your eyes The Innsmouth Case from Robot Pumpkin Games and Assemble Entertainment. An old-school text-adventure with a very strong H.P. Lovecraft vibe. As the game is described:
“A desperate mother, a missing girl and a mystical place – a case could hardly be more challenging. To solve the enigmatic disappearance of little Tabitha Marsh, however, the toughest and cleverest detective of all is wanted… but he does not have the time – and so the job goes to you. This mysterious assignment takes you to the remote fishing village of Innsmouth, where nothing is what it seems…
Save the girl, solve the case, survive Innsmouth!
The Innsmouth Case is a detective adventure in the style of an interactive book inspired by the fantastical works of horror legend H.P. Lovecraft. The unique mixture of horror and humor makes The Innsmouth Case the first scary-comedy-text-adventure of its kind. A game in which every decision counts, and there is far more than one way to successfully solve the case… or fail miserably!”
So yeah. This is some old, old, incredibly old-school gaming right here. No mass open-world maps, no gaining XP and levelling up. Just you, a book and lots of text. I mean, this is what a typical screen looks like in The Innsmouth Case.
Yup, that’s it, that is your view for the entire game. A small picture (sometimes animated), text to read and then you get to pick from a number of options as to what to do and say. I guess this is very much like a classic Choose Your Own Adventure styled book… in digital form. What Robot Pumpkin Games have done is take a lot of what makes Lovecraft’s work so popular and famous, to then parody it. The more OTT and excessive elements of Lovecraft’s writing are played up for laughs in this game. That parodying and making fun of in The Innsmouth Case isn’t at all malicious or nasty either, it all feels very genuine as coming from a place of love and respect. Everything adds up to a very well-written and brilliantly observed satire of Lovecraft. A melding of old-school gaming, Choose Your Own Adventure and of course, H.P. Lovecraft.
While the basic look, style and graphics for the game are well… basic, they’re also very well done and presented. The characters you will meet and interact with have this cartoony, caricature, grotesqueness aesthetic to them. Kind of like the stuff that Tim Burton used to do before he went crap. The whole art style is deliciously deformed and what starts out as a simple find a missing girl case for the down on his luck private detective you play as, soon evolves into a wonderful, multiple-branching path story that gives you plenty to play around with. When you do finally arrive in the town of Innsmouth, the story hits high gear and the bizarre but sublime characters really come into their own.
As this is a game with a branching story narrative, some of those paths can lead to certain death. Not to worry as you won’t have to start your story from the beginning as The Innsmouth Case includes a kind of checkpoint system where you can go back and try a different path. Pretty much every decision you make in the game will affect how the story pans out and lead to multiple different endings. So even when you do see the end credits, there’s plenty of reason to go through the whole thing again and try a few different things. If there is one niggle I have with this idea, then that is that the whole multiple paths and endings thing means that the story is relatively short. So, the mileage you’ll get from the game will most definitely stem from whether or not you’re likely to want to play through multiple times. Personally speaking, I do. Still, it would’ve been great if there was more than one case/story in the game for you to enjoy.
With a £12.49 (Xbox), £11.99 (PlayStation) price tag, the game will most definitely split opinion. Not everyone will appreciate the slow pace, constant reading and Choose Your Own Adventure style gameplay. For me, I loved every second of The Innsmouth Case and the game really took me back to tapping away on my Commodore 64 keyboard, playing those text-adventure games that I loved so much back then. It’s an interesting take on Lovecraftian lore, a well that many games have drawn from in the past. Usually in the overused survival-horror and FPS genre of games. Yet The Innsmouth Case does something rather unique with H.P. Lovecraft’s work that is deeply rooted in classic gaming history. Very much recommended from me, though I do know that this is very much a niche game that most probably won’t click with a lot of people like it has with me.