I have to give developer Stegalosaurus credit: calling your game something like Super Army of Tentacles 3: The Search for Army of Tentacles 2: Black GOAT of the Woods Edition is a pretty sure-fire way of catching a player’s eye. Beyond it lies a game as silly as its name, full of pop-culture references, internet-meme jokes and more Old Gods than you’ll know what to do with. They come packaged together in a visual novel experience with light RPG elements.
As in the original game, Army of Tentacles: (Not) A Cthulhu Dating Sim, you control Perry, whose gender is up to you to decide. Awakening from a five-year coma following the events of the previous game, Perry learns the world as they know it is essentially over, and what remains is a dystopia populated by a scattering of humans and every monstrosity H.P. Lovecraft ever so much as thought of. Neither Perry nor the rest of the cast are voiced, but strong dialogue does help their distinct personalities shine. My personal favourite was Thatcher, a rather moody and sometimes antagonistic bird-like creature.
The character designs can be a little simplistic, though they’re a clear improvement from the first game. That said, I found the background art to be quite charming. Whilst not incredibly detailed, it conveys the game’s dystopian setting without compromising the lighthearted humour that permeates the adventure. The world might be ending, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. Despite the basic art style, the game is anything but straightforward. It doesn’t presume any knowledge on behalf of the player, at one point going so far as to say you’re free to use Wikipedia if necessary. That said, having an interest in or willingness to learn about Lovecraftian mythos is a definite plus. Internet culture means everyone and their mother has at least heard of Cthulhu by now, but there’s an entire pantheon of gods and them some on show here.
Alongside the myriad tentacled creatures, Super Army of Tentacles 3 is incredibly fond of internet memes, and you’ll see them reference throughout conversations with anyone from human friends to Cthulhu itself? An understanding of these references isn’t quite as important – they’ll go harmlessly over your head otherwise – but the fewer of them you know, the more characters will occasionally appear to be talking absolute gibberish.
Whether you get all the nods to Lovecraft and internet culture or not, the clarity of the story tends to vary. At times, it’s as straightforward as the most kinetic visual novels, requiring nothing from you other than choosing where to visit next. On occasion, the game will suddenly bombard you with information and choices to the point where it becomes difficult to make sense of it all. It’s situations like these that make a message log invaluable, but the game has no such feature. Once you skip past a message, it’s gone for good. With such a lore-heavy narrative, this is a disappointing omission.
To the game’s credit, it rarely takes itself all too seriously. This may be a story about the end of the world, but it’s one that’s supposed to make you laugh. Super Army of Tentacles 3 frequently pokes fun at other games and even itself. For a game that tackles the end of humanity whilst also aspiring to be a comedy experience, there’s a fine line to tread without diluting either part of the experience. The developers have done a commendable job pulling that off. I found myself rooting for the cast whilst also enjoying their ridiculous antics and arguments.
It’s a minor point, but the font is also far too small for the size of the text box. The tiny lettering can become uncomfortable to read after a while, and there are no options to enlarge it to a more appropriate size. This is a visual novel first and foremost – there’s a lot of reading involved. For the sake of eyes everywhere, an option to edit font sizes should be a basic feature.
Unlike more basic visual novels, Super Army of Tentacles 3 incorporates some light RPG elements and a combat system. The former is a set of four skills – Intelligence, Dexterity, Charisma and Wisdom – that can, depending on how many points you invest in them, have an effect on dialogue choices both outside of and during battle. You’ll occasionally be rewarded with additional skill points with which to bolster your abilities further, but for the most part you’ll likely be picking one or two to advance beyond the others.
Combat is less a bout of fisticuffs and more debate between the protagonist and their opponents. The enemies will fling insults or test you with questions, and you have to retort with the appropriate answer to cause them damage. Mess up, and you’ll be the one hurt. It’s fun in theory, but tedium sets in as you find yourself more and more reliant on Google to provide you with answers. Many enemies’ questions could have been lifted straight from a high school quiz; if you don’t know how many US presidents served in the military, you’re going to lose half of your HP – or Sanity, as the game calls it.
I went into Super Army of Tentacles 3: The Search for Army of Tentacles 2 not knowing entirely what to expect, and I came away not fully sure how I felt about it. It does have its moments of charm, especially when all the pieces of an argument or incident fit together and you find yourself chuckling at the obscure jokes you do understand. In a way, the slew of vague references works in the game’s favour; when you finally do encounter some that click, the idea of mixing an Old God end of days with “They took an arrow to the knee” references seems like a great one. It’s just a shame that those moments are so rare.
I want to recommend Super Army of Tentacles 3, if only for the sheer absurdity of the experience. It’s refreshing to play a game that isn’t afraid to make a fool of itself or do its own thing. There is a lot to love here – the party, for example, is a mess of squabbling oddities reminiscent of a Bioware game – and I can’t fault developer Stegalosaurus for wanting to inject their own brand of humour into their creation. The whole experience is just a little too rough around the edges for my tastes. Play it for the silly irreverence, but not if you’re looking for something deep and compelling.
- Charming background art
- Varied and complex cast
- Argument-based combat system is a nice change
- Ideal for fans of Lovecraftian settings
- Character designs are simplistic
- A lot of the dialogue revolves around memes and pop culture references
- Combat will require a lot of Googling to get the right answers
- Text is far too small, with no way to enlarge it
- No way to view past dialogue
- Story can be inconsistent and difficult to grasp