Happy Halloween everyone! The time has come for our third annual Halloween Indie Game Spooktacular, featuring a huge selection of titles that are perfect for playing in the spooky spirit of Halloween. Most if not all of these games can be found on the cheap during the Steam Halloween sale until tomorrow too.
For even more ideas, go check out the original Indie Game Spooktacular as well as its sequel, The Return of VGBlogger’s Halloween Indie Game Spooktacular, for game suggestions from years past. Plus, here’s a list of other games we’ve already reviewed this year that are worth considering for your 2016 Halloween playlist.
– The Deadly Tower of Monsters
– The Town of Light
– Aliens vs. Pinball
– Zombie Night Terror
– SEUM: Speedrunners from Hell
– The Final Station
– Spell Casting: Meowgically Enhanced Edition (this one’s been updated with Halloween content)
– Weeping Doll
Layers of Fear:
This year’s award for “Scariest Indie Spooktacular Game” without question goes to Bloober Team’s Layers of Fear, a true masterpiece in horror game and audiovisual design. It’s kind of hard to go into great detail without spoiling such a richly compelling narrative rife with intricate layers of symbolism, but the central plot follows the tragic tale of a painter trying to finish his magnum opus. Exploring his extravagant 19th century Victorian mansion in first person, you gradually learn about the painter’s personal issues and the dark history as it relates to his wife and child, by collecting pictures, drawings, notes, and heirlooms that trigger flashback conversations. Layers of Fear does an amazing job toying with your sanity, tingling the spine and raising every tiny hair on your body using visual trickery and a level design hook that puts your mental state into this sort of spiraling sense of madness as you explore a twisted mansion that perpetually loops around on itself. Whenever you pull open a door and enter a room, the door immediately closes behind and locks, which in and of itself builds an unnerving feeling of being followed. This feeling is further exacerbated by the overwhelming number of paintings and portraits that line the mansion’s walls, again adding a sense of always been watched.
Subtle horror tricks are used to great effect, whether it’s the simple crack of lightning lighting up a room at just the right moment, a rocking chair teetering back and forth in a corner with nobody sitting in it, or a sound coming from a nearby room that triggers the door to gently creak open on its own as you approach. Then the game goes into full on mindfuckery as environments bend and twist and reshape all around you. You’ll walk forward and turn around to suddenly be greeted by an empty wheelchair that quietly rolled up behind you. You’ll hear the faint cries of a baby somewhere in the room, and then open a nearby chest to reveal a doll spasming as it dissolves into blackness. You’ll approach a door and reach out to open it only to crap your britches as the door suddenly implodes. Or you’ll enter a room and watch as the furniture or other objects burst into the air and float around as if the laws of gravity have ceased to exist. There’s so much else going on under the surface, but I really want to spoil as little of the experience as possible. This is the type of game that makes you feel like you constantly need to look over your shoulder, except you really never want to because there’s no telling what will appear behind you at any moment. Layers of Fear is a pure nightmare fuel mind trip that every fan of horror must play.
More psychological, post-apocalyptic thriller than actual horror, The Bunker is a full motion video (FMV) adventure set in an alternate history England, where chemical and nuclear war has caused remaining survivors to escape the surface for a life in underground vaults protected from the radiation. Actor Adam Brown, who you may know as Ori from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, stars as John, a young man who was born in the nuclear bunker and lives with his sick, dying mother, played by Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful, Assassin’s Creed IV, The Witcher 3). Inevitably, he becomes the lone survivor, following a daily routine of health, supply, and system maintenance checks to keep somewhat sane despite living alone underground, reading books to the corpse of his dead mother as his only form of human interaction. Brown pulls off an incredible physical performance, his facial expressions and actions clearing depicting a character with stunted social skills and deep-rooted personal issues, which naturally reveal themselves, along with the overarching mystery about what happened in the vault, via flashbacks as the story progresses. There’s an especially gruesome bone break and subsequent splinting scene that Brown pulls off as convincingly as, say, Matt Damon performing surgery on himself to remove the metal antenna shard from his gut in The Martian. As someone who’s personally experienced a severe bone break, I winced and turned my head with each cry of pain as I squirmed in my chair.
The Bunker is a dreary, suspenseful work of interactive cinema. The game controls like any traditional point-and-click adventure, clicking waypoint and interaction icons to pick up items, search drawers, pull switches, open doors, and transition from one scene to the next. Except the whole game flows like a live action movie shot on the location of an actual decommissioned nuclear bunker. Although different in certain areas, the experience as a whole reminded me a lot of Heavy Rain, where interaction is confined to clicking icons and performing the occasional quick time event (tap the cursor on a white dot before time expires, click and drag a dot into a black circle, or mash on a dot to fill a build-up meter). The lack of puzzles is disappointing–there are maybe two or three in the whole game–but collectibles in the form of carved toy dolls, cassette tapes, notes, and computer terminals offer at least some form of optional, unguided scavenger hunting. Like an average length film, The Bunker comes and goes within about two hours. If you appreciate high quality FMV acting and intriguing narrative, it’ll be two hours very well spent.
