What is this all about
I have decided to start writing reviews for the games that I play and like, both as an exercise in writing itself but also as an effort to enjoy and consider games from more angles, which I hope will help me in my own endeavors. I will only consider for review finished released titles that are not mainstream and that I have spent some time with.
The review will focus on the following: the entire game at a glance, mechanics and interface, graphics and animations, overall sound design, puzzles and story, and then finally, conclusions.
Gibbous in a nutshell
On their website, the authors describe the game as “a comedy cosmic horror adventure made in Transylvania”. Having finished it yesterday, I would describe it as “an endearing ode to adventure games of old and Lovecraftian themes”.
Mechanics and interface
The game adheres to the classic adventure games formula with a few modern quality of life improvements. You control your characters with the mouse and when you click on interactable hotspots you get access to different options, like “talk”, “pick up”, etc.
The inventory is nicely hidden at the bottom of the screen and you can view it at any time by middle mouse clicking or by clicking on the little margin in the lower-left corner.
Together with the actions being hidden until you click on a hotspot, this makes for a nice, clean gameplay experience, where instead of having the screen cut and divided by different actions or interface elements you can just admire the environment in all its glory.
There is nothing to be said about the dialogue system. As you talk with the different crazy characters you encounter on your adventures you are presented with several options to choose from - it’s classic.
A few quality of life features are worthy of mention:
- double-clicking a location makes your character move faster (a great feature when you have an idea that you want to test asap)
- double-clicking an exit makes your character “teleport” to the next scene immediately; you don’t have to watch the entire animation of him walking all the way to that door or screen margin.
- pressing the
spacekey will highlight all hotspots in a scene; that is to say - all interactable spots; this saves a lot of time of mindlessly mousing over all things that might seem useful and it’s probably the feature that I appreciated the most compared to other adventure games
Graphics and animations
The overall style of the game is amazing. The graphics, color palettes, and animations are consistent throughout the entire game (the screenshots should speak for themselves). It reminded me of classic and acclaimed titles such as “Sam & Max hit the road”, “Day of the Tentacle” or “The curse of Monkey Island”. However, the game stands on its own with its quirky, stylized visual direction.
And to think that everything has been hand-painted and animated by hand… it makes everything even better.
Music and atmosphere
The music is spot on. It’s a combination of normal classical music and traditional Romanian songs played mostly through the violin. It contributes perfectly to the atmosphere of the majority of the game. The more dramatic moments where the action spikes up are of course accompanied by more appropriate tracks.
There are not too many sound effects in the game, but when they are used they are ok, with very few exceptions. One negative example I could give is when trying to rile up some cultists in front of a bar. I am not sure if they used voices for the little crowd or if they tried to make some sound effects, but those guys sound like some sort of inhuman monsters rather than a few confused drunks being unhappy.
The voices are, again, spot on. Every character has a distinct personality and that is augmented by how they speak. For example, one of the main characters is “Kitteh” - a talking cat -. Check out her voice and demeanor in the trailer and tell me they are not perfectly congruent. And that goes for all others in the game, be they main actors or secondary roles. (Disclaimer: I only played the English version, I have no idea if the quality is the same for the localized versions).
Puzzles and story
The puzzles are, throughout the game, easy enough that you won’t need to consult external solutions. I did, however, have a sense of accomplishment after solving them. Even if they might seem complicated at first, the game goes out of its way to help out and give clues to direct you on the right path if it “sees” you are not making progress on your own. For example, one of the first more complicated ones has you connecting the points of a pentagram with words from an assortment of books. If you keep failing and consulting the books without advancing, the active character, “Don”, writes down his thoughts on what he thinks he is supposed to do, giving you important clues on how to solve the puzzle.
And this is the general direction of the entire gameplay - it is not fighting you - you are (almost) never shut down by some incredibly hard to figure out puzzle or enigma. The game seems to be actively nudging you along, wishing you succeed and discover the next chapter of the story. Wich was great! I wish more adventure games were like that.
The only puzzle I had a problem with was towards the end of the game, where you have to match a few points with varying states of matter, and where your only course of action is trial and error. Or at least I did not find any clues for how to match everything. I didn’t have the patience for it so I just used an external walkthrough.
Story, characters, and locations
The story is arguably one of the most important aspects of an adventure game. For Gibbous, I would say it’s both one of its strongest points and one of its weakest, depending on perspective.
Why strongest? Well, I believe I am pretty much part of the core of their target audience - I love the story-driven and adventure genre, I have played and finished most of the classics like “The Secret of Monkey Island” & co., I am familiar with Lovecraft’s short stories, universe and entities, I am Romanian and I am neutral about cats (I don’t hate them, that’s what’s important for this argument). So I got most of the references and jokes throughout the game, which there are MANY. And by “getting it”, I could enjoy a lot more of the dialogues and interactions while thinking about the sources of inspiration.
And why weakest? Because if you don’t tick any of the conditions I listed in the paragraph above you might not get all the jokes and references and thus the charm the game has to offer. Can you still enjoy it though? Definitely.
There is a lot of lighthearted humor throughout the game, and even though you might not get the origin of a name or a joke or a character or the way they talk, you will still enjoy everything, from setting to dialogue to the overarching plot. One of my favorite jokes in the game, where I actually laughed out loud, was when talking to a kid named “Nicu”. Nicu was playing something on his phone, and when I questioned him about it he answered something to the lines of “I am playing Call of Beauty 6. It’s a survival game where you are a model and you have to survive without eating until your next photoshoot…”.
The story’s ending was another weak point for me. After building up very interesting and strong characters, it felt a bit rushed at the very end, which left me both wanting more and a bit sad that it had ended as it did.
The characters are great. You get the three protagonists - “Buzz Kerwan”, “Don R Ketype”, and “Kitteh” - straight from the beginning. Buzz and Don can be controlled directly throughout the game, while Kitteh is called upon only in some important moments through a special interface action (most of the time during the Buzz sections). Beyond these three there is a slew of characters, some interesting, some serious, some quirky but most of them completely insane. From cultists to hipsters to vegans to mutants, wizards, and elder gods, it is an absolute delight to discover them and their personalities through dialogue and silly interactions.
Whether you are forced, kidnapped, or just investigating, you will have to travel the world of the game, going to both imaginary and real locations, like Paris, Darkham, Fishmouth (a reference to Lovecraft’s Innsmouth), some obscure town in Transylvania Romania and so on.
A few of these places will be visited more than once, most of them not. Each location has its own personality, which was again very nice.
Gibbous, a Cthulu Adventure is a great, fun game. It features beautiful art, great characters, nice, original music, and voiced dialogue. It has deep roots and inspirations in the Lovecraftian universe and other adventure games of old, but it also stands on its own as a must-play for anyone interested in this niche genre. And even though it has its flaws, I highly recommend it.