In Cult of the Lamb, the devil is in the details. Devolver Digital’s management simulator, where players assume the role of a sacrificial lamb who becomes the leader of a demonic cult, is an ambitious effort to marry the cutesy quirks of Animal Crossing with the comedic morbidity of a Sam Raimi movie. But the game sometimes comes across as overzealous, getting lost in a complicated economy and progression system and a roguelike element that feels like an afterthought. Nonetheless, its great mechanics, visuals, and humor make for a highly entertaining hybrid simulator.
The game is essentially divided into two parts: the management simulator and the dungeon-crawling roguelike. As the sacrificial lamb turned prophet for the demon The One Who Waits, the fire of the gospel must burn strong through the cult’s disciples. But as the prophet, it too falls on the lamb to slay the Four Heretics who have imprisoned the The One Who Waits.
Developers Massive Monster spares no expense in giving players a thorough religious experience. Nearly no stone is unturned as Cult of the Lamb incorporates many elements familiar to any churchgoer of any faith. As the leader of the congregation, the player’s job is to keep the cult afloat and rich. Not only do the disciples’ basic needs need to be met but they also must be kept happy and faithful.
Easily the best parts of the game are its mechanics. There’s a daily sermon that will modestly fill the cult’s faith meter. Over the course of the game, players will accumulate stone tablets that will serve as doctrines, the rules and beliefs that the cult must abide by. These doctrines are made of active and passive upgrades. The active upgrades, referred to as Rituals, are fun events you can trigger to give your disciples a stat boost.
Cult of the Lamb‘s greatest source of enjoyment is the variety of ways to torment and reward the congregation. Sadistic players will be glad to know that they can order their adorable disciples to eat their own poop, force them to fast, or sacrifice them to a Chtulu-like monster. There’s a funny ritual to let a disciple’s body and soul ascend to heaven — or so they think. There’s even a ritual to get everyone high on mushrooms. Dissenters can be imprisoned and humiliated to be made an example of. The variety of mechanics at the player’s disposal is surprisingly deep and is guaranteed to make every playthrough different.
But as fun as the management simulator element is, there’s redundancy in Cult of the Lamb‘s economy and progression system that may often lead to confusion. The terms used to label currencies do not come across as intuitive; devotion, loyalty, and faith are essentially synonyms but they serve different purposes in the game. Players may find themselves wondering which is which in the countless tutorial prompts that appear. In the game’s attempt to immerse players with tenets of religion, the economy and progression system is needlessly complicated.
The Crusades, the roguelike dungeon-crawler aspect, pales in comparison to the rest of the game. While it gives Cult of the Lamb a change of pace, its procedurally generated gameplay fails to remain challenging or engaging. Compared to the uniqueness of the cult builder, the Crusades feel very unremarkable. They serve as the primary way to advance the story as the lamb goes from realm to realm, slaying enemies. Maps are procedurally generated but have little to no difference. Along the way, resources and new followers are to be found. A random weapon and skill are given to the lamb at the start of each crusade. Players can acquire tarot cards to get temporary boosts in each map. Beyond any of these, it’s a very bare roguelike.
Where the Crusades redeems itself is in its combat. A mix of isometric hack-and-slash and bullet-hell, the combat is beautifully animated and, together with the sound design, has an almost addictive feeling to it. There’s a seamlessness and grace to every frame of animation. The incredibly simple controls are complimented by the game feel; hit stuns feel really heavy and give the combat a nice weight while the dodge button is responsive and sharp. Given the short nature of each crusade, which ranges from 5-10 minutes, the Crusades never feel boring.
As monstrous as this game allows players to be, at the heart of Cult of the Lamb are visuals that are full of life and wonder. The aesthetic is essentially that of a children’s book with its backgrounds and assets resembling pop-ups. Characters in the game are so expressively drawn. The demons are drawn in the same way children earnestly draw the nightmares they have on paper. They’re terrifying to look at but also inherently childish. It’s hard not to be ensnared by how vibrant everything looks and how well it comes together, even in the face of its minor flaws. In a widening sea of management and social simulators, Cult of the Lamb stands as one of the most creative and eccentric thanks to its core premise, devilish wit, and charm.