One of the more unique horror games of the year, Ian’s Eyes puts you in the four paws of North, a companion guide dog to a young boy named Ian, who happens to be blind and needs the aid of his canine friend to get around. Ian is starting his first day at a new school, which also happens to be having its centenary celebration. Only something kooky happens when a time capsule opening and slideshow presentation suddenly turn the entire student and teacher body into bug- and glowy-eyed zombies. As North, you lead Ian through the school in search of a way to escape, barking to stun or lure zombified students so that the coast is clear for Ian to get by. By default, Ian and North move in tandem, but at the push of button you can detach from Ian and sneak around as man’s best friend. Barking can also be used to call Ian towards you, but mostly it’s used as a means to move zombies around like puzzle pieces, to open up safe pathways between desks and piles of books in classrooms and crowded hallways. Some light puzzle solving comes into play as well, for example clicking a correct sequence of bookshelf letters to open a secret door in the library, or using North to push boxes around. Leaving Ian alone by himself for too long, though, causes his fear and sanity meter to rise. Barking too loudly can also startle the poor boy if you aren’t careful.
Mechanically, Ian’s Eyes is a pretty simple game of stealth and misdirection, devoid of combat or graphic violence. Its visual style stirs up comparisons to Coraline, and there’s a Burtonesque quality to the tone and atmosphere as well. Unfortunately, the fixed camera causes some headaches by switching angles at the wrong moment or making it impossible to see around corners only to walk right into the grasp of a zombie and die. Figuring out how to manipulate the zombie movements without any sort of visual aids indicating sightlines or awareness levels leads to quite a bit of trial and error. But even though it’s a touch rough, Ian’s Eyes offers a fresh and interesting take on horror from the unique perspective of a seeing eye dog that is worth a shot if you have the patience to stick with it through some flaws and inconsistencies.
A dash of Alien: Isolation, a sprinkle of Dead Space, a pinch of Silent Hill, Syndrome is a first-person sci-fi survival horror experience set aboard a cramped and claustrophobic spaceship lost adrift in space. After waking up from cryosleep, you quickly discover that something terrible has happened while you were under, some kind of artifact brought on board the craft for transport by the military having caused the crew to have headaches, become paranoid, and turn violent. Most of the crew is dead, many seen butchered and bloodied and strewn about the ship’s hallways, others left hanging from the ceilings. Some of the crew have gone mad and transformed into nightmares of outer space. Deactivated droids are also found slumped over throughout the ship, stirring up the fear that one of them might suddenly spring to life as you pass by, like the classic horror movie trope of someone moving through a dark store or room filled with mannequins. The perfect ploy for the stalking killer’s jump-out moment.
Syndrome immediately falls into a familiar survival horror rhythm of restoring power, finding keycards and passcodes, using a flashlight (with limited battery juice) to light dark areas, crawling through vent shafts, searching and hiding in lockers, scavenging for resources, remembering to save progress as often as possible at save points (no manual saves here), and reading text messages and computer emails and data logs to slowly build a clearer picture of the narrative. You gain access to a small arsenal as you explore the ship’s sprawling decks, but ammunition and healing items are limited, and melee mechanics are weak and risky but get the job done if absolutely necessary, intentionally instilling a fight or flight mentality that challenges you to use stealth and evasion as much as possible. While the game does a great job of building an eerie, edge-of-your-seat atmosphere, it does suffer from a heavy reliance on backtracking, with far too many objectives that force you to go one way to hit a dead end, only to then have to retrace your steps to a previous area to find a key or code or computer terminal to open the previously blocked area, which you then have to trudge all the way back to. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that it often involves frequent elevator rides between decks, which breaks the immersion with some fairly long loading screens. (The long loads can also be a drag when dying, routinely making you wait upwards of a minute to respawn from the last save.)
So no, Syndrome is not an especially original or elegant work of survival horror, but it is a mostly well made game that delivers a nail-biting mix of action, stealth, exploration, and storytelling, with audiovisual fidelity that’s on par with many AAA horror games. The backtracking may be too tedious for some, but survival horror purists probably won’t mind the slower pacing.
An evil mansion has come to life and gobbled up all of the world’s sweets. In Slashy Hero, it’s your job to get them back, and save Halloween in the process, by dashing and slashing through enemy creatures that are as cute and colorful as a pumpkin pail full of treats. Pulled from the world of mobile touchscreen gaming, the core mechanic revolves around drawing lines to attack. Basic character movement is handled with either the arrow keys or WASD on a keyboard, or the left analog stick of a gamepad. Attacking with a mouse is accomplished by left clicking and freehand drawing a line starting from within a circular aura surrounding the character, or the right trigger can be held down while angling the controller’s right analog stick to draw the line. Both work really well in place of direct touch control. Whichever method is used, the Halloween hero swoops along the line, damaging any ghoulies in its path.
