Developer: Stuck In Attic | Publisher: Stuck In Attic | Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure | Platforms: Steam, GOG, Nintendo Switch | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Adventure games used to be the pinnacle of storytelling in video games. For some, they still are. Gibbous–A Cthulu Adventure, newly released for the Nintendo Switch after being out on PC and macOS since 2019, is a throwback in a lot of ways. It adheres to many of the conventions established by the classic Lucasarts games of old, but also has its own clever writing and unique sense of humor to help it stand on its own. Far from a shambling horror, Gibbous shows that point-and-click adventure games still have a place in the modern landscape.
Reel ‘Em In
Right out of the gate, Gibbous nails the tone it will keep for almost the entire game. Private Investigator and Dick Tracy-lookalike Don R. Ketype has arrived in the town of Darkham (the guy who runs the local asylum? “A real joker”) to search for the mysterious Necronomicon. After meeting Transylvanian librarian Buzz and no nonsense kitty Kitteh, the adventure kicks off in earnest. Buzz, Don, and Kitteh encounter (in no particular order) an earnest death cult, horrifying machines, a cat that barks like a dog, a festival so smelly it practically oozes off the screen, and a creepy little girl obsessed with saving “fishies” of all shapes and sizes. It’s wacky, but more importantly, genuinely funny. The next in a long line of comedy-focused adventure games, Gibbous‘ humor mostly lands.
Gameplay-wise, Gibbous feels like sliding on a pair of forgotten slippers. Instead of feeling old, worn out, or out of fashion, it is comfortably retro. Players will talk to NPCs, examine backgrounds and foregrounds, and collect anything not nailed down in the hopes that it will become the solution to a puzzle later. Transylvanian developer Stuck In Attic wear their influences on their sleeve: Buzz’s room even has a framed portrait of the fictional Ron Dilbert, a nod to the legendary developer and designer Ron Gilbert (of Monkey Island fame).
Much of Gibbous‘ humor is in that vein: meta, fourth-wall-breaking stuff. Players familiar with adventure games as a genre will chuckle at Kitteh’s unironic suggestion of how to open a locked armoire in the prologue chapter: “Couldn’t you just randomly combine household items into a makeshift key?” For this particular puzzle that’s not the solution. However, by the end of Gibbous’ seven-chapter journey, players will combine items in ways that might not seem obvious at the moment but in retrospect couldn’t have happened any other way. This might cause frustration, especially for new players, or people who missed out on this genre’s heyday in the mid-eighties and early nineties. There’s a certain smug counter-intuitiveness that only exists in adventure game puzzles. No matter how user-friendly the interface is, the player will eventually have to slow down, take a deep breath, and think outside the box. Getting stuck is a feature, not a bug, of adventure games. Part of experiencing this genre, from Day of the Tentacle to the latest Nancy Drew game from Her Interactive, involves running into something that takes a little extra time to wrap the mind around.
The slower pace and occasional frustration from unlikely puzzle solutions is hardly a criticism of Gibbous. If anything, playing this game feels like a return to form for a genre that has found a second life in the indie space. There is a lot to love, particularly for gamers who miss the influence of the Lucasarts school of design. Gibbous pays homage to its predecessors, referencing everything from The Secret of Monkey Island to Indiana Jones. But an adventure must be more than a series of references, and when Gibbous leans into its own weird world, it shines.
It doesn’t hurt that Gibbous is utterly gorgeous to look at. The developers used traditional animation techniques and a hand-painted aesthetic, and as a result, everything pops onscreen. Since players will likely be running back and forth across environments as they search for hotspots to interact with, having beautiful and personality-infused environments and characters is an absolute must.
Darkham and the so-gross-it-hurts Fishmouth are great settings with a ton of character. The Cthulu mythos has been just about milked dry in the gaming space, but Gibbous finds new ways to make the Great Old Ones, the Necronomicon, and all the baggage that comes with them feel fresh and interesting. Yes, there’s a death cult in this game; but what about a death cult that can’t ritualistically murder someone until the proper paperwork is filled out? Yes, there’s a private detective in over his head, always circling the horrifying truth that is beyond the grasp of mortal men, but what if he was also constantly losing his shoes and walking around in socked feet? Little touches of humor balance out the ghastly, giving Gibbous a singularly unique vibe. It is a comedy game tinged with horror or a horror game overlaid with comedy; either way, it works.
“Damn Good Coffee, Diane”
Most enjoyment from an adventure game is derived from written jokes or unexpected puzzle solutions. Gibbous has its share of both, and while the humor is strong, some of the puzzle difficulty can feel uneven. Point-and-click adventures tend to skew towards the difficult side, with leaps of logic that only people who play a lot of video games will understand. When a player uses this A-to-C thinking to solve puzzles effectively, Gibbous can feel incredibly empowering. Even though the game can occasionally grind to a halt due to some really “out there” puzzle solutions, it still perfectly captures the nostalgic feeling of classic games, with a modern touch.
Solving puzzles in Gibbous- A Cthulu Adventure is often a reward in itself. For the most part, finding solutions takes just the right amount of effort. The designers have taken into consideration what has come before, applying the lessons that Ron Gilbert himself wrote in his iconic 1989 piece “Why Adventure Games Suck”. Rarely will the player feel that their time is being wasted, and momentum is kept throughout. All the playable characters have some version of a hint system, perhaps an attempt to welcome newcomers into the fold: Don R. Ketype can refer to his journal, while librarian Buzz can ask the recently-humanized Kitteh her opinion on what to do next. Often these hints provide just enough of a push for players to power through, but there’s no shame in keeping a walkthrough handy.
The frustrating parts are worth battling through if only to see how many references the player can catch. Early on, the game makes a point of hammering home that items can be examined multiple times; often, there’s a rewarding joke two or three examinations in. There are mentions of The Matrix, Breaking Bad, Half-Life, and even The Maltese Falcon. Seeing new environments is always a treat, with a mural in Chapter 5 emerging as a particular highlight. A word of advice, sans spoilers: there’s a portion of a chapter spent in Don R. Ketype’s office. Take the time to read through as many files as possible. Somehow, Gibbous achieves both broad comedy and pointed humor, occasionally within the same interaction.
Lovecraft by way of Looney Tunes
Perhaps most tellingly, Gibbous doesn’t overstay its welcome. At seven chapters, it feels like exactly the right length. Some chapters contain more difficult puzzles than others, but if players are paying attention they won’t be stumped for long. As it goes on, Gibbous manages to sprinkle in the existential horror that the Cthulu mythos is renowned for, a surprising feat for a game that also features a Transylvanian rap battle featuring a descendent of Vlad the Impaler. It’s a tough balancing act, but Gibbous walks the tightrope admirably.
Ron Gilbert said it best: “The thing we cannot forget is that we are here to entertain, and for the most part, entertainment does not consist of nights and weekends filled with frustration.” Gibbous- A Cthulu Adventure is entertaining in all the right ways, avoiding many of the pitfalls of the worst examples of the point-and-click genre. It has moments where the player might roll their eyes when they finally hit upon a solution, but they are few and far between. Gibbous rides the line between faithful homage to the past and modern successor to the throne of adventure games. Players who long for the glory days of Lucasarts would do well to embrace the void and give Gibbous a chance.