Spooktober 2018 Entry #5 – Previous Entry: Uncanny Valley // Next Entry: Shadows of The Damned (Throwback Review)
Alright, time for a rapid-fire round.
Hello! Welcome to the spooky edition of The Indie Investigation, where we’re going to just give you a quick showcase of five different horror games, and they’re all going to be different shapes and sizes. Games about turning on light-bulbs, games about being light-bulbs, games about turning off light-bulbs… alright, I’ve described them in a broad manner, but you’ll see, they’re different!
Also, from now on, the scores are going to be omitted. The Indie Investigation was primarily supposed to be about showing these hidden gems, and sometimes people can go too far ahead with the proceedings. Enough of that however, it’s a new leaf, no more jumpscares and no more loud thrills and frills. I mean, when it comes down to it, how can one score a game like…
Knock-Knock! – Quoth The Raven – Dev: Ice-Pick Lodge LLC
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS Vita, iOS
Knock-Knock! A creepy game of hide-n-seek that follows a man who just wants to get some shut-eye. His eyes and hair are competing against one another to see which one can make him look more crazy, and this has had a debilitating effect on his mental state and sleeping. Now monsters are trying to take into the unknown depths of a murky void which nothing can escape from, the tormented souls of demented beasts scream in anguish, the lights never— he’s in trouble, is what I’m getting at.
Gameplay revolves around your character walking around the house and turning on the lights, for if the lights are on, the monsters cannot get you. Waiting for the sun to pierce the sky with light, your character must maneuver around the procedurally-generated house, making sure that the nightmares don’t breach his psyche. It’s a weird game, but it’s also heavily understated.
Nothing is presented with a fanfare, it’s always this quiet mood as you navigate through rooms and the forest outside, unless you count the loud banging of the nightmares that attempt to pull through. Ice-Pick Lodge show that they can execute horror without a loud noise or immediate action. If anything, Knock-Knock! is proof that Ice-Pick’s upcoming remake of “The Greatest Horror Game Never Played” Pathologic is something to look forward to.
Bulb Boy – CBBC’s Greatest Hits – Dev: Bulbware
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4, iOS, Nintendo Switch
Next on the list is Bulb Boy, a small point-n-click title from a Polish two-man team, innovatively-named Bulbware. Playing as the titular Bulb Boy, you’re shocked to discover that your house has been taken over by evil while you were asleep, and now it’s down to you to save your dog and your grandfather. Prepare for jumpscares and some really, really gross humor.
One would look at Bulb Boy and immediately write it off as a Binding of Isaac clone, but keep those prejudiced thoughts behind your tongue, as Bulb Boy manages to be something special on its own. The atmosphere paired with the weirdly comedic art design, along with a strangely hypnotic OST that was both heart-warming and sinister.
It is exceptionally short, however. Even with the typical nonsense point-n-click puzzles and cheap deaths, you’ll still take around three to four hours to complete it, but it’s still spooky in that time. There’s a lot of tense moments, there’s some uncomfortable monsters, and you can die from eating too much food and pooping yourself before reaching the bathroom. You can’t go wrong with that, surely?
Elea: Episode 1 – 2018: A Space Optimization – Dev: Kyodai
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Born too late to explore Earth. Born too early to explore the galaxies. Born just in time to experience Fortnit— sorry, moving on, Elea might be the most polarizing choice on the list, but I can’t deny that Bulgarian studio Kyodai tried with this title. It’s a small piece of reality horror, and I do use the word “horror” loosely, as some of you might not be terrified of the fact that while we might not be able to travel amongst the stars, it’s the stars that could be the most hostile thing around.
You play as Elea in the year 2073. Earth’s advancement in science and technology have been moving steadily along, to the point where you can get floating plantpots, but this comes with a heavy price. The Earth has also been ravaged by a virus that turns children into savage psychopaths, with there being no other option than to turn them into catatonic husks. Elea is part of one such family that’s been hurt by this, and her husband was on the spaceship that was searching for a cure. After said spaceship goes missing, Elea goes on the hunt to find out what happened.
