Worst Horror Games #1 – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

worsthorrorlogohalloweenjekyll

★ 1 Star

Genre: Horror / Platformer
Platform: NES
Publisher: Bandai / Nintendo
Published: 1988

Summary – Basically the plot of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but extremely bastardized.

Overall Thoughts
Infamously considered one of the most garbage mainstream games ever made, what could have made for a fascinating moral concept in video games was wasted on this steaming, turd-crusted instrument of torture. I wouldn’t recommend this game for the most hardcore and merciless of masochists. Jekyll and Hyde would make the perfect Christmas gift for someone you loathed.

This is the floor of the barrel. Jekyll and Hyde is the only game on my “Worst” list that I have no semi-enjoyment of or positive feelings towards at all. All of the others are flawless masterpieces of game-making in comparison, no matter how picky I was about their faults. The cover art for this game is kind of neat, and that’s where the good qualities come to an abrupt stop.

While it’s true that you can’t expect as much from older games, especially older horror-themed games, as you can the newer ones, there’s nothing to like about Jekyll and Hyde for any reason. There’s not even a charming nostalgia factor. It rubs its butt, unashamed, over the complexities of Stevenson’s novel and over the eyes of the unfortunate player.
The graphics aren’t pretty, the gameplay is frustrating and devoid of all traces of fun, and the mechanic of switching between Jekyll and Hyde is not only wasted, but broken! Sometimes you will randomly die in mid-stride just for playing as Hyde! The entire mess sucks. It sucks objectively, it sucks subjectively, and it sucks eternally.

There’s a popular and hilarious episode of Angry Video Game Nerd, that you’ve likely heard of or seen, chronicling the horrors of what it’s like to play this dung heap in-depth, and if you have a little time to spare, I’d totally recommend looking it up on YouTube as well. I mean, it’s essential to get the full Jekyll and Hyde Experience™.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Seeing as it’s based off of a classic, yes, but not done this way! Please, anything but that!

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 1
Art and Design – 1.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1
Fear Factor – 0
Music and Sound – 1.5
General Score – 1 out of 5

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Worst Horror Games #2 – Siren

worsthorrorlogohalloweensiren

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Sony
Published: 2003

Summary – Siren follows a large cast of characters who find themselves trapped in the remote, strange village of Hanuda, Japan, which has come under a mysterious curse causing it to be enveloped in darkness. The villagers, mutated and corrupted by the curse, have all become hostile zombies.

Overall Thoughts
Again, I want to point out that this list is not objective, but sorted by my personal preference. (It’s also leaked far past Halloween, sorry about that!) Some members of the team behind Silent Hill created Siren, so for that reason alone I hate to place it near the top of the “Worst”, but I really hated this game. It’s like they took the worst qualities that Silent Hill had and amplified them – weird controls, a hard-to-follow plot, invincible and incredibly annoying enemies, etc. If I had to summarize this game in two words, I would call it “mercilessly confusing”.

Siren feels hostile, and not in a good way like horror is supposed to, but more like it’s actively punishing you for not being psychic and already having figured out what to do. I got a similar feeling with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, if you’ve ever played that. Unlike this game, though, Majora’s Mask made up for its frustrating parts by being otherwise engaging and rewarding. You don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything playing Siren, but dug yourself deeper into frustration. There’s not any one part that I can use as an example, because it’s a lot of moments spread throughout.

The one thing I truly did like is Siren‘s concept and design, which uses themes of Japanese occultism and seems to be inspired by the works of Junji Ito, notably “Village of the Sirens”, one of his best short stories. The shibito, a village of cursed humans that serve as the main enemies, are incredibly creepy looking, and the fact that they relentlessly chase you down can be scary, at least until it becomes annoying. A unique mechanic is used to where you can peek through the eyes of the shibito in order to avoid them, which I thought was creative and bizarre. It’s not often you get to see through the eyes of the zombie that’s after you in games like these!

As good and creative as the design is, especially in regards to body horror, I hate to say that the game itself remains unfair, cruel and often incomprehensible. Silent Hill had its obscure moments, but there was a sense of logic and a natural path to its dreaminess that doesn’t exist here. Siren does have a fanbase who insist there’s something special about it, and maybe there is, but I don’t appreciate having my patience threshold constantly tested to find it. Will I give it another chance? Someday, maybe, but truthfully it is more interesting to read about than play.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
I honestly want to say “no”, but I suppose there’s potential. The themes of the story can be quite fascinating when dissected outside of the game, and do remind me a lot of Junji Ito or H.P. Lovecraft.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 2.5
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1
Fear Factor – 2.5
Music and Sound – 3
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Worst Horror Games #3 – Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within

worsthorrorlogohalloweenctgh

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Puzzle
Platform: PlayStation
Publisher: Human Entertainment / Agetec
Published: 1998

SummaryAlso known as Clock Tower: Ghost Head, Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within follows a student named Alyssa Hale, who grapples with her split personality, an evil, murderous man named Bates. After Bates kills three of her classmates, Alyssa tries to uncover the reason why Bates exists in the first place, leading her deeper into the dark history of her biological family, whom she never knew.

Overall Thoughts
I have a soft spot for this game, despite its many blatant, glaring flaws. It is objectively poorly planned-out, unfair and confounding with its puzzles, and many things about the central plot make no sense. All three fans of the Clock Tower series agree that it’s the weakest entry, though it does have a few positive things to offer.

