If the name Innsmouth means anything to you, chances are you should just go out and buy this game. It’s a mere £13.49 on the eShop right now, and for fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s work (which this is a comic homage to), that’s a no-brainer. For everyone else, read on.
The Innsmouth Case is a choose-your-own adventure at the most basic level, and if you just watched the trailer and got the impression of a moving and shaking animated adventure, let me put that to rest. It’s most definitely a story, one that you can certainly influence the outcome of, but those moments boil down to a selection of multiple-choice questions within some fairly narrow guardrails.
The setup is simple: you’re a rough-around-the-edges private detective out of Boston, approached by a seductive (single?) mother who drops in to tell you - in a detached and instantly suspicious manner - that her daughter Tabitha has disappeared. You head off (or not) to solve the case (or not), and it’s really all downhill from there, sanity-wise. Lovecraft is credited/blamed for the emergence of the ‘weird fiction’ genre, and in paying such close tribute to that work, the game is absolutely saturated in bizarre subject matter, unhinged characters and disturbing plot beats.
The game is absolutely saturated in bizarre subject matter, unhinged characters and disturbing plot beats.
Quickly it becomes clear that this is a story less about solving a case and more about surviving a nightmare, and at times that sensation is all too real. The town of Innsmouth is populated exclusively by - to put it kindly - unusual folks, and the longer you spend there the more menacing things become. There are supposedly 27 ‘endings’ to discover and while I’ve only seen about 15 of them, I can say hand-on-heart that not one has been what I’d call a satisfactory conclusion to the story. Grisly? Sure. Confusing? Definitely. But not an ending by any sensible definition of the word.
And the experience of getting to those climaxes is hard to define, too. The writing is consistently good, made all the more impressive by the remarkably few names in the credits. Robot Pumpkin is a tiny team and they’ve done an excellent job of concocting a spaghetti-junction narrative that almost always comes together, but by virtue of that complexity a single thread can feel very short, and the picture only really comes into focus as you replay chapters looking for other ways to advance. That’s easy enough to do with a quick chapter selector, but when some branches go on and on, flicking back through them multiple times to reach decision points can feel like a chore.
Presentation-wise, I was a bit disappointed. The entire game is played within the static confines of the book, sat at the centre of your screen with a few - also static - decorations dotted around. With relatively little effort they could’ve brought the experience to life with more than just the occasional tentacle creeping across the screen, but the interface is essentially the same throughout. The illustration and animation of the characters and backgrounds is pretty good, but likewise unambitious in the way it’s applied, and it doesn’t take long for the charm to wear off. Most unfortunate is the menu design, which has a brutal combination of tiny text and barely discernible button states, so navigating them is mostly trial and error.
Given the lack of voice-acting in The Innsmouth Case it’s especially important that the score is good, and thankfully this is the one nail they hit square on the head. Atmospheric and eerie in places but neutral enough that it doesn’t become repetitive, it adds a huge amount of suspense and authenticity to the story, and I’m still humming some of it days after putting the game down. Take a bow, soundtrack team.
A tough one to summarise, then. Within the opening hour it throws cultists, zombies, creepy couples, sea beast sexcapades, sulphur-scented buses and a child with a misshapen head at you, and that’s genuinely only the tip of the iceberg. It’d be generous to call it a brilliant story but with multiple, considered replays, the world they’ve crafted becomes a colourful and entertaining one, if you like that sort of thing. There’s a sweet spot of around 3-4 hours of playtime that’ll provide most of the intrigue Innsmouth has to offer, but any longer than that and cracks begin to show.
Special thanks to Mark at Renaissance PR for the review code.