One of the things I love about the Nintendo Switch is how dedicated the eShop is to embracing indie gaming and bringing some of the most notable titles from Steam to consoles. Sony and Microsoft do that too, of course, but Nintendo’s efforts have an ambassador feel that the other companies lack.
Case in point is The Shrouded Isle, a game I’ve been keen to try out since Errant Signal showcased it. It’s a macabre asset manager title where you play the high priest of an island doomsday cult. The dark god you worship is due to destroy the world in five years, and you have to get ready. You do this through a variety of ways, such as promoting the virtues your god loves like ignorance and penitence, seeking the sinners whispered to you in dreams for sacrifice each season, and keeping the five noble houses on your side until the end of the game lest they rebel.
In practice, the game is simple to learn but difficult to master. Though a playthrough should only take about an hour, I invested at least ten hours into the game before I became a good enough demagogue to get to even one of the seven endings.
The game is similar to Clue in some regards. You’re dealt a random set of citizens, each with their own virtues and vices that can hamper or hinder keeping your approved virtues high enough to maintain favor with your god. Depending on how good your relationship with each house is, you get a certain number of inquiries per house per turn. You can use this to have a particularly obedient person help get your level of that virtue up or avoid a secret scholar reducing your ignorance level .
The game is broken down into four seasons a year, and at the each of you must sacrifice one member of the community. If you haven’t uncovered a bad enough sin or you’ve already sacrificed a member of that particular house last season, you might put that house into open rebellion and find yourself waking up to their knives at your throat.
All this makes for some murderously addictive gameplay. It really is like a demented version of Solitaire. Theoretically, each game is winnable, but since each game is different based on random factors it all comes down to how your play choices pan out. You find yourself mentally juggling half a dozen different concerns against the backdrop of a demonic apocalypse.
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And what a backdrop it is! The Shrouded Isle is presented in this lo-fi monochrome that looks like a high definition Game Boy title. It works well both in the tablet version of the Switch and even blown up to television size. From the atmospheric opening (thankfully skippable when you’re compulsively trying one more go to win) to the blood-spattered sacrifice sequences to the medieval purification chamber you use to increase the virtues of the citizens, the game is subtly gorgeous. Combined with its droning, spooky soundtrack it is the acme of how much you can do with so little.
There’s a lot to unpack tonally from the game. It clearly has a low opinion of religion, and western religion especially. It also has this weird mental illness mechanic that punishes you for sacrificing people suffering from it but also tries to present it as a Lovecraftian infectious madness. Honestly, it adds a needless layer of complication on the game and I wish there was an option to play without that that aspect like there was when it was first released on Steam.
The game is fantastic, though. It’s a dark piece of genius that will keep you up for hours and never give you the same experience twice.
The Shrouded Isle is available on Switch now.