The “Jekyll and Hyde” mechanic switching between the good Alyssa and the evil Bates is extremely creative. Bates will commit necessary crimes that Alyssa won’t to move the plot along, while Alyssa is better at problem solving. The soundtrack is a surprising electro-horror gem, with several fun and tense tracks – particularly the villain themes, like “Shiver Zombie”. The voice acting is actually phenomenal, which surprised me even more. Older horror games, well… they aren’t known for their stellar voice acting.

Sadly, these are the two main draws of Clock Tower II. The plot is interesting, but dotted with holes and useless characters. The graphics are passable. Horror elements often come across as silly because of the blocky textures, but this is true of most 90s horror games. The puzzles literally require you to be psychic, or ridiculously persistent with trial-and-error, and you will die often, mostly due to unforeseen, seemingly random events that no one in their right mind could have predicted would happen. An infamous example is the samurai suit, an innocuous piece of furniture that if you make Alyssa examine, will trap your game in an early bad ending. The game does not hint to this whatsoever. There are multiple instances like this. Having Bates kick the crap out of a possessed little girl is pretty funny, though.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/clocktower/images/6/6f/BatesSparta.gif/revision/latest?cb=20160327011636

My nostalgia with Clock Tower II goes way back, so I can’t help but like it, even though it is pretty terrible. The American version of the cover has always fascinated me, for some reason. There’s something that drew me into this image as a kid, and I always wondered what it was about.

CT2 art

Clock Tower II does not know what it wants to be, and tried to mash up the subtle, occult tension of Clock Tower with the sci-fi horror of Resident Evil in the poorest, weirdest way it could have. I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you’re a collector.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
If the faults and holes in its plot were patched, then sure. The Clock Tower series as a whole has a lot of potential as a series of novels, especially as they remind me so much of the style of horror novels that was popular in the late 80s and early 90s, with female protagonists having to outwit a villain or stalker of some sort.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 3
Art and Design – 3
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1
Fear Factor – 1
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

Thanks to the Clock Tower Wiki for the animation.
Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Best Horror Games #5 – Haunting Ground

besthorrorlogohalloweenhground

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Dark Fantasy / Survival Horror
Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: Capcom
Published: 2006

SummaryHaunting Ground follows Fiona Belli, a young woman who finds herself locked in a sprawling castle after a car wreck which kills both of her parents. The castle has very few inhabitants, but they all seem to know her already. She soon learns that they are the last of her father’s estranged and deranged family members. Worse yet, they seem to have their own sinister intentions for her. With the help of the White Shepherd, Hewie, whom she rescues from the abuse of the groundskeeper, Fiona sets out to escape the castle.

Overall Thoughts
Haunting Ground deserved better than it got. There was essentially no publicity or critical love for this beauty of a game when it came out, leading to copies of it being rather rare. Oh, sure, you can get reproductions if you want to play it, but a real copy is hard to come by, despite there being a pretty big cult fandom for it (or perhaps because there is a fandom…)

I like that Fiona’s outcome becomes karmic by how well you treat her dog, Hewie. If you choose to be mean to him, you’re likely to receive a horrible ending, but if you treat him nicely, he’ll help you out. But like a real dog, Hewie is often stubborn and easily distracted, so it’s better not to rely on him too much. The gameplay is similar to Clock Tower, its spiritual successor, in which you are trying to avoid a series of “stalkers” who pursue you as you navigate a huge castle. It’s pretty simple and functional, so let’s talk about the design and characters, which is where Haunting Ground really shines.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/clocktower/images/d/dc/FioHew1.gif/revision/latest?cb=20150828133511

The design is intricate and savory to the eye all around. Though it does show the graphical flukes common of PS2 games, you won’t notice them unless they’re pointed out. The disconcerting soundtrack by Seiko Kobuchi adds a lot of tension to the atmosphere. I don’t know what genre you would label Haunting Ground’s soundtrack, as it’s like no music I’ve ever heard, exactly. The soundtrack is an unsettling hybrid of classical music, electronic dissonance and hellish horror noises, such as guttural groaning and inhuman voices. It is on YouTube, if you want to take a listen for yourself.

I want to talk about the story in detailed analysis at some point, because who doesn’t love a good analysis? But I’ll make it brief for now. If anyone ever questions whether video games in the traditional action-and-goal style can be considered “art”, you should show them Haunting Ground. Actually, you could show them any of the good ones I’ve discussed, but this one in particular is breathtaking, and the story is outright disturbing.

I feel like Haunting Ground is one of the few video games that requires a trigger warning for its take on sexuality. It’s not explicit, per se, or even a very violent game, but the themes of abuse, birth, stalking and image issues could be really unsettling, and there’s a creepy, erotic vibe to most of the characters. This is not a “scary” horror game, but it does its damnedest to make you uncomfortable. Depending on your personal sensitivities, this could actually make it scarier than your average horror game. Continue reading “Best Horror Games #5 – Haunting Ground”

Inktober 2019 – What’s in My Sketchbook? (#1)

This is the first year I’ve actively participated in DeviantArt’s “Inktober”, a challenge which entails that you begin and finish as many drawings as you can manage throughout the month of October. The purpose is namely for relaxed, unfettered practice – to stop hyper-correcting and judging your own work, and just getting it finished. I filled about a third of a palm-sized Moleskine storyboard sketchbook with small drawings, all sketched and inked in roughly four hours or less.

