Eternal Madness VIII: Sanity’s Boogaloo.
Super Army of Tentacles 3: The Search for Army of Tentacles 2 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: Stegalosaurus Game Development
Army of Tentacles was a very… bizarre little RPG that sought to repurpose and interpret the great lovecraft and Cthulhu mythos into a truly bizarre story that read like an unfiltered stream of consciousness and amounted to a endearing, baffling, and intriguing affair. All three of which are tenants that are unsurprisingly retained with the move to its direct sequel, Super Army of Tentacles 3: The Search for Army of Tentacles 2, while making ample efforts to address many of the issues I had with the original title, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
After the events of Army of Tentacles and its DLC campaigns, protagonist Perry Hollycraft reawakens to find reality more or less broken. With Deep Ones and various monsters roaming the lands, the dead coming back to life, and the majority of human beings being replaced with clones of the same four people. Worst of all, the crawling chaos and ruler of the dreamlands Nyarlathotep is being a big stinker, trying to take over the known universe, dethrone the Old Ones, and in general make the world a nasty no-good place. Being the chosen one, it is up to Perry to once again recruit a team of oddball allies and garner the resources needed to fight this menace, except this time all of reality is at stake.
What ensues is a globe trotting quest across a world where madness reigns supreme and any attempt to fully break down or understand everything is a fool’s endeavor. A world with wizard and witches schools, roaming gangs of LARPers, various lovecraftian creatures, and a bizarre eternal version of San Diego Comic Con known as Dreamlands Con, which I swear is the most used area in the game. With the story being broken up into various quests about nudging gods to meet together, securing the necronomicon, and saving the clones of United States presidents as they slowly turn into zombies thanks to the mythical properties of the Black Woods and the illuminati’s desire to expedite scientific discovery. I could go on and list the numerous party members who join Perry in their quest, such as a legally distinct Harry Potter, a bug person who carries around brains, a wendigo, and a Christmas moose plushie, but I think you get the idea.
Based on that description, one might assume this game is the sort that dwells in its oddness, and while that is true to an extent, it does focus on its story and has the makings of a fairly standard RPG plot at its core. With many of the characters being surprisingly likeable or well realized, and a few of the quest or side quests being rather interesting, showing that the developers do have at least some talent for storytelling and creating compelling characters. Furthermore, its eccentric personality is surprisingly encapsulating, and while it is only loosely coherent between its references to Hamlet, Lovecraft, American history, and various random tidbits about pop culture, I found myself anticipating where the story would go next and how it would go there.
This degree of creativity is what makes the game worthwhile, which is partially why I find a lot of the side quests throughout this RPG to be surprisingly lame. With most of them involving somebody asking for a thing, Perry going to get it, arriving back to them, and them saying, “thank you, Perry,” or something equally droll. I wish that I could highlight this oversight and lack of quality as a rare instance for this game, but beyond its story and parts of its presentation… it has some major problems.
The navigation system for this globe trotting adventure is heavily menu-based, and the implementation is both clunky and seems very inefficient, involving many options and suboptions all presented in a very plain list format no matter what they are for. The stats that make up a large chunk of the in-game mechanics do not seem to work reliably in many instances, and generally seem pointless as a result. The game lies to the player about how much money they receive after a fight, always saying it the payout for every fight is 2 oscars when it is not. And the way in which quests are handled is… kind of broken. As in, I tried doing everything I could think of to trigger certain side quests, but I could not seem to get them to work properly. Also, one of my party members died throughout the course of the game, but I was somehow able to re-recruit them and they joined my party again like nothing had ever happened.
With the time system and saving restrictions both removed, and thank goodness for that, the core of the gameplay beyond navigation is condensed in verbal disputes with characters that task the player to sync up their mind with that of the writer in order to determine the best verbal comebacks from a list of 3. It does not make much sense, often calls upon the player to look up random facts on Google or Wikipedia to progress, and more or less necessitate the use of saves before or during each battle, lest Perry die in 2 hits, and it is game over. While I admittedly do enjoy these, as after spending enough time looking over the right options, one can start to get into the mind of the writer and the intended characterization of Perry, it is still a very sloppy system that encourages a lot of guessing, and is not helped by how useless a lot of party member abilities feel. Except for the space fungus bug man, who highlights the correct answer. He’s the MVP.
As for the presentation, upon starting the game I was almost immediately disappointed by the lack of voice acting available here. While Army of Tentacles was notable for being fully voiced, albeit amateurly in most cases, the actors all had a sense of passion and conviction to them that really went to punctuate the writing and characters themselves. Here, the lack of voice acting is sorely missed, as the lost energy is positively palpable in many scenes, largely due to the more minimal soundtrack employed here, and the lack of any text crawling to accompany dialog.
Visually, the game is a marked improvement over the cobbled together and scrappy presentation of the original, with characters following a mostly consistent art style, very detailed and plentiful backgrounds, and a good amount of expressions for the major characters. It makes the game look vastly more professional, though I must admit that part of me does miss the personality of the original. Yes, most of the sprites looked horribly out of place next to each other and there were no expressions, but they were practically oozing with personality, which went a long way to making the entire game more endearing. Here, it really does come off as plain. Polished, detailed, and well designed, but plain in comparison to what came before.
Then there is the matter of the UI, which was sloppy in Army of Tentacles, and here it does have some improvements, such as a more useful quest log, but in this game’s move to a 1080p resolution, the developers did not see fit to increase the font size beyond what was seen the first Army of Tentacles, which ran at nearly a quarter of the resolution. This can make text surprisingly hard to read, not helped by the yellowish white on dark green color scheme applied to the textbox. They could have increased the game’s font size with relative ease from what I understand about Ren’py, the game’s engine, but they just… didn’t. It’s not even like more than one character’s dialog ever comes close to filling up the text box.
Army of Tentacles was an enigma the likes of which I doubt I will ever stumble upon again, and Super Army of Tentacles 3: The Search for Army of Tentacles 2 continues that madness and oddness to an extent, but feels more restricted. In the transition of being a more polished, professional, and longer title, I feel that the developers lost something in the process. The end result is still an endearing, baffling, and intriguing little RPG, yet it has enough shortcomings that I cannot say it feels like a true evolution of the original title. But I guess hiring multiple artists and a bus full of amateur voice actors is a bit too expensive for developers who started making visual novels with stick figure characters.