Upon death, enemies gib into little pieces of candy, which can be collected and used as currency from the main hub menu to purchase stat increases (health, damage, speed) and item unlocks. Stat-boosting costume sets (including slots for mask, body, and weapon) are also looted as you go, allowing you to dress up as a ghost, plush teddy bear, armored space marine, tribal hunter, or Frankenstein, or mix and match gear slots among many other outfit themes. There’s a full story mode progression through nearly a hundred levels, plus an endless survival mode for quick in and out action. The only drag is how slow the game takes to load, which is surprising since this is hardly a system hog. Sometimes the simple act of trying to pop open the inventory to change costume pieces during play takes a few seconds to load. Other than that, this is a great little casual romp that fully embraces the lighter, whimsical childhood spirit of Halloween.
Slain: Back from Hell:
Back from hell is right. Wolf Brew’s 2D gothic death metal hack and slash platformer first came out back in March, and despite much hype after a successful Kickstarter campaign–or maybe even because of so much hype creating heightened expectations the game and developer struggled to live up to–the game was torn to shreds, sent to hell and back, by both reviewers and disappointed gamers and backers alike. I never played the game at its original launch state so I can’t speak to what’s different or has been improved/tweaked, but in its resurrected Back from Hell form I’m happy to say Slain rocks the house with its gorgeously drawn and animated sprites and brutally visceral, oftentimes purposely unforgiving old school gameplay that mixes timing-based slash combos and charge attacks with three different weapon types, attentive awareness of environment cues to avoid insta-kill traps, and precision platform hopping. Expect to become best friends with the “You have been slain” game over screen, folks. You will be seeing it A LOT. Even after being slain for the umpteenth time, retro enthusiasts should find this game to be a masochistic treat. Watching Bathoryn head bang his luscious locks in a mesmerizing whirl of bone-white hair at the end of each boss is reward enough for sticking it out through the pain and punishment.
The Count Lucanor:
Quaint, mysterious, gruesome, and oddly endearing in equal measure, The Count Lucanor is a retro-style adventure game about a young boy, who sets off in search of fortune on his 10th birthday. However, what begins as an innocent quest quickly turns into a terrifying nightmare. From the top-down perspective to the item-based environment interactions and puzzles, the game is reminiscent in many ways of the old 2D Legend of Zelda games, while the overall atmosphere plays with your mind and builds a sense of creeping dread in true survival horror fashion. Combat takes a back seat (i.e. there is none) to ploddingly exploring the puzzle and trap rooms of a dark, eerie castle in search of letter pieces to unscramble the name of a floating blue jester dude who first leads you to the castle, promising the inheritance of the former Count’s fortune for completing a trial. Navigating the often pitch black castle is aided by collecting candles, which can be carried or placed on the ground to create trails through the darkness like flaming breadcrumbs of wax. Flesh-eating goat abominations and robed, whispering monsters creeping around in the dark must be avoided using stealth, by crawling under nearby tables or hiding behind curtains until the coast is clear. If spotted, the only escape is to run and try to find another hiding spot or enter another room. A sense of danger and tension keeps you on your toes, but by the end the creatures become pretty easy to avoid, while there are generally enough health items, coins (which are used like Resident Evil ink ribbons to save progress at a central fountain hub area), and other supplies to minimize the penalty for taking damage or dying.
Drawing from the Souls games, my favorite part is the way NPCs change and react, and even move around to different places within the castle, based on your actions and choices as the story advances. It’s important to always seek out the NPCs for conversation after completing any puzzle room, because many events are time sensitive and can be missed if you don’t talk with certain characters at the right moment. There are a ton of little secrets and interactions you likely won’t see the first time through, which, in addition to multiple ending outcomes, adds meaningful replay value for an experience that’s only a few hours long. A lot of seemingly incompatible inspirations coalesce into a surprisingly cohesive experience that delivers smart, thoughtful level design, intriguing storytelling, an engaging cast of strange and demented characters, and an immersive atmosphere above and beyond what you might expect from its humble visuals. Despite being done entirely in pixel art, the cutscene animations pull off an amazing Studio Ghibi vibe, while the soundtrack is a rich chiptune remix of Bach classics. This is absolutely one of my overall surprise sleeper gems of the entire year–it deserves to be played any day, not just on Halloween.