Here are some raw snapshots of some of them. Fair warning that these were taken on my phone, and are unedited, so still retain pencil marks. I’m a miniaturist at heart, so these drawings are also tiny, which made them harder to snap. One square is about the length of my thumb, if not shorter.
I corrected the photos enough to where the drawings were clear, though. I did think it was kind of cool how a phone camera sometimes reads the faces of drawings as human faces and focuses in on them. I will upload high quality, clean versions of all of these to my DeviantArt later.

inktoberraw1

Sailor Moon on the top right! The top left drawing looks very similar to the illustrations I did for Loverboy. I prefer to work on miniscule scales such as these for book illustrations, too. Why? Well, the details of small drawings remain intact no matter how you resize them. While large-scale illustrations are often amazing, a lot can be lost when they are squeezed down to fit into a standard 5×8 or 6×9 novel. Continue reading “Inktober 2019 – What’s in My Sketchbook? (#1)”

Happy Halloween! A 2-Year Anniversary

Apparently, I’ve had this blog up for two years today, on Halloween of all holidays! I didn’t start writing until December, which is probably why I’d forgotten. Thanks to you all for the follows, comments and support! Sending big love to you all out there! Especially those that have stayed through the weak periods and shifts in theme, thanks for your understanding. I’ve gotten somewhat away from consistent formats, but it’s good to mix it up, I think.

Starting out, I didn’t honestly think that anyone would read a blog if I wrote one, but I’m glad to be wrong. It’s still a small blog, but I feel I should be able to keep going indefinitely with it. Being an indie writer, I’m aware of how possible it is that my work might never grow beyond its niche, but with each passing year there is an easier market and budding audience for indie works, so there is the chance that it could become something great, as well. You never know.

I always try to encourage people if they bring it up to go through with what they, in their heart, desire to create. Even the worst case scenarios as far as creative mediums go are not that bad, and there’s little that requires sacrifice. Writing and blogging are not expensive at all, art is not expensive if you choose decent but low-cost materials. Reading can be expensive, but that’s probably my own experience with impulse-buying thrift books!

I have a pretty severe handicap with ADHD, among other issues, and that doesn’t stop me. The disorder destroys cohesive strings of thought, and makes writing harder than I feel it should be, sure, and sometimes it does drag down my work or delay it by months, but if I didn’t have that outlet, I guarantee the issues would be worse. So don’t settle for hurting yourself if you have the opportunity to get it out. Many don’t, so if you were given the drive by birth, please don’t waste it waiting around. You don’t have to give up anything but your own fears and stubbornness, and we’re better off without those, no? Have a safe holiday, and don’t take strange candy from strangers!

Best Horror Games #6 – Layers of Fear

besthorrorlogohalloweenlyfear

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror
Platform: PC, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Aspyr / Bloober Team
Published: 2016

Summary – Layers of Fear focuses on a painter who is determined to finish his Magnum Opus, no matter what. The painter walks throughout his enormous, deserted house collecting strange “ingredients” to add to his masterpiece, all the while tormented by the horrors within his own paintings.

Overall Thoughts
Behold, the devil’s art project! If you’ve always wanted to see the worst of a creative mind’s obsessive nature, this is the best way to do it without actually going insane.
I love classical art – impressionism, gothic art, surreal art – whatever its nature, I love beautiful art, and I’m sorry if I accidentally jump-scared anyone with the title image! She’s beautiful too, in her… um, decomposing, meaty, salmonella sort of way. This is a project focused on the dark, cruel side of classical art.

Developed by an indie team from Poland, every inch of Layers of Fear is hellish yet impossible to look away from simultaneously. It’s too appealing to the eye, and the dark secrets that you can find (or cause yourself) are too appealing to the mind. There’s so much to explore, and it seems like every corner hides some fresh derangement flourishing in the dark, or in bright, Argento-esque bursts of light, paint and blood. The hauntings and delusions are so realistic, too, that it could be a movie.

Image result for layers of fear

Layers of Fear is a potent, actually scary experience that makes use of psychedelic horror effects and the unexpected to infiltrate your waking nightmares. It’s not like other horror “games”, in that there are no real enemies or game mechanics, it’s just you and your eyes trapped in the head of a mad painter who’s possibly a murderer, or even a serial killer. One of the most creative parts I found, was watching the “Magnum Opus” unfold as he collects the parts to make it (which are body parts, by the by). Depending on the route you take morally during the course of exploring the mansion, the Magnum Opus could appear grotesque, as it does above, or beautiful. It can even appear neither, but ordinary and with a scathing expression on the woman’s face.

