Gods from the Abyss by Ars Creativa
As a big-time H.P. Lovecraft reader and small-time classic arcade game enthusiast, I was more than a little excited about the prospect of reviewing Gods from the Abyss, an old-school side-scrolling beat-’em-up inspired by the cosmic horror, evil cultists, and eldritch abominations of stories like “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”
How exactly would this work, though? Lovecraft’s protagonists – I’d hesitate to call them “heroes” – tend toward intellectual pursuits over fisticuffs. Games like Lovecraft’s Untold Stories find a loophole with guns and magic to a degree, but that’s still not quite the brutal pugilism of your Double Dragon or Streets of Rage games.
The Clobbering of Cthulhu
As it happens, it works just fine! The great thing about a side-scrolling brawler is that you can put just about any interchangeable cannon fodder in there, and it works! Gods from the Abyss just swaps out street thugs or martial artists for robed, hooded cultists and commences almost immediately with the pummeling.
Whether playing as burly tough guy Bob or sword-wielding mystic May, the mechanics will be immediately understandable to anyone who’s played the four-person arcade versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or X-Men from Konami.
You’ve got your punches, your kicks, your jumping air attacks, your running attacks, and finishing moves for enemies that you’ve knocked down but not out, and just a handful of controls – four directional buttons, plus jump, attack, and “special move” – to manage them all.
You also can pick up weapons dropped by enemies: in this case, derringers and Tommy guns in keeping with the 1920s setting, not to mention the occasional lit stick of dynamite.
Tentacles and Tommy Guns
While the mechanics are highly familiar, the setting is an unusual choice for the genre, but Gods from the Abyss nails that, as well.
From the cobblestone streets of a New England town to a ritual sacrifice deep in fog-haunted woods, Gods from the Abyss is steeped in atmosphere, employing a muted color palette reliant on earth tones and shades of gray (I was reminded a bit of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, in particular). Rich blues and purples help the player characters stand out.
Lots of little details, like Bob’s suspenders and flat cap, really nail the period feel, and brief cut-scenes between brawling sections help tell the story of two misfits punching their way through cultists to stop an occult apocalypse.
Apart from Splatterhouse and Night Slashers, which owed more to ’70s and ’80s slasher films than ’20s pulp fiction, horror is rarely represented in brawlers, so the sole developer behind Ars Creativa deserves a lot of credit for nailing the aesthetic so perfectly.
Flaws to the Fisticuffs
There are minor quality-of-life issues, most notably the absolute hassle of remapping the controls. This is a process that resets after each restart.
My partner adored the aforementioned Konami X-Men arcade games, so I very much wanted to play this with her in local multi-player, but setting things up so that she could use a controller while I used a keyboard set-up that actually functioned for a brawler was so frustrating and counter-intuitive that we almost gave up before we started.
Our other big complaint is that there’s no immediate restart if one player dies. Admittedly this forces one to improve, but a sizable percentage of arcade game enthusiasts – especially back in the multi-player brawler heyday – were those of us that would keep cramming quarters into the machine to see how far we could get and Gods from the Abyss has no similar option. I get it, mind, I’m just saying it would be nice.
That said, there’s a lot more good than bad here, and even the occasional frustrations, like characters that feel too slow to respond – are fun in their own way. Yelling “Turn around, damn it” and mashing a directional button as a cultist pummels your character from behind despite your best efforts is an integral part of the arcade game experience.
Play this one with a friend, preferably one who’s watched Herbert West: Reanimator with you and/or stolen a bird mount from you in Golden Axe after you got knocked off. Good times.
Gods from the Abyss is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Gods from the Abyss below: