Weirdness, mystery, and existentialism come to mind when I think of H.P Lovecraft, and Robot Pumpkin’s latest text-adventure game, The Innsmouth Case, certainly provides a hint of all those things with a dash of whimsy tacked on—but one thing that this game failed to provide for me was fun.
The Innsmouth Case follows a private investigator who travels to the remote fishing village of Innsmouth to track down a missing girl by the name of Tabitha Marsh. I did (sort of) appreciate the disclaimer at the beginning of this game, acknowledging the “problematic beliefs of H.P. Lovecraft,” but it did feel a bit like they were brushing it under the rug a little bit. I will probably never read any of his original works; quite frankly I would rather avoid reading anything that a white supremacist has to say like the plague. But it is hard to ignore this awful person’s influence on a lot of things I hold dear like Alien or The Thing. So many people are still inspired by his works but aim to bring a new perspective and slant on his ideas—like this game, for instance.
This game sets itself out as a more modern take on Innsmouth (in some respects). From the beginning, we are given references to mobile games with in-app purchases and reality TV shows, which I will admit was a little jarring to begin with given the very film-noir feeling of the game. The first character that you encounter is a woman decked out in a distinctly 1920’s style fashion, one that would be incredibly out of place in a contemporary setting. I know that this is such a minor detail, but it was genuinely so off-putting for me. This carried on throughout the game, as all of the visuals scream the 1920s/30s but then every so often something puts a spanner in the works. I don’t know if this was a purposeful narrative device to make the sense of uncanniness more apparent—if it was, it certainly worked.
In terms of the visuals, they were very appealing. Each page turn provided a new piece of artwork which, while not the most detailed or stunning thing in the world, did the job well. The character design was reasonably imaginative, leading me to look forward to each new character I encountered. I did appreciate the small bits of animation they brought to them as well, adding a dynamic element that kept me from getting too bored with the same image on the screen for a prolonged among of time.
Now, this is one thing that I thought the game might have failed at: the pacing just wasn’t right for me. I did appreciate the ability to change how fast the text would appear on the screen (I opted for it to all appear instantly), which certainly made it less of a slog. But what it failed to do was keep my attention.
I was genuinely hooked for the first part of my time playing The Innsmouth Case, but after I ended up failing the game about five times via different means, I had become fatigued with it. The game would end up back at “The Beach” chapter over and over again, trying to figure out how to progress through the game but I ended up feeling stuck, as if there was no way to actually solve this case. I had repeated so many encounters so many times, always making sure to choose different things, but they would all end up with me dying or getting a “bad feeling” and returning home.
This lead to me starting the game again and going down different routes, but even by doing this I never actually was able to solve the case, which leads me to think: are there too many ending options? Or rather, are there too many ending options that are not at all satisfying? I do think, if you have patience like a saint for this kind of thing and actually want to experience all 27 potential endings, then this game will be for you. But if you don’t want to spend hours repeating chapters in the vain hope of getting the actual satisfying “case solved” ending, then maybe this isn’t for you. And it certainly wasn’t for me.
That being said, the prose of the game was decent and it did manage to keep my interest to begin with. However, I found the humour fell flat and I let out audible groans of embarrassment numerous times while making my way through the story. There were narrative moments I wasn’t expecting, and some were actually rather fun. For instance, I ended up picking up a cube in a lighthouse and spending 6 years in some kind of alien realm while the aliens gathered information on Earth via my body. That was a genuine surprise and perhaps my favourite of the endings I got.
I will say that I had a certainly less frustrating time with The Innsmouth Case than I did with the last game of this genre I reviewed, My Aunt is a Witch. At the start, it was able to capture my attention and I was actually really enjoying the story, but it’s a shame that the repetitiveness and the number of different endings you could have just ended up in me losing interest completely.
[A copy of this game was provided for review purposes]
- Engaging art style
- Interesting and surprising narratives
- Occasionally engaging prose
- Too much repetition
- Poor humour
- Failed to keep me interested for a long period of time