There once was a game called Limerick.
Peddled as horror, it looked pretty sick.
But when I played
I wasn’t afraid,
ever so quick.
While the limericks used in Jenito Studios’ Limerick: Cadence Mansion are far better than the one I’ve written above, this action horror game left much to be desired.
Set on Nightsonnet Isle, we play as the Proofreader, who wakes up in a cell in Cadence Mansion, owned by Limerick, who takes the form of a creepy Jigsaw-style marionette. You must traverse the mansion and play Limerick’s game in order to uncover its story and also put a stop to Limerick.
Considering Limerick is about poets and riddles, I would have thought there would be more puzzles revolving around these, or even just writing in general. But these are very few and far between, Limerick is far more interested in throwing repetitive enemies after you and forcing you down ugly hallways that all look the same.
Our Audio and Video Editor attended Momocon this year and had the chance to play a demo of Limerick which he was really impressed by. Being a big fan of horror and puzzle games, I decided to pick up the full game.
Problems arose as soon as I booted up the game. The menu setup is more horrifying than Limerick itself. It’s really difficult to determine where any of the options are located and you can also only access the settings from the main menu, meaning you have to leave the game every time you want to adjust them. The developer has addressed these complaints and has explained that the menu setup is due to controller optimization and it’s also not the highest of their priorities in terms of designing the game, however I would digress that it is important to make sure the player can use the menu properly considering there’s options in there that make playing the game possible in some situations. It would be better to make the menu usable for keyboard and mouse first and foremost, as having to put down the controller to use the menu isn’t so much of an issue when the alternative is a menu that is confusing and poorly laid out.
On top of this, as someone who prefers a lower sensitivity, this is a must-have adjustment in video games for me. But there are only four sensitivity options. You start at 100%, which was really high for me, and can either go down to 50% or go up to 200% or 300%. It would be so much easier to just have a slider for this so it can be adjusted to match the player’s needs.
Continuing on from the moment of starting Limerick, picking up objects involves holding down the left mouse button or the [E] key. But this takes an unusually long time for some reason – I’m guessing to put more pressure on the player if they’re being chased. But it’s a strange design choice regardless when you imagine your character slowly bending down to pick up an object at this pace.
In Limerick, you must solve puzzles to open up more access to the mansion. But, for a puzzle game, there’s not an awful lot of puzzles. Most of these I found very easy to solve too, and if you’re struggling, the game foregoes a hint system in exchange for just allowing the player to skip the puzzle entirely. As mentioned above, there’s a lack of puzzles surrounding limericks or even just writing in general despite this being the core theme. They mostly consist of alignment puzzles which aren’t the most stimulating to solve.
The Limerick’s marketing material explains that you can work out these puzzles for yourself (or just flick a switch which lets you skip it entirely), or further exploration will guide you to letters left by the mansion’s staff and inhabitants which will spoon feed you information on how to solve the puzzle. It honestly feels like puzzles weren’t the highest priority in this game’s design which is a shame because there was a lot of potential around the plot.
Like most survival horror games, the mansion tells the story of various NPCs in the form of letters lying around. But Limerick takes this up to the next level by absolutely littering the place with letters. You’ll encounter ten just lying around the floor of one room, pinned on the walls and left on tables. No wonder Limerick seems so angry when you encounter him, he must be spending a fortune on stationary thanks to his staff. Because of this, I found it VERY difficult to remember everything that had been said in these letters in order to piece together the story behind the mansion, let alone remember all the NPCs enough to care about them.
On top of the piles of letters you’ll be wading through as you explore the mansion, there are resources to collect too. These are easy to spot because they are glowing in neon colors, and can be used to boot up the generator for save stations or to go towards upgrading your weapon.
Like a lot of the design choices in Limerick, the neon coloring is certainly one that raises some questions. I’m not usually fussed about the graphics in indie games as I’m fully aware of the financial limitations, especially since Limerick was created mostly by a solo developer, but I think a lot of the faults in the way Limerick looks are something that could be avoided. For one, I think the neon coloring looks really tacky. In the darker sections of the game, there’s even neon smoke and I couldn’t help but think that a lot of these rooms would be so much more atmospheric if it didn’t look like I was entering a nightclub… when it’s actually the staff quarters. The parts of Cadence Mansion that look the best are all the better-lit rooms and I think with better use of lighting, the criticisms on the graphics wouldn’t even come to mind.
On top of this, Limerick really overuses tight corridors, to the point where most of the game is an endless maze of these and they all look the same. The earlier levels as you struggle to crawl out of the depths of the mansion are mostly just these crudely designed corridors, filled with letters, bones are embedded on the ceiling for some reason, and everything looks the same. It honestly feels like the sewer levels of the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion where you know the rest of the game has potential, but first you’ve got to crawl out of the pits.
Among the resources you can pick up in Limerick, you will have to loot for ammo too. You can either attack enemies with your pistol, or use a burst of charged light with Psythermic Extract. Ammo was a huge problem in Limerick, and this is coming from a survival horror game fan. The hunt for ammo should keep you on your toes and make you think smarter about how you’re using it. Limerick takes this many steps too far. I found that, even when hitting all my targets and only taking out essential enemies, I was still running out of ammo. Your ammo capacity is also severely limited, so you can’t always pick up ammo when you see it. In fact, the lack of ammo eventually prohibited me from progressing further, which I will explain later.
You also have essence to collect which charges your light source. Without this, you cannot produce light. Again, Limerick takes this a step too far as rather than running out of essence just throwing you into darker lighting which makes progress tricky, you are outright plunged into darkness. There is no way to see anything, no way to know what direction you’re facing, and I found myself in many instances with no way out of the darkness because I couldn’t see a damn thing – forcing me to restart a save.
