It’s great to see Puppet Combo branching out into the publishing side of things on the Nintendo Switch. Whilst I was certainly happy to see some of their titles appear on the Switch, they do opt for a similar type of theming with their structure. That was why Blood Wash came as a nice surprise last year, as it offered that PS1 horror experience but being from a different creator made it feel far different to Puppet Combo’s games. Not necessarily better, but certainly different.
That was why I was even happier to see the announcement of No One Lives Under the Lighthouse. Another published title of a PS1 horror title that promised something completely different to the rest of their catalogue. I was excited and intrigued, particularly because of my fondness for all things nautical – especially lighthouses.
And thankfully, it’s another winner too – even if there are some slight issues that hold it back a little.
Many thanks to Puppet Combo for the review code.
After a brief prologue that essentially shows off how to make a lighthouse work, the game opens up proper with you being lead to a small island via a tiny boat. You are told that the previous keeper mysteriously disappeared, so you’ll take on the lighthouse duties. The island has been long abandoned, so you’re warned not to go mad from the loneliness. A foreboding start, but also a caution that makes sense given that there really is little else to do on the island.
As you soon find out, all there is to the island is a few natural landmarks, your house, a shed, an outhouse for your pooping needs, and the titular lighthouse where you’ll be spending most of your time. Your important job is also fairly simple too, as you simply need to fill up the oil can with fuel to light the bulb and then pull the crank as high as it can go to make the light turn. The crank is designed so that it should last all night, so there’s not much need to worry once things get going.
Except, as it turns out, there is a little bit of a need to worry once you realise that the island isn’t completely abandoned. After getting your bearings on the first day, subsequent days seem to go wrong due to some kind of unseen saboteur. Things become more difficult as your equipment starts relocating, things start failing, and so on, as you work to do your job whilst someone is out there intent on spoiling it.
What starts out as a simple plot gets far more complicated as you delve deeper into the story. Visions of the past play out, and you need to try your best to to piece things together; the Lynchian storytelling results in you gaining lots of chunks of information, making it quite difficult to parse from a single playthrough. Additional endings allow for more information to be obtained, and this gives you more incentive to go back and try to slot everything together as you work your way to another ending. This type of narrative is one that I find fascinating, but it’s also one that will likely annoy and confuse others.
The visuals capture that eerie PS1 atmosphere perfectly and encapsulates everything I love about that aesthetic. Certain elements are just blocky enough to be indistinguishable, which fits perfectly with that Lovecraftian vibe that the game is going for. Eldritch horror certainly is indescribable if you can’t quite make it out.
A LIGHT(HOUSE) STROLL
Unlike the other titles released by Puppet Combo on the Switch, No One Lives Under the Lighthouse is predominantly a walking simulator and thusly far lighter on action when compared with those other games.
For the first half, you’ll encounter little action as you tend to your lighthouse and resolve various issues that come your way. Puzzles are light, and mostly revolve around obtaining various equipment by a multitude of means. Sometimes this requires exploration, such as seeing that there is a spade in the shed you can pick up and finding the relevant patch of dirt to dig up, whilst others require simply doing a certain task.
Occasionally you will encounter a set-piece that has you running from an unknown foe; unfortunately though, these are spoiled by awful controls as you switch to third person and try to manage your fella as he runs for his life. These are thankfully rather short, but I died at least once every time one due to being unable to manage the controls under pressure. It’s very disorientating, but failure places you right back to the start of the short chase again so there’s very little progress lost.
As the game reaches its mid point (or final point depending on your actions and how much you explore), there’s a big shift in the game as you start to uncover the secret of what is under the lighthouse. Without going into much detail to avoid spoilers, you do get new locations, some minor puzzling and action sequences, and a lot of flashbacks. It becomes slightly overwhelming and offers a whiplash-inducing change of pace.
This section does add a lot more to the narrative, but quite a few of these elements can be hit and miss. One item collecting sequence proved to be a particular annoyance, but the worst offender was one segment that – whilst cool in concept – ended up being pretty frustrating as you struggled to see where the hell you were going.
Speaking of which, there are various sections of the game where visibility becomes an issue – usually down to the darkness. Of course, the theming intends to highlight the contrast between the darkness and the light that shines through it; however, a couple of sections are just plain impossible to make out even with the brightness increased to maximum. There’s one moment that has you coming down the pitch black staircase of the lighthouse as the storm outside sporadically lights your way, and I wish that they used more clever ways like this to light some of the other dark areas of the game.
No One Lives Under the Lighthouse offers a beautiful narrative horror experience that unravels the troubles of this abandoned island. The second half may not be everyone’s tastes, but if you can put up with some of the game’s quirks, this will make a great addition to your PS1-style horror library.