Cult of the Lamb (Switch) Review

Massive Monster’s Cult of the Lamb is striking from the start menu. The main character is a lamb who’s been sacrificed at the altar and has been resurrected by an imprisoned god called The One Who Waits, who tasked him with killing the gods who trapped him. The lamb levitates over a pentagram surrounded by candles, possessed by a black and red hat with blood-filled eyes amongst a grainy cream-colored backdrop. This is a dark looking game – if you are sensitive to religious iconography and the occult, Cult of the Lamb is not for you. This theme and tone are so intense that it became disturbing, something that I got accustomed to but has left an impression on me.

You, a lamb, ironically are the shepherd of simple followers who devote themselves to you and the cult of the red hat. They make up a small community slavishly taking on tasks like gathering wood or stone, praying to a statue of The One Who Waits, cleaning, or tending farmland. Managing the townspeople is fairly simple – gather resources, build structures, and maintain the happiness of your flock. This is done by maintaining their spiritual and physical health. Feeding them proper meals, giving a bed or tent to rest, and keeping a clean landscape are the plates you’ll spin to keep health up. You can boost faith by holding sermons, performing unlockable rituals (like sacrifices or declaring a holy day of rest), and completing expeditions successfully without dying. Those rituals are unlocked through the sermons, the faith gained there is used to unlock them via doctrines. Conversely, dying during an expedition reduces their faith. Losing enough faith makes a cult member revolt, not reverting back to normal unless they’re put in jail and re-indoctrinated. Each cult member provides devotion through prayer at a statue in the town center.

The expeditions are a string of mini dungeon crawling maps across four domains of the gods. At the start you’re equipped with a weapon and curse – the curse acts like a magic spell which costs fervor – a resource collected from fallen enemies. Most rooms will be filled with monsters, but some include a seer who offers the choice of tarot cards with perks that support your exploring and shops to swap out weapons. Each level is structured like branching paths that are followed up to the level boss. Some are another round of combat, shops, health refill pit-stops, and zones where you can rescue and indoctrinate new followers by defeating waves of monsters to save them. The final area boasts a large monster, often littering the screen with projectiles. Each zone requires completing a minimum of four times before fighting the god, and once defeated they turn into a follower. This ends up being the most effective way to increase the headcount of your cult which becomes a critical resource to get better starting weapons, more curse and tarot card options, and new items to upgrade the village with.

The two halves separately aren’t outstanding, but it’s the marriage of the combat and activities tied to town building that help keep the game fresh. You spend just enough time in raids before having to go back to town and tend to your flock’s needs. After spending a handful of minutes making sure they’re well-fed in mind, body, & soul, you’ll have spent just enough time before it grows stale. There’s also various spots on a world map to visit that have charming characters with fun side quests or stores. A personal favorite is Crossbones – a minigame that is about matching up 3 dice in lanes while trying to prevent your opponent from doing so. It’s a simple ruleset with a surprisingly difficult set of adversaries that I might have found a lot of joy in. The most fun is when you have to spin all these plates equally, which the game encourages you to do until hitting later hours.

Cult of the Lamb’s greatest sin is its technical woes on Switch. Out the gate there were small lags/framerate dips when first transporting to either the cult or starting an expedition, and an occasional dip when combat gets frantic. The longer I played, the worse it got. Stuttering and freezing screens happened persistently, even bleeding into the most mundane tasks at your campsite. Late game, as I worked to grow my population, the game got stuck in a screen meant to let you pick attributes of an incoming convert, left watching them pray endlessly with no corrective action other than to restart the game. It’d be hilarious if not so blood boiling, and is either a measure of the game being pushed out before it’s fully baked or a sign that the Switch is long-in-the-tooth and can’t keep up. The outlook of these problems being fixed is not encouraging now removed five months from its initial release, and it cripples the entire experience.

At its best, Cult of the Lamb is a smart balancing act of dungeon crawling and base building that has just enough meat on the bones to keep the game from becoming stale. The same could be said of its style, a mixture of overly cutesy characters against the backdrop of a downright evil, darkness stained world that holds a vein of morbid humor throughout. It’s that coagulation that makes the experience so unique, if a little shallow. That said, the Switch version is so tainted by the oppressively bad technical performance that it tanks the entire experience. Don’t play it here unless it’s your only option or Massive Monster resurrects it with a patch.