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Cthulhu Saves Christmas (Switch) artwork

Cthulhu Saves Christmas (Switch) review


"Jingle all the R'lyeh"


I had one fear going to into Cthulhu Saves Christmas: that it would merely be Cthulhu Saves the World, but with more snow, gifts and wreaths. I figured it'd run the same old rigmarole that other faux-retro RPGs have, where you venture from one village to another, engage in dialogue and delve into a dungeon after each burg. Granted, all of that content would be serviceable, but I had hoped developer Zeboyd Games would have something different in store for Lovecraft's sanity-munching creation this time around.

And they did not disappoint...

Christmas cuts to the chase, skipping a lot of the nonsense I mentioned earlier. Most of the campaign transpires within a hub called Christmastown, which is perpetually locked in Christmas Eve. As it turns out, someone has kidnapped Santa Claus and somehow fudged the flow of time. As a result, you're now stuck in a "Groundhog Day"-ish existence, where the calendar refuses to move past the day of Santa's yearly flight.

As Cthulhu, you've been enlisted to help find the missing jolly man because he might help you restore your stolen power. You team up with Santa's granddaughter Crystal, as well as the Russian witch Baba Yaga (who's a child for some reason) and the kid-whipping Christmas figure Belsnickel. The game doesn't allow you to move about Christmastown freely, but lets you to navigate it via menu. Each selection takes you to a cutscene that ends with you receiving a new piece of equipment or a special item that can only be used once per battle (a la Cosmic Star Heroine). Since you don't receive money in this adventure, this feature is your chief means of securing upgraded weapons and armor.

You also build "R'lyehtionships" (henceforth called "relationships" because I'm not typing the proper name again) with one of the supporting characters by visiting them during this time. These allow you to secure improved goods later on, as well as influence the plot's ending.

Each relationship segment plays out with all the due comedy you would expect. Cthulhu predictably demonstrates that he doesn't understand Christmas or anything cheerful like that, often engaging in such sinister behavior as shoulder checking bystanders while they ice skate, carolling with forbidden songs to recruit worshipers, or being a wet blanket at an ex-cultist support group. His allies also bump up the experience's funny factor, mostly because they stand at odds with one another. Crystal tries her best to tolerate Cthulhu and occasionally questions Baba Yaga, since both are technically villainous. Baba and Belsnickel also don't get along super well, since the former is a kid who engages in thievery and the latter physically punishes naughty children. There isn't enough dissension in this quartet to lead to a deep, troubled storyline, but it does lend itself to genuinely comical situations.

After you've completed a few relationships, a major plot beat ensues and you end up in a dungeon. As expected, the levels on offer are up to Zeboyd's usual snuff. Each dungeon comes with enough twists and turns to that it requires some effort to fully explore, but isn't so convoluted that it'll send you to Google for maps.

In each location, you encounter turn-based fights either randomly or when you select "battle" from the in-game menu. As with this title's predecessor, you stop receiving random encounters when you've won a certain number of them. As always, this is a terrific feature that allows you to freely roam and explore a stage without worrying about whether or not you'll be attacked every other step. Impressively, each dungeon's battle counter also serves as a benchmark for grinding. Completing all of the allotted conflicts nets you just enough experience to be able to take on the area boss, at least on the moderate difficulty setting. If you're finding that you're not powerful enough to survive the climactic clash at the end of a stage, though, you can still reload and continue grinding at any time thanks to save scumming. Plus, your party fully recovers after each conflict, so you don't have to worry about maintaining a supply of healing items or anything like that.

Unlike Saves the World, you won't be able to simply spam the "fight" command until all of your targets bite the dust. For one thing, this adventure's bestiary presents a stiffer challenge than before, with plenty of damage sponges on offer. Also, this one deploys a customizable command system similar to Cosmic Star Heroine, where each character possesses skills that take the place of your standard fight, item or magic commands, and must be equipped to empty slots. Each time a you use a skill in battle, it becomes exhausted until you select an ability that recharges it.

Although this setup sounds purely recycled, it comes with one fantastic addition: insanity skills. Each party member has three "insanity slots" that provide randomly selected skills at the start of combat. For instance, Crystal might begin an encounter with an ice spell, healing magic and a physical attack, but may not get those particular techniques later. After recharging or beginning a new altercation, she'll likely receive a different trio of skills.

While this feature sounds a bit irritating, its actually quite useful. Mainly, you don't have to make too many hard decisions when it comes to putting together a solid lineup. Some abilities that are only occasionally useful no longer need to be forgotten, such as strength buffs or strikes that only deal decent damage when certain stipulations are met (e.g. when a character's hit points are low, etc.). If those skills appear when you don't need them, you can take a turn to cycle them out.

The only real irk to all of this is that the game provides you with a lot of skills that aren't worth a damn. You get a lot of buffs that are only occasionally helpful, plus a handful of low-damage strikes. Success somewhat relies on luck because of this, though you will find that you can still dish out an ample amount of punishment regardless of the hand you're dealt. It's just a bit frustrating when you want fire magic, but you keep getting a stun maneuver or some forgettable support spell.

Although Cthulhu Saves Christmas treads some familiar territory, its arrangement of devices and tropes come together in a distinct enough way to separate it from other Zeboyd titles, especially its predecessor. It also sports enough delightfully comedic material along with a slightly revamped combat system that it capably kills the eight or so hours required to finish it. Yeah, this is a short RPG, but one that ultimately leaves you satisfied rather than feeling like you got ripped off. More than anything, it reassures you that this developer isn't interested in "Mega Maning" a series with nearly identical sequels. They actually want to offer us products that stand on their own as distinct titles despite the presence of some reused concepts.

4/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (November 09, 2020)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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