Repurposed Renaissance

HIGH Fantastic visuals, great sense of humor.

LOW The puzzles near the end are too difficult compared to the rest.

WTF Wall safes aren’t generally unlocked with keys.

Humor in games is a delicate, difficult thing. Very few titles manage to pull it off successfully, and too many to count have tried and failed. Going for laughs in the interactive space is risky not only because the jokes may bomb for any number of reasons — timing, localization, wrong audience — but because poor humor can actually ruin the entire project. Regardless of how clever the puzzles are or how tight the platforming is, the irritation that comes from bad comedy sours the rest. But when it succeeds? It’s fantastic.

One key to successful humor in games is doing the unexpected. Avoiding low-hanging fruit, not going for the most obvious gags and offering something other than well-worn material that dozens of other games have attempted in the past are all key. The Procession to Calvary from solo developer Joe Richardson checks all of these boxes, and succeeds because of it.

The Procession to Calvary is a point-and-click adventure at its core, but the presentation is what makes it immediately noteworthy. Rather than traditional graphics, Richardson takes images from classic Renaissance art and repurposes them in strange, new tableau that approximates the sort of chaotic, madcap visual style popularized by Monty Python. Characters are posed (mostly) appropriately, but their relative sizes vary, their faces were originally looking at things that have now been cropped out, and there are many situations staged for the sheer absurdity of it. One of my favorites was a person being tortured on top of a wheel, and then that wheel later being used to repair a wagon with the prisoner still on it! Completely ludicrous, and absolutely hilarious.

The writing is also as sharp as the visuals. The basic premise is that the subject of Rembrandt’s Bellona is after the head of an enemy ruler, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get it. The script goes back and forth between quick jabs and long-winded treatises on what can easily be seen as the modern state of affairs, and both hit their marks. The lament of a sad songwriter was perhaps a bit too real and the joke that comes of bribing a church official is incredibly dark, but both of these (and others) skirt their lines perfectly.

In terms of mechanics, Calvary was clearly designed with a mouse in mind, but it functions smoothly with the Xbox control pad and the quality of the puzzles are quite good for almost the entire game. They are certainly of the ‘find item and use item on problem’ variety, but the number of areas to scour for interactive hot spots is mostly manageable and solutions are ‘humorously logical’. However, things fell apart near at the end when the puzzles suddenly became multi-step, multi-location affairs that had to be done in a specific order while relying on knowledge of Renaissance paintings for clues. It was disappointing to get stuck after the ride had been so agreeable up to that point, especially since the ostensible point of playing Calvary is to laugh, not chew on difficult brain-teasers.

The one saving grace to this misstep (not counting online walkthroughs) is that Calvary allows the player to draw their sword at any time and kill anyone standing in their way. This ‘direct’ path through the adventure might not lead our heroine to the ending she wants, but I absolutely adore that the option exists. Whether the player chooses the sword or their words, the adventure never overstays its welcome thanks to a short (but appropriate) running time that rolls credits before the jokes stop being funny.

The Procession to Calvary is a gem. It’s wild, smart, incredibly unconventional romp, and it’s new experiences like this that give me life as a reviewer. I’m very glad to have played it.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Joe Richardson and published by Digerati. It is currently available on PC, XBO/X/S and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately three hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Intense Violence, Blood, Sexual Themes, and Language. The game can be surprisingly gory, though it’s done in a tongue-in-cheek way and not for horror or shock value. Pedophilia comes up a number of times, and there is some classically-themed nudity in parts. The dialogue is obviously aimed at adults, as well. The rating here is definitely appropriate.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue comes via text and the font is not able to be resized or altered in any way. (See examples above.) There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. This title is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Brad Gallaway
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