Halloween takes place every year but only for a single day. Thanks to this gem from Imaginary Monsters the holiday of trick-or-treating and monster mashing can be celebrated not just for one day, but forever. Yes, this is Halloween Forever! Stirring up fond times spent pounding away on the NES controller’s red buttons, Halloween Forever is an 8-bit 2D platformer starring Pumpkin Man–literally an anthropomorphic pumpkin wearing blue overalls, with a carved jack-o-lantern for a head–on a Ghosts ‘n Goblins-style quest to defeat an undead sorcerer. The game is definitely retro-centric, offering no checkpoints and only a few lives to survive through the whole game on. Running out of lives anywhere along the way, through all five stages and ten bosses, means starting over again from the beginning. Yet the stages are fairly small and more forgiving than back in the day when there’d be so many instances of surprise traps and enemies waiting out of view to cheap shot you into a lost life. On a single life, you’re also given a health bar of five hearts, with killed bats, skeletons, and mini Jason Voorhees-a-likes randomly leaving behind heart refills for occasional opportunities to heal up (though falling into spikes is an immediate death). So the game definitely puts up a healthy challenge, but it really never feels frustrating. The platforming is responsive, the bosses are a lot of fun, and the levels are well designed and hide secret rooms and unlockables to find. Plus, you get to spit candy corns as weaponized projectiles. What’s more Halloween than that?
Atomic Butcher: Homo Metabolicus:
Atomic Butcher aims to disgust not with blood and guts, but rather with bodily fluids produced by the digestive system. While more traditional weaponry with limited ammo, like shotguns, flamethrowers, and rocket launchers, serve as limited use power-ups, in this game your primary weapons are radioactive piss, poop, and vomit. And yes, the game’s just as putrid and vile as it sounds. Sound is actually a good place to start, because the juicy, guttural audio effects alone are enough to turn the stomach and induce a gag reflex. You play as a mutant butcher, roaming a post-apocalyptic wasteland on the hunt for other mutated things to harvest for their meat, which serves both as health bar refreshment, as well as a means to increase piss power (it goes from golden shower to full on rainbow radiation) and achieve a full stomach, which triggers a projectile puke attack that coats the 2D environment with brown, blown chunks. My favorite attack? The poop jump, of course, because there’s nothing quite like leaping into the air and letting fly a downward spraying spread shot of liquid shit. Needless to say, Atomic Butcher is absolutely repulsive, but it’s also completely over the top and solidly made overall in terms of jumping response and 360-degree twin-stick-style body fluid shooting control. Heavy on gross out potty humor, Atomic Butcher’s a fun and unique take on run-and-gun 2D platforming.
Not to be confused with the Killing Floor series, Killing Room is a fast paced roguelike FPS with a Smash TV reality show twist. The eponymous Killing Room game show consists of a deadly gauntlet run through eight floors of randomized maps teeming with flying doll heads, psychotic, razor-toothed snowmen, and other genetically mutated monstrosities. The exit room for each floor ends in a boss fight, while the map leading up to that point can be explored as much as or as little as desired, balancing a risk reward between conserving ammo and health for the boss versus clearing more rooms for the opportunity to find more loot. While riding the elevator to the next floor, an intermission time allows earned points to be spent on bolstering stats (damage, defense, speed, stamina, max health, and so on) before the next map. Or, if you need a breather, this is the only time where you can save and quit without losing the current run. Each playthrough is different (well kind of–the procedural generation doesn’t alter the map layouts as much as I would like), while death is permanent and all stat upgrades and floor progression are lost. A random stat or ability bonus is provided at the start of every run, and there are also special loot items you can win over time (for example through boss drops) that give permanent upgrades for all future playthroughs.
Tying in with the reality show theme, viewer popularity rates your performance. High ratings can lead to prizes between floors, or it can be sacrificed during maps to buy health and ammo from vending machines (expect to be booed and called a dick for doing so). Streamers can even generate and share a link to their run so that actual live viewers can vote on rewards and punishments. Thankfully, the game presents many ways to kill beyond simple running and gunning. Explosives can be picked up and tossed at enemy swarms (there are jack-o-lantern bombs for Halloween), or even kicked and, with quick aim, shot out of the air for maximum carnage. Scoring multi-kills is always a good thing. Tables can also be knocked over to use as cover points–though I found the context-sensitive command prompt for doing so to be wildly buggy and inconsistent. Using every tool at your disposal and keeping in constant motion is crucial, because true to the title of the game (and the reality show within the game) the rooms are small and cramped and covered in spikes and bear traps, built to promote close-quarters killing. Though the procedural map generation and enemy types are light on variety, Killing Room is a blast, featuring snappy controls, smooth gunplay, sharp graphics, and a good balance of roguelike mechanics with persistent unlocks. However, it’s important to note that the game does not joke around with its level of difficulty. I’ve made 10 attempts so far, and have yet to clear the second floor boss, a giant snowman that shoots freeze bullets and drops icicle barrages from the ceiling. Seriously, this game’s hard.
