The Procession to Calvary Review
If Monty Python ever got into video games, The Procession to Calvary is what they’d make. Every turn of this point-and-click runs rampant with surreal and self-aware humour that takes every chance it can to make an extraordinarily immature butt joke in the midst of crucifictions and holy torture.
Your story begins at the end of the holy war (which holy war, you ask? Who cares, Procession snaps back!), with your disappointed player character discovering they’re no longer allowed to murder anyone they please. Immortal John leads the North and has decreed there will be no more murder, which sends your warrior-queen character off on her quest to find Heavenly Peter and murder him. That’s the entire plot, all strung together with a series of bizarre jokes and anarchic humour.
A habit of mine is to poke through the settings of a game before I begin to play. A box labelled “Trigger a monk blowing a raspberry on exiting this menu” practically begged me to tick it, so I did. I don’t know what I expected, but yes, a monk did blow a raspberry at me, and it got a damn good laugh out of me too. Within five minutes of starting, I spanked a bishop worshipping Immortal John, and ten minutes later I was giving a haircut to a knight so I could take crutches from an amputee, eventually using them to row my merry way to the murder of Heavenly Peter.
Gameplay-wise, Procession keeps it simple. No genre-defying decisions here, it’s a point-and-click like any other. You solve puzzles by dropping items from your inventory onto items in the scene, you talk to characters, observe them, the whole nine yards. The game does give you the option of drawing your sword, effectively letting you stab, slice or murder your way through any puzzles. Your character does warn you it might not be a good idea (by coughing and asking you to please save your progress) before letting you murder to your heart’s content. I got my first taste of this after deciding to stab a man sleeping in a coffin to steal the book he was clutching, and got struck by lightning for my troubles. “Solving” puzzles this way doesn’t seem to work out in the long run, because I found myself crucified before I could get my murderous paws on Heavenly Peter.
Procession runs on absurd logic, even down to the puzzles, and by the time I was feeding a skunk berries in order to befriend it so I could crack a safe, I found it more annoying than funny. It stretches things just a little too far, although I’ll concede the Kickstarter backer section in the same area got a laugh out of me. Nothing quite like roasting your kindest benefactors by practically demanding the player avoid them like the plague.
The offbeat humour meshes surprisingly well with the artwork — solo developer Joe Richardson lifts everything, from music to characters to the tortured man strapped to a donkey cart wheel, directly from Renaissance era art. It’s got a vaguely South Park sense of animation, almost like a puppet show about farts being bandied about in front of some of mankind’s finest artworks.
Art historian gamers (a Venn diagram with plenty of overlap, I’m sure) will get to geek out some. Classical music plays prominently in every scene. I got a surprising kick out of clapping for every musician, mostly because my character dumbly slaps her armoured forearms together with an obnoxious clank. Anachronisms abound, from curses to the U.S. National Anthem, and it all blends into a bizarre experience that left a strong impression on me.
Procession doesn’t pretend to be a whole lot more than it is, which is a genuinely hilarious story of utter nonsense. Sometimes, it’s too derivative for its own good — some of the jokes read more like Pythonesque outtakes than anything else — but those such jokes are few and far between. It’d be easy to complain at length about the goofy animations lifted straight from a Flash animation, but Richardson makes fun of himself freely for that, and to be honest it’s part of the charm. It’d be just as easy for me to complain about how short Procession is, too. My first run (admittedly a short one, thanks to my habit of cutting down anyone who offered a puzzle I couldn’t immediately solve) lasted only forty minutes and got me crucified for my troubles, and my second resulted in a spontaneous suicide.
My third attempt finally resulted in completing my objective, but things moved from absurd to a little frustrating here. I found myself struggling, as above, to piece together a solution to the puzzles in a game that runs on madness. All the puzzles are internally consistent, at least, but it’s hard to keep up with the frustrating logic Procession runs on. It took me a few hours and rigorous abuse of saving to finally crack several puzzles. Ultimately, though, the puzzles are still sprinkled with that madcap humour, and I never got so annoyed I wasn’t still laughing out loud at the Devil’s grinning butt.
Though I had a few minor gripes — the odd tedious puzzle or absurd solution — The Procession to Calvary is not just hilarious but also a pretty interesting testament to indie development. A lone man creating an entire game with nothing but Renaissance era artwork and a flimsy grasp of Unity animation proves to be an entertaining series of gags, skits and jokes that read like Monty Python material. It’s well worth the modest price tag, because where else will you find something like this?
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