Despite never owning a PlayStation, I have a real soft spot for PS1 era visuals. I covered Fatum Betula last year and I’ve also played a bunch of other games with a similar aesthetic on the Switch too. In my opinion, this style is far more charming than the usual 8/16 bit stuff, and it’s really effective for creating a weird horror atmosphere.

Which brings us to Murder House, a small scale horror game by Puppet Combo that has been finally brought to the Switch with the help of Lum.

This game is legitimately unsettling. And I love it.

JUMPING JACK THE RIPPER
There’s one phrase that sums up the entire Murder House experience in its entirety: Video Nasty. If you’ve ever seen one of those low budget horror flicks from the 70s, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for here. A Pulpy story with dreadful acting and worse video quality, yet somehow it all comes together to make something quite unsettling. From the moment the game loads up, you are greeted with a VHS cover options menu, complete with a low quality VHS filter. This can be altered to your tastes, ranging from something that resembles more of a PS1 survival horror to something akin to a bootleg tape – with constant flickering and all! The music is the icing on the cake too, as it has a very old school horror film vibe that sinks to your very core. You can tell Puppet Combo are huge fans of the genre as they nail the look and sound perfectly.

As for the story, it’s surprisingly quite in-depth for such a short game. Starting out as a child in a mall getting his picture taken with the Easter Bunny, you soon find yourself alone after hours being hunted down by the creepy bastard. This merely serves as the prologue, however, as you soon find yourself in the shoes of a young girl working with a news crew who are investigating the abandoned home of the Easter Ripper, who was apparently executed many years ago.  As you explore the house, you soon realise that it isn’t quite as abandoned as it first appeared; thus begins a terrifying hunt as you try to make it out alive. Considering the small scale of the story, it’s very well paced and comes to a satisfying conclusion. Not many games pull this off well, but Murder House tells a perfectly crafted story fitting of the genre.

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SAFE AS HOUSES
In essence, the game is a survival horror game; but it doesn’t quite play as you’d expect. Whilst some elements of the game resemble the likes of Silent Hill and Resident Evil, it actually plays a bit differently. Your character is no Chris Redfield – they’re not even a Harry Mason. The Ripper is armed with a sickle, and you’re just a child. Your best option is to run and hide, waiting for him to pass. That’s easier said than done, however, as this is no dumb bunny. He searches random hiding spots trying to find you, and you always run the risk of being caught. Hiding away and peeking at him as he hunts for you is downright terrifying, and his seemingly random patrols make it even more tense. To add to the tension, you’ll also need to be finding items and solving basic puzzles to navigate yourself around. The puzzles aren’t too difficult, although some things can be quite hard to spot at times.

If it seems like a stressful gameplay loop, then don’t fret. The bunny isn’t always hunting you, and the game is broken up into very distinct sections with some being more explorative, and others focusing more on not getting yourself killed. Much like other games in the genre, there’s a limit to how many times you can save. Pencils can be found and used to track your progress, but you won’t find many dotted about. The length of the game means that there are more than enough to allow regular saves, but few enough to make you concerned about using them. It’ll never take too long to redo any work you lose upon dying, with the lengthy loading times being the main incentive against playing recklessly. All in all, Puppet Combo manages to pull off its simple premise almost perfectly.

Almost perfectly. As you’d imagine from the genre, the game defaults to a third person perspective. Rather than having a static or free camera, instead it opts for something more cinematic with the camera getting closer and further at seemingly random intervals. It makes it really hard to control the character, and gave me severe motion sickness – something I have never before experienced in a game. Whilst you can’t alter this preposterous camera, you can at least switch to a first person perspective. This also has an added benefit of making it easier to spot items as well as making things more immersive; but I can’t help but feel disappointed that the third person viewpoint is rendered virtually unplayable because of something to stupid. Considering the game sells itself as a third person survival horror game, this could end up being a dealbreaker for people who are averse to playing in the first person.

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Murder House is a very compact experience, that tells a short story remarkably well. The pacing is perfect for a game that has only one enemy, and it’s a genuinely unsettling title too. It’s a shame then that the third person camera makes it almost impossible to play from that perspective and the loading times make for a harsh punishment upon death. Regardless of these gripes, the quality of this title has made me yearn for more Puppet Combo titles on the Switch.