While it has a more vibrant, grotesque character than a lot of horror games I’ve seen before, it gets the psychological horror the medium is known for down to a T. Silent Hill 2 is known for its somber depiction of depression, and I think this one is comparable to like, the schizophrenia and ADHD spectrum.
I found some of the weirder imagery to be familiar, as intrusive thoughts (common with ADHD, anxiety and OCD, among other conditions) tend to have that horrible sort of flavour to them. I wouldn’t call it a relatable game, per se, like Silent Hill – unless of course, you prefer to paint with human blood! – but the comparison to mental illness is interesting to consider.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Yes. Layers of Fear seems to take heavy inspiration from classics, not solely paintings, but novels as well, notably The Picture of Dorian Gray, where a man’s self-portrait becomes grotesque and horrifying as he becomes a more horrible person.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4.5
Art and Design – 5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4.5
Fear Factor – 5
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 4.5 out of 5

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Good Indie Horror Reads

As a side note, I apologize that the rest of the Harvest of Horror reviews didn’t show up in the last five or six days. I had to redo some and fell sick, so was a little too out of it to schedule them back into order. The video game reviews might leak a bit past Halloween, just if you happen to wonder why they pop up. I thought about “back-publishing” them, but eh. There’s no point in that.

Anyway, I love indie books. So much that I’ve written some, even! I appreciate that we are able to live in a world where writers don’t have to be constricted by publishers, and can truly let their whims and ideas free. To be fair to the book industry, mainstream publishing in literature is nowhere near as corrupt and manipulative as say, music or movies, but it can be quite dismissive towards original and off-the-wall ideas, so I like to delve into indie books when I get the chance. These are some indie horror books I’ve read recently that are worth mentioning.

The Bacon Room by Leonard Warren
Genre:
Splatterpunk / Short Stories

The Bacon Room isn’t perfect, but there’s a keen, dark sense of humor and potential from a new author. I got this book for free on a whim, and don’t regret it, though I normally end up disliking splatterpunk and “extreme” horror. Several of the stories have really creative premises, such as the title story, where a woman is kidnapped by a group of people who plan on feeding her piece-to-piece by a demon. The demon talks to her in her sleep and they start conspiring to get revenge on the others. I thought this was a really cool idea – you don’t often see the human sacrifice and the demon they’re being offered to work with each other. Continue reading “Good Indie Horror Reads”

Worst Horror Games #4 – Alone in the Dark 2008

worsthorrorlogohalloweenaitd

★★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Action
Platform: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii, PC
Publisher: Atari
Published: 2008

SummaryAlone in the Dark (2008) follows paranormal investigator Edward Carnby, who awakens suffering from amnesia in a building that is gradually collapsing. After escaping the building, he finds that the entire city is in a destroyed, apocalyptic state due to strange, supernatural fissures forming through it.

Overall Thoughts
I’m going to make this brief, because to be honest, Alone in the Dark 2008 isn’t a godawful game. It has a significant fanbase, and I understand why, but I don’t personally enjoy it even remotely. This list is pretty subjective, so it only made the “Worst” list, like Silent Hill Homecoming, because it’s one of my least favourite horror games. I specifically only put mainstream console games on this list, because if I hadn’t, 99% of the “Worst” would be Steam or PC horror games, which are often made by tiny teams with no budget. I don’t feel it’s fair to count those.

Love it or hate it, Alone in the Dark 2008 was always destined to be plagued. It was a loose tie-in with a film that’s often called one of the worst movies ever, with a whopping 2.4 out of 10 on IMDB, which in turn was a loose adaptation of an early 90s cult classic horror game.
Now, I don’t have a vicious opinion of either the movie or this game. I don’t especially like either, but I don’t think they’re deserving of the sheer, seething, foaming-at-the-mouth hatred that’s thrown at both of them. At their worst, I think they hit at just below the threshold of “tolerable”.

Alone in the Dark 2008 did see an improved re-release, but as far as the original, I found it extraordinarily frustrating. For positives, the graphical design, soundtrack and puzzles are quite well-made and there are some great anxious, scary moments. I like the Lovecraftian themes and apocalyptic settings. Oh, and the monsters! The monsters are supremely creepy!

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/aloneinthedark/images/e/e0/Subway_Monster.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20180108035747

There’s a real sense of mass destruction and impending danger that could’ve made for a great experience, but the story wasn’t enough of a draw for me to force myself through the rapidly shifting, disorienting, and sometimes glitchy gameplay though. There was a function to skip chapters, which I found myself doing often enough that I completely lost track of what the plot was supposed to be.
In short, I wouldn’t call Alone in the Dark unbearable, but it is difficult and annoying to the point of not being fun. What differentiates a video game from a film or a book (and apparently this shouldn’t have been a film, either) is the interactivity, and if that’s no good, the positive qualities it might have all fall apart.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Maybe..? The Alone in the Dark series was inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos, so I suppose it could.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 2.5
Art and Design – 3.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1.5
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

Best Horror Games #7 – Luigi’s Mansion

besthorrorlogohalloweenluigi

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Adventure
Platform: Gamecube, Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Published: 2001 / 2018 (Re-Release)

Summary Luigi, of Super Mario Bros. fame, receives a mysterious letter telling him that he’s won a mansion. In reality, the mansion is not the beautiful one depicted in the letter, but a haunted, dilapidated mansion in the remote woods. According to a scientist who lives nearby, the mansion appeared there on its own several days ago, and the ghosts who inhabit it have kidnapped Luigi’s brother, Mario.

Overall Thoughts
Luigi’s Mansion is a perfect example of horror that could appeal to anyone. It’s not gory, so it’s alright for the kids, but is entertaining and offers enough challenge for adults as well. This game is nearly twenty years old, believe it or not, but it’s aged astoundingly well. The unusual, creative blend of cartoonish characters and elaborate, almost Victorian settings is still pleasing to the eye. I’ve played Luigi’s Mansion about a hundred times and never had any technical problems or glitches, either.