Cursed Castilla EX:
To say that Cursed Castilla was inspired by Ghosts n’ Goblins would be a serious understatement. This retro 2D platformer feels damn near identical to Capcom’s hardcore, rage-inducing classic–and that’s most definitely a good thing, as long as you’re up for a high level of difficulty. The twist here is that the familiar mechanics and arcade level progression are applied to a setting inspired by the obscure myths of medieval Spain and the Kingdom of Castile from the Middle Ages, including creatures based on Spanish folklore. (There’s a full codex menu with bestiary info as well as character and item descriptions.) Thankfully, this brand new EX edition (the original release dates back to 2012) offers a more accessible journey, offering three lives per attempt, unlimited credits (though score resets after each continue, and after four continues the best ending can no longer be achieved), and regular checkpoints so you can quit and resume progress later rather than having to beat the game all the way through in one sitting like in the arcades. Until you memorize the enemy movements, level layouts, and boss patterns, you’ll need every last life and credit to make it all the way to the end, because the game is as tough to crack as steel armor. There’s even a 99-second clock put on every level, leaving precious little time to be cautious about what deathtrap is waiting to be sprung, or from where a creature will suddenly spawn. I’m still on chapter six (of I believe eight), and I’ve already blown through 17 credits. So yeah, it’s hard. Stun lock and knockback and all the good, make-you-die mechanics from the good old days.
Based on an old Doom 2 mod of the same name, Unloved is now a standalone Unreal Engine 4 shoot-and-loot horror FPS kind of like Doom, Left 4 Dead, and Killing Floor mishmashed together in hell. As a single player or as part of a team of up to four, you run and gun, 90s style, through maze-like, procedurally generated apartments, clinics, towns, and basements while finding new weapons and mods, looting ammo and trinkets, collecting the necessary color-coded emblem keys to unlock matching doors, and refilling a set number of blood machines before escaping to the central elevator to finish the mission. All the while, creepy clowns, demonic nurses, lobotomized doctors, and fat, fleshy butchers spawn around the map in waves triggered by opening doors, and collecting items. The spawning patterns are unclear and kind of confusing, which adds to the tension and unpredictability. Each mode is its own, self-contained mission, so don’t expect any sort of story or campaign. However, earned karma (like experience points) and looted collectibles from each mission allow you to customize an avatar, advance in level progression, unlock new color scheme skins, and equip perk-like trinkets to use on future runs. As your character level increases, missions can be played at higher difficulty tiers. While there isn’t much depth or variety, the game is super fast and precise, the guns pack a satisfying punch, and the loot and advancement system is pretty addictive. I never played the original mod so I can’t make any direct comparisons, but I can say that Unloved by itself is a bloody blast of guns, gore, and ghouls. Fun by itself, but best played with friends for sure.
UnSummoning: the Spectral Horde:
Putting a match-three puzzle spin on the top-down arcade shooter, UnSummoning dresses you up in the black robe of a necromancer on a storybook quest to literally unsummon the ghouls and ghosts he called forth into the world to do his evil bidding but instead turned against him. This plays out over a series of wave survival maps where the levels are all floored with squares of different colors. Moving square by square in any direction, the objective is to avoid the netherworld horde while moving on squares of the same color to charge up spell attacks. Attacks can be deployed after only a couple blocks, but the more like-colored squares that you combo before attacking results in a more powerful spell with a wider area-of-effect radius. A high combo spell charge will kill any creature, but in general hitting a creature with a matching color spell is the most important rule to follow. Also be aware that colors can not be combined, so if you’ve spent time charging up a devastating spell of 10 or 15 squares, or all the way as high as 30, but accidentally step onto a square of a different color, you lose the combo. Expect that to happen a lot unfortunately, as the controls are a touch stiff and lacking the pinpoint precision needed to truly excel, making it easy to accidentally overstep a square and reset the color charge when under the pressure of swarming ghosts. The gameplay also is rather one dimensional, and the visuals are kind of drab and monotonous. Overall, though, UnSummoning puts forth a surprising challenge and some clever puzzle-based strategy in place of the high twitch dual-stick shooting the genre is known for. For a few bucks, this is a solid casual time waster.
At one point there’s a level where the main character Hanzo says, “He’s got fruits and I’m a ninja. What can we call it?” An obvious reference to Fruit Ninja, which this game certainly has a lot in common with as a line-drawing slash ’em up. Except here you’re actually controlling an avatar, the aforementioned ninja apprentice, running back and forth with traditional A and D key lateral movement while swiping lines with the mouse to attack, jump, dodge, and deploy magic attacks (fireball, lightning, etc) as necessary to survive waves of deadly Pirate Monkey Zombies. (Yeah okay, so the game’s trying a bit too hard, but it’s all in good fun.) Early on enemies are easy enough to take out with wild swipes anywhere on their body, but gradually new foes are introduced wearing armor or attacking in specific ways that require precise targeting on a specific body section, jumping over and attack from behind, or watching through a sequence of movements until they become momentarily vulnerable. Traps, mini-bosses, and bosses utilize the draw-to-slash mechanic in clever ways, too. Like jumping over patterns of coconut mines while running to hit the boss at the end, each hit on a mine blowing you backward in the sequence. Or moving up a hill while dodging bounching and rolling barrels to hit a big, bad zombie ape at the top, a clear nod to Donkey Kong. Or tracing lines to guide Hanzo into the open safe spots as walls rowed and columned with cannons fire in different sequences.