What’s the problem then? Well, the performance of the game is atrocious. Constant framerate drops, broken textures, buggered physics, it’s all here, and it does dampen the experience somewhat. Latched onto that is voice acting that is truly amateur, with Elea herself being the only one who can read her lines with an ounce of conviction. A true shame, as the actual inner workings of Elea’s narrative are both smart and haunting.
Hidden beneath a poorly optimized game is a gripping story and some well-written commentary on the state of the human race, and its reliance on always wanting to advance altogether. It’s always the past that bites you in the ass, and at least keeping an eye on what’s behind you can help in spades on the long run. Besides that, Elea provides an atmosphere of isolation and floating endlessly in the vast blackness of space like no other, so do check it out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the performance, though.
The Count Lucanor – The Secret of Nymph’s – Dev: Baroque Decay
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
The next wildcard comes in the form of The Count Lucanor, which tells the story of unlikable twerp Hans as he defies his mother for being poor, choosing to “leave like Dad did”. Fucking disgusting dialogue aside, we see Hans get bullied by the evils of the underworld, with Hans not being subject to a trial to see if he is truly worthy of living a better life. Good for them, honestly, because if I met Hans in real life, I’d rip his Lord Farquaad hairpiece from his scalp and stuff it down his throat.
Gameplay is a top-down puzzle format; You roam the halls and inspect everything around, slowly gaining enough resources to traverse the manor and its perilous rooms and monsters. These monsters don’t mess about either, they will suck the life out of you faster than you think, and the horror that comes from this is actually well done.
You wouldn’t think it from the cutesy aesthetic and drab visual design, but this game can make you very nervous at times. There’s a survival aspect to it all, and one wrong turn can lead to Hans getting killed instantly, leading to both fear and frustration, due to the lack of autosaving. Doesn’t sound like too much of a compromise, but if you didn’t have an extremely limited saving resource, we wouldn’t be complaining, would we?
There are other frustrations that can take you out of the spooky atmosphere Baroque Decay have provided. Hans travels at an unbelievably slow crawl, and navigating your inventory is a fiddly and messy procedure. It feels like a title that focused too much on one thing, but thankfully that one thing was the terror throughout the whole of The Count Lucanor. Overlook some of the flaws, and you get a Disney adventure that turns into a horrific descent.
Bloodstained: Curse of The Moon – Last o’ Vania’s – Dev: Inti Creates
Platorms: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS Vita
Finally, we have Bloodstained: Curse of The Moon, a companion game of sorts to provide brevity to the backers of Ritual of The Night while they wait through the same delays Mighty No. 9 backers did. Not to put Igarashi on the same level as Inafune, because Curse of The Moon shows that everyone at Inti still has the power to make a good game.
If you remember the old-school Castlevania’s on NES, then you should feel right at home playing this, and its closest counterpart is Castlevania III, with the multiple playable characters angle. Curse of The Moon is as faithful of an NES recreation of Castlevania as you can get, with the controls being the exact same, but with different difficulties to allow newcomers, which is great.
It’s not just the best and most accessible old-school Castlevania clone, but it might just be the best side-scrolling Castlevania clone, period. It actually feels great to play, all of the characters have different gimmicks and ways to approach the levels, as well as the levels being sprawling mazes rewarding exploration. Spectacle and scale are now possible, which leads to some fantastic and freakish-looking boss battles. Add a fantastic nostalgia-driven soundtrack, along with some brilliant pixel-art, and you have one of the best retro platformers out there.
The Freak Abides…
Well, there you have it. There’s five horror games right there for you to play and revel in. Some of them may breach what horror might mean, along with there being countless arguably better choices. Among The Sleep, Little Nightmares, Slender: The Arrival, et cetera, et cetera. Those ones have been talked about constantly however, and it felt better to simply recommend the title you may not have heard of.
In the meantime, goodnight. Shut the windows.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.