The aesthetic and gameplay reminds me an awful lot of a softer, more colourful version of the first Resident Evil, which also takes place in a massive, sprawling mansion full of hidden rooms and traps. There are no weapons at your disposal, though. It’s not like they’d work on a ghost anyhow, so it’s just Luigi and his Ghostbusters-style vacuum cleaner.

The story is kind of basic, like a lot of Super Mario Bros. games, but the fun comes from exploration and defeating ghosts rather than plot. One thing I love in particular is the bosses. Every now and then Luigi will encounter the ghost of a human, who are much tougher and smarter than the Boos and smaller, blobby ghosts that show up around the mansion. These ghosts have to be tricked somehow into revealing their weak point so they can be captured. Usually, it’s something that has to do with their personality, which you’re left to figure out for yourself through clues in the ghost’s room, as well as notes and even on occasion, a conversation with the ghost.

File:Henry and Orville Hide and Seek.png

As a kid, I always loved Big Boo’s Haunt on Super Mario 64 and thought it was the creepiest thing, so of course it’s great to have a full-length game based on that design. I would also consider the sequel, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon to be pretty great, but I don’t have enough experience with the sequel to make a separate post about it. Both are extremely fun games with a light survival horror feel to them.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
I don’t think so, actually. Some horror games would, but there’s not enough linear plot to work with here. I feel like Luigi’s Mansion would get pretty repetitive if you tried to translate it into a book. A graphic novel might be serviceable.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4.5
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 4.5 out of 5

Worst Horror Games #5 – Silent Hill Homecoming

worsthorrorlogohalloweenshhco

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Action
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Konami
Published: 2008

Summary – Silent Hill Homecoming follows Alex Shepherd, a soldier who returns to his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen to discover his little brother has gone missing. Following a sinister link between his family and a religious cult, Alex goes to the town of Silent Hill to look for him.

Overall Thoughts
“In here is a tragedy. Art thou player, or audience?”

Truth be told, maybe it isn’t fair to put this game on the “Worst” list at all. I think Homecoming gets picked on a little too much. The circumstances behind this game are incredibly unlucky and fraught with poor and dubious decisions. A lot of its issues can be traced back, surprise surprise, to the publisher, Konami. A European development team was thrown the task of this title with little experience with the series and an unrealistic deadline, so it honestly surprises me that anything good was able to be eked out of the project at all. I won’t be too hard on it, but I will say that when compared with most other Silent Hill entries, this one leaves quite a lot to be desired. It’s essentially a watered-down Silent Hill 2 with more out-of-place fighting sequences.

There are good ideas present, including the melancholy soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka, and I think if you prefer action horror and enjoyed the Silent Hill film, you probably wouldn’t hate it. I don’t dislike it, but it is objectively bad. The controls and gameplay when you’re not exploring are pretty awful, and the weird focus on combat in a series that’s… never been known for that… erases the impact of much of the otherwise creepy and often rather pretty imagery in this game. I can understand why there are ardent fans of this game because it can be beautiful, visually disturbing and macabre, but there is no real threat or depth to back it up.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/silent/images/c/cd/The_Church_of_the_Holy_Way.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20141214091441

Alex Shepherd and his dysfunctional family had a lot of potential, and some parts of the story are cool, but it doesn’t jibe with the established story of the series, and the psychological aspect could have been handled so much better. They basically drill into your head that Alex was “in the army”, when in reality… (spoiler) no, he never was. It’s kind of obvious. He’s just insane, I guess.

The characters are passable, for the most part. I love the designs of the monsters, but none of the human characters besides the protagonist stood out to me, and that’s the true shame. Silent Hill was never about the monsters of dreams, but the monsters within human nature. This is a common misunderstanding when people try to adapt the series, and I’ve never gotten it. How do you miss the point so much?
That’s basically all I have to say about it. If the developers had been given an inkling of time to develop Homecoming properly, it could’ve been fantastic, but as is, it’s just okay.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Maybe. There’s a lot of unexplored potential that could be toyed around with to make a decent book, if you were a skilled enough writer.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 3
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 2
Fear Factor – 3
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 3.5 out of 5

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Top 5 Best Original Goosebumps

The Ghost Next Door  (Goosebumps, #10)Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps, #1)The Haunted Mask (Goosebumps, #11)

R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps is a series of children’s horror novellas that’s recently seen a revival in popularity, along with its more young adult counterpart, Fear Street. I kind of stopped keeping track of Goosebumps after the original 90s run and some of the early 2000s books, because well, I grew beyond the demographic. I still read Fear Street fairly often, and of course I have a huge appreciation for Goosebumps, and all the subtle phobias it instilled in young children.

The original Goosebumps series ran from 1992 to 1997 and consists of about 62 books, most of which I’ve read at some point, though there are several I’ve forgotten about or have never seen. It’s been reprinted a couple of times with new covers, but the classic covers will always be the iconic ones. These are, in my opinion, the five BEST books of the series up to 1997.

5. I Live in Your Basement (#61) – Published 1997
The original Goosebumps series ended on a pretty weak note with #62, arguably the worst in the series. However, the penultimate book before it is spine-chilling. I Live in Your Basement is about more of an adult fear – stalking, with some themes of hallucinations and mental illness, if you want to read into it that way. It pulls out all the stops on the grotesque factor, as well. I suppose this would be a pretty good precursor to surreal horror for kids who would later be into that sort of thing.

