As frequent visitors to the Junkyard know, I am a fan of the works of HP Lovecraft. Having recently read a graphic novel of one of his best works, The Mountains of Madness, I was still craving some time in that dark, mysterious universe. There’s been a lot of talk about a new game that took us onto Lovecraftian shores, so I put my other games aside and answered the Call of the Sea. The experience was a short one, but a good one.
Call of the Sea is an adventure game. I don’t love adventure games because, since the days of Mist, they rely too heavily on abstract ideas. Open the door by reflecting the light through the crystal to the eyeball of the bat and use the doohickey to beam that back to the unlocking mechanism… what?!? I have rarely found an adventure game that one could actually get through without needing a walkthrough. (I’ve only found 2 that I can recall!) The problem for me is also that, at a certain point of working on a puzzle, I get tired. How many times do I have to run back and forth to do things and try abstract ideas? Return to Mysterious Island was one such game, where we could think through a problem. Hungry? Get a stick and string, find a worm, bait the makeshift fishing pole and fish! Nothing abstract about that!
Call of the Sea, unfortunately, does fall into the realm of the abstract but where it succeeds is that it’s not a long game. I put just 7.5 hours into its 6 chapters and the puzzles ramp up. From the outset they were tricky but could be thought through, but by the latter part of the game, I was all over the walkthrough. There was one place in particular that requires a lot of back and forth over a large area and Norah does not move at a clip. In fact, I’m convinced she was wearing high heels because even in fast mode, there are snails that move faster! Often, I had tried a few things more than once only to realize I was missing something. There was also one puzzle I solved by trial and error and I have no idea why it worked. But at $20, I still can’t complain. Yes, I would have been far happier if the puzzles were less abstruse but there are other aspects of the game that won me over.
Firstly the graphics are gloriously colorful, which is why I went a little heavy on some of the screenshots I snagged. It’s a visual treat to play through this brightly colored artwork. You play Norah, who is looking for her “dear old pal” Harry (her husband). You follow his footsteps into the Pacific islands where things go… fish shaped? But at no point is this a horror game. There’s a mystery around what happened to your dear old pal but as Norah, you are very at ease with what is going on. She feels drawn to the island. This is one of those stories that I love: we get to experience a strange world without terror; it’s truly an adventure. So yeah, the puzzles weren’t entirely to my liking but the story and the experience make up for it. There is a sense of melancholy to the game though; Harry has gone in search of a cure for a strange affliction of Norah’s and that is both lovely and sad. What is Norah’s ailment that Harry had to go to some obscure island to locate a cure? (You’ll have to play to find out!)
I do need to take a second to point out that through all the letters Norah finds, Harry and Nora refer to each other as “dear old pal” which struck me as weird. But that is fleshed out and there’s a lovely reason for it; one that actually forms the end credits, but I’ll say no more than that. I should have known I’d like the game from the moment I opened the journal and found that it opens on my birthday. But it’s more than that. We get a fan’s game of “spot the Easter egg”, and I love that. You don’t need to know the stuff to enjoy the game, but fans will appreciate it. Crawford Tillinghast and the pineal gland get a shout out (From Beyond) as does Inspector Legrasse (The Call of Cthulhu). There’s information on a C.D. Ward (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) and I found an album I’ve been looking for by that magical musician Erich Zann (The Music of Erich Zann). And there’s a seafood container for Innsmouth Cannery. The Shadow over Innsmouth is one of my favorites! God knows how many Easter eggs I missed!
More than anything else, it was an enjoyable story and Norah is my kind of character. The voice acting was perfect and some of the music was truly outstanding. Like many adventure games, there are two possible endings. (I tried both, because I had to know!) What amazed me was less the ending, both of which were good, but that the end credits are impacted by the ending. I was also delighted to find a post credit scene. I think games do them too infrequently, but then with the length of the credits in some games, maybe that’s a mercy.
Overall Call of the Sea is a very enjoyable game and gorgeously illustrated. Check out the trailer to see more for yourself. ML