Draw Slasher’s origins as a touchscreen Vita and mobile game are readily apparent, which means this is the type of game best snacked on a few minutes at a time, because the simplistic mechanics grow a little tiresome if you linger too long in one sitting. There’s a cute story mode to progress through, and after making it about halfway through two special modes in the form of endless survival and a sort of gate defense time trial become available. These along with the challenge mode (completing one-off tasks within a time limit to earn one to three orbs based final score) are where the game is at its best, including leaderboards to see where your scores stack up.
For a fun dose of no-frills wave survival twin-stick shooting, look no further than Demon’s Crystals. Playing as one of four astral demons known as Uricans–they’re like anime succubi that morph between bat and human forms, and lug around massive firearms–you move with the left stick and aim/shoot with the right stick through various graveyard, castle, and forest maps, where for each stage the goal is to clear two or three hordes within the time limit. Each horde is essentially a different round with a new objective to complete. The only goals are either to kill a certain number of zombies, trolls, spiders, goblins, or whatever other type of monster crosses your path, or to collect a certain number of life force crystals that appear in various Halloween-themed patterns (pumpkins, skeletons, bats, etc) across the map. Or sometimes, on rare occasions, a round will involve doing a little of both.
Amidst the bullet hell chaos of projectile fire (both yours and the enemies’), a variety of limited-time power-ups appear around the map. Some grant alternate bullet patterns, like spread shoot, ridiculously large rockets, spiral spray, or flamethrower. Others provide passive weapons, character augmentations, or instant elemental attacks, including everything from bombs to lightning strikes to freeze blasts that cover the map in shards of ice to mushrooms that biggie size your demon to the point that you become invulnerable and attack only by running over enemies to stomp them into puddles of blood (green or red particles, the choice is yours). Arcade mode offers a progression of roughly 30 levels, while a survival mode challenges you to see how many kills and crystals you can pile up before dying, for high score leaderboard honors. Cooperative play and a selection of six different competitive modes are provided, though sadly multiplayer is local only. If you have some pals over for trick-or-treating, this is a simple game to jump into and enjoy while buzzing on a sugar high.
Ben and Ed:
Imagine a combination of Running Man, American Gladiators, Little Monsters, Super Monkey Ball, NeverDead, and Monty Python and the Holy Grial. Throw in zombies, and you’ve got the game Ben and Ed. Sounds kooky, right? Well it is! This is a goofball runner/platformer about a zombie named Ed who befriends a little boy named Ben, who’s very much still alive and human. Until one day the maniacal Hans Showmaster kidnaps the boy and uses him as a carrot-on-a-stick prize to get the brainless zombie to enter his reality game show of death. Did you get all of that? In execution, the gameplay simply boils down to running, jumping, rolling, and tight rope walking the zombie through increasingly deadly obstacle courses of spinning blades, swinging axes, rotating platforms, and other traps, attempting to stay in one piece long enough to reach the exit goal at the end of the obstacle course.
What makes the game such a riot, even through bountiful frustrations grappling with Ed’s clumsy, oversensitive controls and an awkward camera, are the ragdoll physics and dismemberment system. Ed flails and flops all around as he’s struck by hazards, with sharp objects lopping off limbs (or only parts of limbs) depending on where he’s cut. As long as the head remains intact, though, you can continue moving forward, rolling the head along narrow ramps and walkways like a Monkey Ball. There’s even a button for having Ed manually rip off and palm his own head, to throw as a projectile or toss over long gaps he wouldn’t otherwise be able to cross. It’s absolutely hilarious to have Ed get chopped off at the knee or ankle yet continue to hobble, or lose all limbs except for the head and torso and flop along like an undead fish trying to get back to water (Tis but a flesh wound!). Checkpoints placed throughout the levels allow for instant and infinite respawns with all body parts intact, and there’s extra challenge built into each level with checkpoint markers that indicate any body parts that were lost at the time of crossing the marker. Each checkpoint crossed with all limbs intact counts as a little medal on the level completion status. Stacked pyramids of canned candy meat also serve as a form of collectible throughout each stage. You may have to fight with the unrefined controls, but you’ll also be fighting to hold back the sadistic laughter while watching poor Ed get mutilated and knocked around.