4. The Haunted Mask (#11) – Published 1993
Why the long face? It’s not like it’s going to get… melded to a demonic mask, threatening to rip your skin off, right? Well, that’s what this book is about! A girl goes in search of a Halloween mask, and ends up in a very dubious novelty shop, where she steals a disgusting, horrifying mask that grows rather attached to her face. Eventually, she isn’t able to take it off, once she’s left it on so long. The thought of something parasitic latching and welding itself to your face, suffocating you and taking control of your thoughts, I would say is still pretty disturbing.

3. One Day at Horrorland (#16) – Published 1994
Amusement parks have a sort of ominous vibe to them anyway, and it really doesn’t help if it’s run by cannibalistic, sadistic monsters who pit the human fair-goers against each other in an attempt to kill them all. Sheesh. Continue reading “Top 5 Best Original Goosebumps”

Best Horror Games #8 – Shadow Man

besthorrorlogohalloweenshad

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
Platform: Nintendo 64, Playstation, PC
Publisher: Acclaim / Night Dive Studios
Published: 1999 / 2013 (Re-Release)

Summary Shadow Man follows Michael LeRoi, a man who has been chosen as the next “Shadow Man”, a warrior and voodoo priest who protects the living from the chaos and violence of the restless dead. The prophetic dream of a priestess, Mama Nettie, warns Michael of a demon, manifesting itself through the reanimated corpses of serial killers, who plans to create an army from the dead that Michael has to stop before it can begin.

Overall Thoughts
So, there are probably much better horror games I could’ve placed in this spot. I considered something like Yomawari or The Evil Within for this place, but Shadow Man is rather special to me. It’s terribly underrated and glossed over, and I have yet to meet another with the unique atmosphere of this game: a mashup of Western gothic, Faustian and Lovecraftian demonology. There’s a sinister, mythological vibe of black magic and irredeemable curses that’s kind of hard to describe, but Shadow Man doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Dark comedy abounds as well.

The characters and settings are by far the best part of this game. Believe it or not, Shadow Man was a partial inspiration for one of the shorts from my upcoming book, because I loved the over-the-top insanity of some of the villains. The settings use a lot of canyon scenery and abstract, otherworldly lighting, and the design in general reminds me heavily of Silent Hill. It looked pretty good for its time, anyway.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/shadowman/images/2/2b/Trueform_attacks_10.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20131019061954

Shadow Man is based off of the series of graphic novels by the same name (not to be confused with the Cody McFadyen novel, Shadow Man), though the game has taken some liberties, mostly positive. To date, it’s one of the extremely few mainline horror video games I’ve seen with black protagonists. Michael LeRoi and Nettie are fun and badass characters, too.
The villains are very memorable and bizarre, and hit this weird area between hilarious and disturbing. The main antagonist is Jack the Ripper, of all people, or at least Jack the Ripper as possessed by the demon Legion, who revives a number of serial killers (some ridiculous, some legitimately creepy) to serve as his minions.

You may have noticed this as a trend with horror games, but the actual part that distinguishes it as a game, the interactivity, is kind of wonky. The physics are prone to glitches, even in the better versions, and there is a hell of a lot of backtracking. I don’t know about you, but backtracking always makes me feel like a mule. Overall, I do enjoy the mix of action and adventure. There’s a lot to explore. Just… don’t get the PlayStation version, if you decide to try this game. The port was a special sort of disaster, littered with bugs and technical issues, so go for the N64 or the PC. Shadow Man was recently re-released for PC and Steam.

The soundtrack is creepy as death and amazing. It’s actually kind of a jam, to be honest, and it’s rather sad not more people recognize this game for its music. There are some beautiful, ethereal pieces like “King’s Hymn” or a rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, but also some terrifying pieces, like one song that uses the sounds of music boxes and drills going through bone to create this horrible, nightmarish atmosphere.

Would it Make a Good Novel?

Shadow Man is based on a pretty good comic series, so yes, it’s not much of a stretch to think it would translate to a good novel. American Gods and its sequel Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman have some similar shades, if you’ve read those, as does The Gunslinger series by Stephen King.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4.5
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 3.5
Fear Factor – 4
Music and Sound – 5
General Score – 4 out of 5

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Poem – “Tied Up”

Tied Up

Cannot be counted on the devil’s palm
The arrows embedded in your chest
A sacrifice on the eve of child warlocks
Boy premonition, blood slave to a sorceress
All tied up on the skin of a juniper man
Weeping, gleaning the eyes of faerie youth
Spinning blood into his web of ropes
Keeping you hostage, a blasphemous bondage
Configured in riddles of the cell, without answer

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
Follow my poetry on Tumblr.
Bookstore on Amazon.

Support my work on Ko-Fi.

Best Horror Games #9 – Little Nightmares

besthorrorlogohalloweenlittle

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
Platform: Playstation 4, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Published: 2017

Summary – Little Nightmares follows a little girl named Six, who wakes up trapped in a massive citadel called the Maw which floats on the sea. The Maw is inhabited by giant, grotesque, cannibalistic adults who have been imprisoning human children (and whoever else they can get their hands on) in order to eat them. Six sets out to escape the Maw before she starves to death or gets eaten by one of them.

