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New hit video game Cult of the Lamb is adorably unsettling

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

One week ago today, an unusual little video game called Cult Of The Lamb was released for several gaming platforms, and it immediately soared to the top of the sales charts. One million copies already sold across all platforms, and, well, it seems to be developing a cult following of its own.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "SERMONS FROM THE LAMB: STARTING YOUR CULT")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So guide your flock, grow your power and spread the word of the lamb.

SUMMERS: NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour host Glen Weldon counts himself among the growing flock. Hey, Glen.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: All right, so I've downloaded this game...

WELDON: Cool.

SUMMERS: ...But I wanted to wait to play it until I talked with you, so I need you to get us up to speed here. The name makes this game sound incredibly creepy, but I'm guessing that is not the full story.

WELDON: No, not the full story. This game is - well, it's adorable is what it is because your character is this cute, cartoony baby sheep. You got these big, huge Disney character eyes, and you're tasked with gathering followers. And your followers are also cartoony little animals - little piggies and deer and kitties and bears, and they've got the same great big saucer eyes you do.

SUMMERS: Aww (ph).

WELDON: It's very sweet, very sunny - at least on the surface - because your job is to get your followers to worship you, and you do that by keeping them happy. They need to eat. You build them a farm. They need to sleep. You build them shelter. They need to poop. You build them outhouses. You want to start building outhouses right away because that's very important. If you don't, they're going to poop all over the place, and then they're going to get sick. So the more stuff you do for them, the higher their faith in you rises, which gives you the power you need to go out and do your cult leader stuff, like going out into the world and gathering more followers and slaughtering other cults. It's just adorably sinister, this game - think Animal Crossing meets "Helter Skelter."

SUMMERS: OK, Glen, we were talking about cute animals with saucer eyes, and now this is taking kind of a dark turn. Is this a dark game?

WELDON: Well, it certainly can be. It doesn't have to be, though, because it gives you a lot of choices about what kind of cult you build - what kind of cult leader you become. Now, you could be the kind who sacrifices your followers and brainwashes them with magic mushrooms. And that'll give you a quick faith boost, sure, but it's got long-term repercussions because your followers are individuals, and some of them are going to be horrified that you sacrificed their little piggy friend, and a mushroom trip is going to leave them exhausted. And if you don't do anything about that, they're going to turn on you and start sowing dissent among your flock.

On the other hand, you could be the kind of cult leader who keeps your followers faithful by offering them little blessings or hearing their confessions. Now, the more you play, the more the line separating cult from organized religion becomes a distinction without a meaningful difference. So - now, one thing that giving you so many choices does, of course, is open up the game's replay value because, once you finish, you just go back and play as an entirely different kind of cult leader.

SUMMERS: And I mean, come on, who does not want to be a cult leader? But, Glen, my understanding is that managing a cult is just one part of this game.

WELDON: Yeah, the other half is dungeon crawling. To get more followers and to get the resources you need to keep them happy, you're going to have to leave your compound every so often - go out into the world. The game generates a series of short, random dungeons for you to make your way through and gives you weapons to take down your enemies. And then, ultimately, you'll meet rival cult leaders, and you'll defeat them in boss battles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS SHATTERING)

WELDON: The combat is fine. It's nothing special. But what it does do is it gives you a much-needed break from the constant demands of your followers, who can be a pretty whiny bunch. So after a long day of cooking them grass soup and emptying their outhouses, it's fun to jump back into a dungeon to take out your frustrations on a few demon frogs or wizard crows or whatever they are. And that's the appeal, right? That's the secret here. I think there had been games where you managed your resources before, and Lord knows there had been games where you crawl through dungeons before. But the way Cult Of The Lamb combines them? It's really smart. It's really fun. And as I say, this game - it's adorably unsettling.

SUMMERS: All right. Cult Of The Lamb is out on various platforms now. Glen Weldon, host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, thank you.

WELDON: The lamb provides, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIVER BOY'S "PRAISE THE LAMB") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.