One summer a few years ago, I got addicted to clicker games. Recovering from an embarrassing concussion (I ran into a pole while trying to hail a bus), I was severely limited in what media I could consume, with most video games bringing on a raging headache the moment the camera moved. These simple games scratched that video game compulsion, a constant sense of progress with larger and larger numbers tumbling from defeated enemies and magical kingdoms constantly growing in complexity. Eventually, I had to quit cold turkey—the constant clicking was starting to cause problems with my wrist, and the temptation to spend money on microtransactions was becoming greater the more time I invested in the games.
I was a little concerned, then, when I realised Click of Cthulhu was an idle city builder. I have been ‘clean’ for years, and did not want to fall down that hole of addiction once again. This clicker, however, is different. With a clear end point, a charming aesthetic, and no microtransactions, Studio Black Flag has embraced the soothing aspects of an idle game without including the predatory trappings common to the genre.
Click of Cthulhu casts the player as a city planner trying to summon Cthulhu. A special key needs to be crafted to open the gates of R’Lyeh, which requires a great deal of resources to be created. With every forge, mine, fell library, and graven idol built, the town is one step closer to rousing mighty Cthulhu from its slumber.
The town starts out with very little: just a large portal in the middle from which minions can be summoned, and four rocks that can be mined for materials. Clicking the rock a few times will yield enough resources to build roads, which open up spaces for buildings to be placed. Different buildings serve different purposes, each focused on creating a specific material or increasing the rate of collection. A house will allow for more minions to be summoned, and a mine will have the minions collect the rock for you. Libraries collect Eldritch signs, which can be used to upgrade buildings. The more rock that is harvested, the more items that can be created, eventually leading to the forging of the unnameable key.
For an idle game, the clicking is thankfully limited; create enough mines, and your subjects will soon harvest rock faster than you can click. Minions do need to be summoned one by one, but due to the gentle pace of the game no frantic movement is required. Playing at a leisurely pace, the summoning of Cthulhu took roughly an hour, which felt like a good length of time to build a decently-sized city without getting too bogged down in the details. Click of Cthulhu also offers two timed modes, adding a greater challenge in building a well-optimised town.
Gamers of a certain age will immediately recognise the aesthetic of the original Game Boy throughout Click of Cthulhu‘s visual design. The hues of various shades of grey over the yellow-green background nail that colour combo perfectly, and the sprites are distinct enough that they never get lost in the colourful haze. Such readability with that old-school design choice is really impressive, especially since the player is free to build any building in any direction. For this style to become cluttered and messy would have been easy, but from beginning to end the town was a clear and fitting tribute to Cthulhu.
Click of Cthulhu is solely playable in a browser, which results in some minor control issues. Scrolling around town is done by moving the mouse to the edge of the screen. Since the mouse can leave the confines of the game screen, scrolling the map where you want it to go is occasionally tricky, particularly on the bottom edge. Pressing space will re-centre the map, so you can never get too lost, but this issue would be annoying in the time trial mode where every second counts. Hit boxes are also a little finicky—the bottom rock seems to have a smaller box than the sprite, and menu options occasionally have to be clicked several times for the input to register.
All in all, I was really impressed with Click of Cthulhu. The core loop of constantly creating better buildings is immensely satisfying, and is done without excess button mashing. The pixel graphics absolutely nail the aesthetic of the Game Boy era, and the length is just long enough to be fun without outstaying its welcome. I was reminded of why I enjoyed these games in the first place, before it became a mindless addiction. Developer Studio Black Flag is currently hard at work on Orphan Age, a simulation game about the children left behind in a war zone. If this sounds like your sort of thing, a playable demo is available on the Steam page here.
Next week, we will be taking a look at Vecter, a high speed racing game where any collision could mean death. The game is available on Steam here. Discussion is happening in the Discord server, or you can email me here.