Overall Thoughts
It’s like somebody made this game with me in mind. I flipping adore these dark themes of childhood, fairytale cannibalism, and the horrors of decadence. Artistically, it’s pretty much the best I’ve seen in recent years. It hits that sweet spot between delightful and disgusting. The villain characters range from vulgar, gluttonous beasts to giant things that don’t entirely seem human.

Obviously, they were going for a cinematic feel with this, and it succeeds. Little Nightmares is almost more of a movie than it is a game. The gameplay is interesting enough, but that part does seem lacking in something. The experience overall is quite short and simple, but the design is so creepy and Burton-esque that you likely won’t care. If you care about active gameplay or an intricate story only, you might not like it, but if you want something dark and ambient and closer to a silent animation, you will love it. (Most horror games are like that, though, really. If we’re being honest.)

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/littlenightmares/images/9/98/01-The-Maw.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20170517142348

The story itself is pretty vague, and leaves a lot up to your own personal interpretation. The only things that are set in stone are that there’s a little girl and some other tiny creatures getting chased by giant cannibals in a ship (of sorts), and their leader is possibly a witch? Nobody really has a strong “personality”, per se, but the way the characters and conveyed without words is executed extremely well.
Like I said, it feels like a cross between a Studio Ghibli animation and one of the classic Tim Burton films. The Nightmare Before Christmas, especially. The puppet-like chefs (pictured above) strongly resemble characters from that movie, as do other villains in this game.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Certainly. In fact, there exists a graphic novel adaptation that was published as a tie-in, though I’ve never read it and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have great reviews. (Maybe it wouldn’t make a good novel, after all…)
In any case, Little Nightmares reminds me of aspects of my own work. I did mention it seemed specifically designed to cater to me. I do love and frequent toying with these tropes – cannibalism, mistrust of authority, and so on.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4
Fear Factor – 4
Music and Sound – 3.5
General Score – 4 out of 5

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

My Favourite Horror Collections

Teatro GrottescoNothing Is StrangeSmashed: Junji Ito Story Collection

I’ve always considered horror one of the best and worst genres for short stories. When short horror works, it can breed one of the most haunting, terrifying things you’ve ever experienced. However, making it work is no easy feat. For every disturbing, unsettling piece you’ll find, there will be ten out there that just won’t do it for you. There is nothing that will disturb every reader, though it’s possible to come close, and if you don’t succeed in scaring them, there are still ways to entertain them.

These are my top ten, for the time being, favourite collections of horror stories. I love variety, so there’s a bit of each kind of horror here – dark fantasy, visual horror, bizarro, classic horror – you name it, you’ll find it somewhere on this list. Some aren’t necessarily meant to be straight horror, but have a significant horror flavour to them that I felt qualified them enough to make the list. These are in no particular order. As there were quite a few books, I might include some honorable mentions in a later post.

Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti
Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
I would feel confident calling Teatro Grottesco the best compilation of horror shorts I’ve ever read. It remains, several years after I first read it, one of the few books of the genre to legitimately unnerve me. Ligotti’s prose is sinister and elaborate, like a spiderweb with the remains of cocoons dangling through it, yet this book reads very easily. I’d honestly recommend any Ligotti collection, but this one in particular is truly flawless.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Science Fiction
I covered this one in-depth not too long ago, so check out my review if you want. Smashed did not get as good reviews as his other recent collections, but I personally like the surreal, cosmic tone of these stories, especially the title story. Who knew a fruit tree could be so terrifying?

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Horror
Arguably, Pretty Monsters is the most somber book on this list. The overall tone of this book is depressive and gothic, as if it’s being told by a series of ghosts who find the whole thing darkly amusing. You really don’t see enough young adult horror anyway, but especially not of this caliber. This is a book that will bury itself in your skull.

Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Nothing is Strange I don’t think was actually intended to be frightening, but well… strange. It’s in the title. I did a review on this and its sequel collection, Strange Secrets, but both reviews need an upgrade. Nothing is Strange can be breezed through in a day or two, but you won’t want it to end. Russell’s ideas are so original and inventive, and the imagery is so perfectly bizarre that it’s difficult to step away from the world he’s created.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Trilogy by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell
Genre: Horror
An old childhood favourite that I’m still fond of. The illustrations are what it’s known for, I mean, just look them up if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Gammell’s drawings still have power and are unsettling to look at as an adult. The stories are fun, too, especially for the folklore aspect. Schwartz was a collector of traditional stories, folklore, and American myths, so his notes on the writing of the trilogy are also pretty fascinating.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Dark Comedy
I’ll probably do a full review on this one later in the month. It would be fitting for the season, yeah? Something I love about Ito is that he can take anything, no matter how small and innocuous, and turn it into something to fear. A phobia. A paranoia. Continue reading “My Favourite Horror Collections”

Poem – “Hanging From the Juniper Tree”

Hanging From the Juniper Tree

A noose for a basket full of aspirations,
Wicked dreams that sliver through the hooves
Of horses decomposing in the plains of night

A weeping tragedy, ten headless kings
Hanging from the juniper tree
On the path of the prisoners’ walk

The crying red moon is bleeding tender
Over the forbidden waters of the dead
And not one drop penetrates a severed soul

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
Amazon | Bookstore | Goodreads
Support my work on Ko-Fi.