Oh My Gore:
From the title alone, Oh My Gore probably sounds like some kind of action hack-‘n-slash splatterfest or perhaps a gory, gib-filled first-person shooter. However, it is, in fact, a game of pure strategy. Actually multiple forms of strategy, combining elements of tower defense, reverse tower defense, and RTS all in one. Oh My Gore turns the tables on the predictable kill-the-evildoer setup, instead putting you in the role of an ancient god unsealed from a burial chamber, let loose to recruit an army of minions to unleash upon the forces of light. During a given quest, you assume command of a primary “hero” character, handpicked before each mission, who serves as the main base of defense that must be protected. Paths leading to your hero must be guarded by placing towers and traps as waves of elves and humans attack. At the same time, you must also spawn units of your own from the barracks, and then click imp minions placed at forks in the road around the map to set their pathfinding. While units move and attack automatically and cannot be manually commanded, the game takes on an RTS feel in the way that battles unfold in real time on multiple fronts across large maps offering opportunities to expand your war machine by capturing additional barracks to spawn minions from. Resource management is also a tad more complex than a normal tower defense, as gold needs to be looted and pillaged to buy new defenses, while limited food rations are spent to hire more skeletons, warg riders, spiders, and berserker orcs.
There are six different hero characters to unlock throughout the campaign, each capable of a unique hero spell to cast on a cooldown timer, such as reanimating corpses to fight as skeletons or spraying down spider webs to slow down approaching enemies (you also have a fireball spell that seems to be universal for all heroes). In place of experience points, liters of blood are awarded for completing missions. Every time the blood vial fills up, a skill point is granted, which can then be spent to gain basic upgrades for units, turrets, and general resources from the three-branched skill tree. Similar to the Overlord series, there is an undercurrent of dark silliness that pairs graphic pixel art violence with a touch of whimsy and humor in a fantasy setting. While there isn’t much clear definition to the pixel art from the default faraway bird’s eye camera, spinning the scroll wheel to zoom in shows where Oh My Gore gets its name from, as character sprites can be seen dying and dismembering in some pretty gruesome animations. It’s always fun not just to be the bad guy, but to be the bad guy in a way that’s slightly lighthearted and not at all to be taken seriously. Soaked in blood yet robust with tactical planning and coordination, Oh My Gore is a clever and refreshing hybrid of tower defense and RTS. Which is great, because it means that the game hits a sweet spot for players who crave a little more depth than the usual tower defense, but maybe not all of the intensive micromanagement responsibilities of a full blown RTS.
Welcome to Skyhill Hotel, the top lodging for surviving the post-apocalypse. Thanks to a state of the art biological defense system installed in your penthouse VIP suite, you’ve been protected from the chemical and bio-weapon warfare used in World War III. The bad news? Everyone else in the hotel has been turned into mutants. Food and supplies are scarce, and somehow you have to escape from the 100th floor at the hotel’s tippy top all the way to the bottom. In one piece. Without dying of starvation, or at the hands of a zombie-like creature. Thus is the setup for Skyhill, an addictive survival game that has a slick and atmospheric graphic novel aesthetic, controls like a point-and-click adventure, and features challenging roguelike mechanics and turn-based combat. From your safe haven in the top VIP room, where you can rest to regain health (at the cost of hunger) or use a workbench to craft new weapons and cook food recipes, you systematically descend through the hotel. Floor by floor. Room by room. The hotel map is presented as a sort of dissected side view of the building, with rooms that are blacked out in a fog of war until entered, at which point any enemies or searchable receptacles are revealed. Each transition from room to room costs a point of hunger, and once the hunger bar is empty movement causes direct health damage. Elevators make traveling up and down easier on the tummy, though in certain sections the power has gone out and must be repaired for access to quick travel.
Gathering supplies and managing them correctly to craft the necessary foodstuffs, weapons, and repair components is the game’s primary focus. Combat, on the other hand, is pretty simple. Upon encountering a mutant, you click on the target and watch the attacks play out turn by turn, trading blows until one or the other is killed. An element of risk versus reward is added through a targeting mechanic that gives you the option to specify where to attack a creature. Aiming for the arms or body has a higher accuracy rate but the lowest possible damage, while targeting the head significantly lowers the chances to hit but has the potential for dealing massive damage if the strike connects. Killing mutants earns experience points, which level up your survivor and award skill points to upgrade various physical attributes. As a roguelike, death is permanent, and the hotel layout is randomly generated for every attempt. Whenever your health bar hits zero, progress made is blown away, like ashes to the wind, and your journey down hotel hell begins anew. One active and one passive perk can be equipped at the start of each attempt, with new perks unlocked the more you play, and the longer you survive a particular run. Another small element of persistency comes through collectibles like audio cassette tape diaries and journal entries, which are saved across playthroughs. The impact of RNG on each run is a major factor, as far as things like the quantity of enemies, loot drops, whether or not you get food poisoning, or how often you hit or miss in combat. However, multiple difficulty options offer a way to scale just how punishing the randomization gets. Failing to things beyond your control can be frustrating, but overall, for a harsh survival roguelike, the game feels pretty well balanced.
