From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent – and I am pretty certain that the Old Ones and their vast armies of unnamable abominations never expected a futuristic jet fighter to stand up to them. They never expected their eldritch existence and the glorious darkness they were bringing to mankind would be threatened by missiles, just as I never expected to ever play through an unashamedly Lovecraftian horizontal shoot-’em-up called Elders of Madness.
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Names like this, you see, are usually reserved for horror adventure games and Fantasy Flight board games and I’ve never seen such a thematic choice in a shmup.
It works brilliantly. Cosmic horror ties in perfectly with the toughness of the game and even introduces a fitting sanity mechanic, since as per the time honoured tradition of countless Lovecraft inspired games, you have a sanity meter that steadily empties as you play. The lower it gets, the darker the game will become, eventually restricting your field of vision to a tiny circle of light around your jet. Unless you grab the appropriate sanity restoring power-ups.
Not that the game would be easy even without this clever little trick. Far from it. This is an intense and difficult shooter that is happy to fill the screen with dozens of unnatural, pixelated monstrosities and a few extra dozens of projectiles. Everything will of course kill you on touch and send you back to the beginning of the stage, hence forcing you to get better level by level as you discover the best of tactics and learn how the enemy waves appear. Just like in the infuriating yet so very lovely old days.
Then again, battling horrors from beyond time and space should never be easy, so don’t expect too many power-ups. The development team of over 100 high school students, indie artists, musicians and bloggers may have crafted a fantastic retro inspired offering, but it also poured all of its collective sadism into it too.