Worst Horror Games #6 – Rule of Rose

worsthorrorlogohalloweenror

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror
Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: Atlus
Published: 2006

SummaryRule of Rose, set in the remote countryside of 1930s England, follows a teenager named Jennifer, who becomes trapped in an orphanage, ruled by a cruel and ruthless group of young girls who call themselves the “Red Crayon Aristocrats”. She must appease them in order to escape, all the while forced to confront her own childhood at the orphanage.

Overall Thoughts
It physically pains me to start off the “Worst” list with Rule of Rose. The story and cast are so, so well-written. The setting, which even though it’s set in the 30s, still retains a sort of late Edwardian, melancholic feel to it, is phenomenal, and it borrows heavily from the dark tones of Grimm’s Fairytales. Story-wise, it is tragic, haunting and beautiful, and reminds me heavily of Lord of the Flies, but with mostly female characters.

I wish that this had been a movie or a book instead of a game, because the medium, in this case, does not do Rule of Rose any favours. The gameplay part just sucks. There’s no way around it. The developers weren’t given nearly enough time to perfect it, and it ends up ruining what is otherwise a great experience.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/ruleofrose/images/6/60/Wenjen.png/revision/latest?cb=20110927101628

From a technical standpoint, the graphics and design are nice. The soundtrack is spectacular – a romantic, gothic blend of 1930s swing and classical music of the Victorian era that’s addictive to listen to. You’d be better off listening to the soundtrack and watching the story segments on YouTube than you would be trying to find a copy of this game. Seriously. Take a listen to this.
Rule of Rose is exceedingly rare due to poor marketing, bad press and poor sales, and now goes for a whopping… $80-$200 USD, at the least, and that’s for a garbage used copy. You can buy reproductions, though, if you’re that curious, but the gameplay portion is honestly, very bad and unfinished. The difficulty is unfair, the controls are clunky, and there are long sections of hunting items with Jennifer’s dog that quickly become tedious.

Rule of Rose was met with controversy in Italy and England due to a false rumor that the game was about “murdering children”, part of the reason why it did not sell. Spoiler – it isn’t. Rule of Rose is a psychological exploration of childhood trauma, the differing and sometimes troubled relationships between girls and bullying. The entire plot occurs in Jennifer’s mind, and is her twisted memories of being forced to stand up to her peers, at the cost of more than one best friend. Like I said, it would be a stunningly beautiful experience if it had been anything other than a video game.
In short, if those idiots in Hollywood want to make an all-girl Lord of the Flies, they ought to just adapt Rule of Rose, and actually do this plot some justice.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Hell yes, it would! This could possibly be the best novel of the psychological horror genre. It also makes me think of the novel John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins, which has a vaguely similar premise.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 5
Art and Design – 4.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 2
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 5
General Score – 3.5 out of 5

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.

Poem – “Black Aura Mystery”

Black Aura Mystery

I know you didn’t even try to save me
When my black aura mystery
Infected the vein and left be decaying
Wreathed with barbs from the inside
One for each hour my suicidal self
From the past before mine awakens
To find he’s never become healthier
His black aura mystery fails him all the time
I wasn’t beyond an embryo then,
I know you didn’t even try to save him
Green eyes necrotize in the grave’s hearth
Tears of blood and a black aura mystery

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
Follow my poetry on Tumblr.
Bookstore on Amazon.

Support my work on Ko-Fi.

Best Horror Games #10 – Clock Tower

besthorrorlogohalloweenctower

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Mystery
Platform: SNES, Super Famicom
Publisher: Human Entertainment
Published: 1995

Summary – Clock Tower follows an orphaned teenager, Jennifer Simpson, after her adoption by the Barrows family, along with several other girls. The Barrows’ enormous, labyrinthine mansion is terrorized by a killer, known as Scissorman, who starts to target the girls one by one, forcing Jennifer and the others to try to escape.

Overall Thoughts
Clock Tower is far from perfect, but it’s an innovator in the survival horror genre, and deserves respect for that. The series was inspired by the Italian horror film Phenomena, with the protagonist and plot bearing strong resemblances to those from the movie. To have what is essentially a video game version of a Dario Argento film is really cool in its own right, but Clock Tower also made extremely clever, disturbing and creative use of pixel art and storytelling choices.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/clocktower/images/2/25/Run.gif/revision/latest?cb=20150107101054

There are multiple endings one can get in the story, depending on the small decisions you make in the Barrows house, while all the while being stalked by a boy wielding a massive pair of scissors, and the deranged Barrows family themselves. If you like retro horror, you’ll love it. It’s not a difficult game, and is point-and-click, which takes some of the stress out of the action parts, if that’s not something you care for. The soundtrack is sparse, but pretty good whenever it’s there, especially for an older game.

This series, sadly, has been condemned to relative obscurity, and flopped outside of Japan. The upside is, you can get a fan-translated English version of this game made for the SNES, if you want. Despite never being “officially” published in English, the first and arguably best Clock Tower is surprisingly less rare than the parts of the series that were.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Definitely! Clock Tower has obvious shades of vintage horror novels from the late 80s and early 90s, when the “final girl” trope was at its peak popularity. This game reminds me so much of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street. It has the same sort of atmosphere, that’s creepy and entertaining without taking itself too seriously.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 4.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 3.5
General Score – 4 out of 5

Follow my reviews on Goodreads.