The Walking Dead meets Final Fantasy in this zombie infested survival RPG, which is currently in Early Access but is scheduled for a full release in the coming days. Managing limited resources, making choices, and taking on quests over rogue-like survival runs, you choose a character, form a party with other survivors, and engage in JRPG-style turn-based battles while searching environments for supplies and survivors. Each run is a brutal challenge to survive for as many days as possible while dealing with scarce ammo and rations, assigning jobs and tasks to party members, and setting out on hunt and gather runs in surrounding environments. The interface is kind of cluttered and confusing at first (though it looks cool as a simulated survivor’s notebook journal), but there’s actually quite a bit of depth to outfitting characters with new weapons and armor, leveling up and using skill points to improve abilities and learn specific jobs (like medic or engineer), and using scavenged materials to craft weapons, health kits, ammo, and other gear.
Each time you venture out to explore a map and return back to home base equals the passage of one day. While each passing day provides an auto-heal effect to all party members, a daily supply of rations is needed to keep the group healthy, otherwise they slowly begin to lose health. Once you die–and you will surely die a lot–the game starts over from day one, while medals earned from previous runs can be used to unlock upgrades to make future attempts a little easier to get into. The combat is very simple and crudely animated, with your party of up to three survivors lining up on the left to face off against a group of zombies, undead wolves, or hostile scavengers lined up on the right. A menu bar scrawled out along the bottom of the battle allows you to strategize attacks and actions for each party member’s turn, just like a JRPG. I can’t say that I’ve found any of the characters or quest storylines particularly engaging, but there is a compelling draw to strategizing attacks and managing resources that fans of zombies and games with roguelike challenge should enjoy.
Beginning back in 2013, the Doorways saga has finally reached its conclusion this year. Encompassing four chapters spread across three standalone titles–Prelude includes chapters 1 and 2, The Underworld is chapter 3, and Holy Mountains of Flesh is the concluding 4th chapter–Doorways tells a deep, twisted, and well written and acted story about a detective and his hunt for four psychopathic murderers. (Sam A. Mowry from Amnesia voices the protagonist here, which is fitting because Doorways clearly is aiming to deliver on a similar brand of horror as The Dark Descent.) Revealed largely through narrated notes, the story is vague and confusing, especially in the early chapters until things become a little more clear later on. I’m not sure if I have this exactly on the money, but from what I gathered the story revolves around protagonist Thomas Foster, who is an agent for a paranormal detective agency known as Doorways and tracks killers using some sort of psychic power, somehow pulling the psyche of his target into his own where he can give pursuit while playing out their foul deeds in his mind. It’s kind of kooky yet also a really awesome premise, kind of like a twisted version of Inception, the way each killer’s persona is visualized by the layout and themes of the environments.
Agent Foster has cases on four different killers, so naturally each chapter over the three games centers on one of the four cases. While Doorways is divided into chapters that connect together into a collective narrative, it is not set up in the traditional episodic manner where each chapter uses the same core assets while continuing the story. The series steadily builds upon itself, each game growing in size and scale, introducing new mechanics and new themes, expanding basic UI features, even enhancing the graphics. Together taking no more than two hours, Prelude’s beginning two chapters are light on scares but high on mental mind games, disturbing images of torture, and a more cerebral and explorative puzzle solving focus. The Underworld’s third chapter is two to three hours on its own, featuring a far more frantic and nerve-wracking true horror atmosphere spent sneaking through an underground dungeon and sewer system while being chased by a dismembered torso on wheels and other twisted beings. It also introduces a cool flashback mechanic in which a pocket watch is used to slow down time while displaying a past vision of the environment. This is used along with a map charting mechanic in the closing sequences to navigate a maze through timed doors and switches while avoiding a creature that only appears when inside the flashback, creating a tense cat and mouse race to the finish. Holy Mountains of Flesh then closes things out with a four to five hour finale that basically pulls together all the best elements of the previous chapters within a larger world, while returning to a stronger emphasis on atmospheric horror and brainy puzzle solving versus blatant jump scares.
My only real complaint about the series as a whole is the clunky jumping. As the recent free-to-play Prototype shows, the original idea was to make more of a horror platformer. In the final games jumping puzzles are kept to a minimum, but the gameplay does suffer a bit when it tries to be platformer. Other than that, Doorways is a very well done small shop indie horror series, each successive chapter further showing off developer Saibot Studios’ dedication to learning from the past chapters and improving every step of the way to achieve its ultimate vision. Some of the mechanics certainly could use additional refinement, but overall I was totally enthralled by the entire saga.