As mentioned before, the generators for save points need resources in order to be booted up. This wasn’t a problem earlier on, however as Limerick progressed I came across a point where I couldn’t save because I didn’t have enough resources to do so, forcing me to turn back and go looting. I think saving should be that safe ground that isn’t held hostage by the resource system. This method has been used in Resident Evil but it is VERY punishing to players who have other things to be doing in their life rather than hunting for loot so that they can save and log off. I really don’t think this is needed, especially since the save system in Limerick is already punishing enough with no autosaves. For the same reason, I also very much dislike how there’s no pause option for Limerick.
Resources can be used to upgrade weapons… but you’re given no information at all as to what exactly is being upgraded. I’m assuming upgrading will maybe increase my ammo capacity, maybe my damage? There’s no information on this. You’ll come across upgrade stations very rarely too, it’s already a pain to navigate Cadence Mansion without adding in backtracking to upgrade stations, of which I saw two of in the first third of the game.
Limerick does offer an alternative to combat in the case of having no ammo or coming across an invincible enemy. These are panic closets, but they do have their complications. If you’re not playing on the easiest difficulty, panic closet batteries will need to be taken to charging stations to charge. Before being able to use a panic closet, you will also need to boot it up which takes a few precious clicks on its panel before entering. While being chased, this is a very stressful process and works well in developing tension.
The titular villain, Limerick, will have his own sections which he prowls around. These Limerick encounters involve navigating a certain area, avoiding Limerick, and solving the three puzzles available three times (for some reason). Limerick will either be hovering around the map or driving a little car which makes him go faster. The sound effects of when he is near are obnoxiously so much louder than any other sound effect in the game. He won’t always start chasing you if he spots you, but when he does you can either hammer him with bullets to warn him away or find a panic closet to hide in.
With the maze of corridors, again all looking the same, these sections are difficult enough without having to complete the puzzles three times. This felt like a ridiculous chore to make these levels longer. Once you’ve solved a puzzle, it’s clear you’ve worked it out so you shouldn’t then have to do it another two times. This is another example of how the puzzles in Limerick really do just feel like a means to make certain stages lengthier rather than actually requiring some brain work when they should be the star of the show. This section honestly just felt tedious to complete.
Another problem with the atmosphere in Limerick is the lack of music as you explore the mansion. The only time I encountered music in my playthrough was the tune played in the panic closets and also the epic boss music used against the Hammerhead which was easily the highlight of my playthrough. With the poor mixing in the sound effects, I think music would help to soften this blow and, if well designed, would improve the game’s overall atmosphere.
Limerick also has a distinct lack in enemy variation. In the first third of the game, I only encountered three enemy types. There a floating squid creature which just ominously moves towards you, an invincible spiky ball which you’re supposed to avoid but… because it’s a ball, you don’t know what direction its facing, and a hovering drone which shoots lasers at you.
Unfortunately, due to the game-breaking fault which I encountered later on, the Hammerhead was the only one out of the three available boss fights that I was able to face in Limerick. Although this boss fight was the most fun I had in my entire playthrough, especially due to the brilliant musical score accompanying it, it wasn’t amazing – I just really enjoy boss fights.
The Hammerhead fight is set with the Hammerhead towering over you on a grid which he can smash and light up, scorching that area of the arena. This attack will also sometimes spawn regular enemies. This sequence will go on for around three minutes until there is a break and you can finally inflict damage on the boss by targeting the orb that appears in his chest before he resumes attacking again. This will need to be done around three times, so there’s a good ten minutes or so of the fight where you’re unable to damage the boss at all.
During boss fights, you can move faster and your Psythermic Extract is unlimited, meaning you always have some form of ammo which is much needed considering the enemy spawn-ins won’t slow down if you already have your hands full, so you can be overwhelmed very quickly. My main problem with this fight is that you have three hit points, so getting hit once is punishing. If the Hammerhead charges up two thirds of the arena to light up in flames and you’re on the far side of it, maybe because you were picking up pistol ammo or avoiding enemies, you have absolutely no chance of making it to the clear side before you take a hit – which is really unfair and was the sole reason why it took me a few tries to defeat this boss.
It was shortly after this boss fight where my playthrough of Limerick came to an end after around six hours. I encountered a segment where I was back underground after running into a trap setup by Limerick. In this area, I had to traverse through tunnels filled with spiders. Unfortunately, I had no more ammo. No way to turn back or reload a save despite there being multiple save slots. And no way to progress past these spiders without killing them. In the end, the punishing loot system which ensure there is never enough ammo in the room for every opponent was what brought my playthrough of Limerick to a halt. This isn’t a bug but a design choice that has been addressed by the developer in their blogs.
In fact, many of the points that I have made in this review have been covered by the developer who has explained that they’re a design choice. The punishing loot system, lack of hit points, all the points raised about the Limerick encounters, are all things that have been brought up before as part of the difficulty of designing a game that’s fair as well as challenging. And while some players won’t mind the slug of endless hallways and repeating the same puzzles, there are players such as myself who enjoy a challenging game when it feels as though the design choices aren’t working against the player. Limerick isn’t one of those games. And despite the lack of ammo being something that the developer has pointed out is purposed to make the game challenging, this did end up being unfair in my playthrough as it actually inhibited me from progressing.
Limerick: Cadence Mansion scared me once with it’s terrifying jump-scare spiders lurking around the dark vents of the mansion (in fact, the jump-scares weren’t even needed here), unfortunately my playthrough ended at this segment due to a game-breaking fault with the loot system. That being said, I’ve never been so thankful to not have to continue playing a game before. I believe this game really needed some more time in development before being put on sale.
Jess reviewed Limerick: Cadence Mansion on PC with a review code.