Horror gamers have an obvious compulsion to the terrifying. Games like Outlast, Amnesia and Alien: Isolation bare testament to that quite readily. However, we may also foster some fondness for things a little cuter than aggressive masses of mangled body parts. Or at the very least, we like to see cuddly and adorable turned on its ear. After all, I would be a little hard-pressed to argue that the arrival of the animatronic specter brings gamers much glee in Five Nights at Freddy’s. It’s kind of fun to be lulled into a false sense of security, even if you are fully-aware that it will quickly head south. Enter Lag Studios’ Spooky’s House of Jump Scares. Though still on the homestretch of its development, the large portion of the game that is available to play (for free through Desura, by the way) is a fun and freakish chimera of retro delight and evolving frights.
Described by an expositional title crawl, the player-character happens upon a fortress of mystery, curated by an unassuming adolescent ghost. The player is tasked with descending through a thousand rooms of an adorable Hell, examining notes and evading cardboard cutouts along the way.Gradually, lethal creatures and apparitions are introduced to thwart the journey. Ranging from a child-eating ghost of Japanese folklore to a reality-bending monster straight out of S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl, an ensemble cast of both cinematic and gaming tropes are in full swing. Despite the abundance of familiar faces, however, the game’s pace saves itself from feeling stale or unoriginally derivative.
The aesthetic, perhaps Spooky’s largest strength, keeps the rather repetitious nature of the player’s task fresh. Every fifty to a hundred rooms yields a new locale, each with a hefty serving of literature to frame the upcoming fright. The break from the more common castle crawl is a relief, and the fact that the monsters continue to pursue the player long after they escape their native zone emphasizes that nowhere is safe.
The sound work also lends itself to a well-thought design. The aforementioned cardboard cutouts, though usually cute, are typically accompanied by a loud and unsettling byte of sound. Each of the primary monsters yield their own track as well, hinting at not only their arrival but also the player’s inevitable doom. Some tracks may prove softer and more melodic than those of a bit higher intensity, but they are all undeniably discomforting.
Given the game’s continued development, flaws are not really worth harping on to a drastic extent. However, some things should be taken into consideration. Each creature is fairly jarring upfront, but after a few moments they become pretty easy to evade. Likewise, the rooms that tend to cycle are never terribly difficult to traverse, hindering one’s stress abruptly. On another note, some enemies only damage you slightly, and given a regenerative health meter, some ghouls can be passed by as relatively harmless. Given, an unusable “modify room layout” option and a couple hundred more rooms left to program warrant plenty of time to alleviate these small infractions.
Spooky’s House of Jump Scares is a welcome addition to a genre plagued with dingy corridors and redundant, fleshy enemies. The piece is difficult to put down and an accessible introduction for anyone looking to jump into this style of game. Remember to check back with the hosting client regularly, as Lag Studios seem to provide updates on a fairly consistent basis.