Musashi vs Cthulhu review

There’s a demand on the digital services for inexpensive games; something cheap and cheerful to brighten a dull afternoon that could potentially be bought with leftover credit. With both limited budget and resources in mind, it pays for the developers of these smaller titles (Musashi vs Cthulhu costs just over £4, incidentally) to keep things simple and focused. There’s joy to be had in simplicity if it’s done well, and it’s up to developers to capitalise on this. Nobody expects a colossal, cinematic, RPG for under a fiver. Something simple that’s refined and fun to play? An entirely reasonable expectation to have. Problem is, low budget games can feel…low budget.

Musashi vs Cthulhu is an exception. It’s a simple game that even the likes of the Mega Drive could easily replicate, but it’s also polished and quite satisfying. You control a lone warrior in a bleak mist-coated forest, out to stop an army of Lovecraftian beasts and horrors. Simply, enemies approach from the left and right, and must be struck in their weak points using corresponding buttons. Six buttons in total, no less – high, middle, and low for both left and right. Attacks on the left are mapped to the d-pad, while right facing attacks are mapped to the face buttons. Button icons appear temporarily by default, helping to get into the swing of things, and they can be made permanent in the options menu. Enemies, too, have red glowing spots to aim for, so you’re never clueless about where to strike.

Musashi vs Cthulhu review

It’s also possible to taunt and restore a hit point (extra life) gauge if there’s a few seconds spare, giving the proceedings extra nuance. This gauge takes the form of a glowing lantern, which if full, gives a retry – while pushing back enemies for breathing space. Enemies can only attack if you aren’t attacking yourself, which takes time to adjust.   

If it wasn’t obvious, this is a score chaser. It has online leaderboards, and the focus is on beating your personal best. Things start relatively simple, although there is a slight learning curve to perfect the sense of timing. Then things ramp up, introducing enemies that must be attacked twice or in two different areas. You’re going to be meeting Cthulhu himself at some point too, although not before countless retries – this is intended to be a challenging experience. It’s also rewarding, dishing out bonuses for killing certain amounts of enemies consecutively. Bonus notifications can be a tad distracting. The same goes for achievements – holding them back for the ‘Game Over’ screen, a la Vampire Survivors, would have been wiser.

Musashi vs Cthulhu review

This is still a textbook example of a simple idea done well, with deaths that always feel fair and the constant threat of something unexpected appearing on the horizon. The presentation seals the deal – the artwork is nicely drawn, and although enemy animation is basic it’s never crude. The backdrops even change gradually, with our mute hero slowly edging forward with every lunge. The music is ambient, as not to distract, and the sword slash sound effects are aurally pleasing. While there is an options menu, this mostly relates to leaderboards and resetting scores, although an optional ‘fast start’ unlocks after a few failed rounds.   

Musashi vs Cthulhu is one of those rare games – or at least, rare nowadays – that it’s possible to get ‘into the zone’ with – I found myself only achieving high scores when not thinking too hard, focusing on the button prompts only. I think it’ll appeal to those weaned on the likes of Kung Fu Master, Black Belt, and the Game Boy’s curiously rhythmic original TMNT tie-in. It may even please those lamenting the death of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, offering similar timing-based gameplay. It comes with the caveat that it’s a very simple game – don’t expect anything resembling a storyline – but if you’re on board with the idea of an arcade-like experience, this comes recommended as a decent budget buy. It’ll scratch a long-dormant itch, but not before it gouges your eyes out first.

QUByte’s Musashi vs Cthulhu is out now on consoles. Developed by Cyber Rhino Studios It first launched on PC in 2020.