Cult of the Lamb is a unique blend of management sim and rogue-like dungeon crawler. You play as The Lamb, an innocent-looking sheep saved from the slaughter by a mysteriously imprisoned god. With the power vested in you, you begin to recruit other cuddly woodland creatures into your brand new cult, earning their labour, devotion and sometimes literal flesh for the purpose of further elevating your own powers. At any time you can venture out into randomly-generated dungeons to fight for resources, complete quests or take down the four Bishops that your favoured god has made enemies of.
Throughout the game you’ll use the love of your followers to unlock new buildings, level up your skills and instigate various doctrines that affect how your cult thinks and acts. It’s fun deciding which new buildings to unlock first, or whether your cult should take the path of the fair and righteous, or the manipulative and twisted.
I love a game that has a distinctive visual style, and Cult of the Lamb certainly delivers on that front. Your animal cult members are all cute as a button, and you can select different variations of their look if you have trouble telling one fluffy rabbit from another. They wander around your village doing things like cheerfully greeting each other, tending to the fields in little farmer hats, or shyly pooping in the woods. Now and then you might murder one in their sleep and harvest their meat as food — just regular cult things. The NPCs’ innocence paired with the darker actions of the game reminds me strongly of Happy Tree Friends, though the characters maintain a kind of c’est la vie attitude that keeps the situation from becoming too dark or guilt-inducing.
Each combat dungeon also has its own visual theme, and I also really enjoyed the different locations that you can visit beyond your own base or the dungeon area — Spore Grotto in particular has a very Adventure Time feel to it. The whole world is a cute package wrapped up with a sinister bow, and it’s hard not to fall in love with your adorable little pawns.
When it comes to actually managing your cult, there’s a few essential needs that you have to keep an eye on. Members will get hungry if you don’t cook meals for them, and too much waste lying around will spread disease — as will corpses, and depending on the kind of cult you run, there might be plenty of those on hand. Each cult member can be levelled up by gracing them with some of your attention, and higher level cult members are more capable of certain actions. Overall, I found the management side of the game pretty simple, especially once you upgrade key buildings and cult members start to look after the basics on their own. As long as I kept the cult’s faith up by performing certain rituals frequently, and made sure no one starved, I never really struggled to keep control of my acolytes.
Cult of the Lamb’s dungeon-crawling segments will immediately feel familiar to anyone who has played rogue-likes such as The Binding of Isaac. Moving from room to room, your goal with every run is to take down any monster who stands in your way, until you can challenge a boss. You’re given a choice on the path you take here as well, with a branching map leading to opportunities for extra resources, more followers or additional items. The gameplay is further mixed up by the inclusion of tarot cards — randomised cards you can acquire that provide bonuses like stronger attacks, additional life or faster movement. In addition to a primary weapon, The Lamb also has a secondary magical attack — or Curse — which uses ammo called Fervour to cast. Curses range from fireballs, to poison grenades, to freezing blasts. This element of gameplay will definitely remind players of Supergiant’s Hades.
There were a few things in the combat sections that frustrated me. For one, you can’t choose your weapon for each run (although some dungeons give you chances to swap weapons as you go), which means you become a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. Curses were extremely hit and miss for me, especially those that were area-of-attack based: I found I had to get in far too close to enemies, and thus take damage, to actually hit anyone with them. And while you can find rare boosted versions of the tarot cards, you can’t stack regular cards to increase their bonus, meaning that sometimes you have to choose a card that makes very little difference to the goal you’re trying to achieve on that run. I only occasionally felt like I was actually learning from my mistakes and becoming a better player — often combat was just about diving in and hoping for the best. There was also quite a few instances of getting stuck on scenery or entering a room already on top of an enemy, resulting in damage that just felt unfair.
On the flip side, each run is generally quite short in length and every death slightly less punishing than other rogue-likes, since you keep 75% of any resources you collect when you die. In that way the game tries to make it feel like every venture out into a dungeon is less about running a balls-to-the-wall gauntlet to try and get as far as you can in one life, and more like they’re opportunities to gather resources and unlockables to help your cult flourish, one step at a time. You’re also always reminded that it’s not just about you — there’s a whole village of indoctrinated followers awaiting your successful return.
Playing on a Switch Lite, I found Cult of the Lamb generally ran well, but there were a few glitches. At one point I repositioned all the decorative paths I’d laid throughout my cult village, but on returning from a dungeon adventure I found they’d all shifted back to their original positions, and simply would not stay where I had moved them. At the transition from night into day the game would freeze for a few seconds, though luckily it never crashed. And sometimes I’d get alerts for things that were not possible — like being informed that one cult member had reached old age even though they were already dead, or being told about a certain feature that doesn’t actually exist in this build of the game. Nothing game-breaking, but definitely things that should be addressed in a future patch.
Despite its issues, Cult of the Lamb is a highly-stylish casual experience that adds something new to the rogue-like genre, and honestly the pleasing look and quirky characters are a delight all on their own. I’m not sure that there is enough there to warrant a second playthrough, but the fifteen or so hours of play you’ll get out of it is memorable enough to recommend taking a leap of faith.
Ruby reviewed Cult of the Lamb using a retail Nintendo Switch code purchased on the eShop.
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