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Puppet Combo: One Man's Take On Indy Horror Gaming

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Why are there not more slasher games? This is a question I've thought about many times since I was a teenager, given that slashers are some of my favorite movies. Yeah, I get that if you involve kids and stuff it gets nasty. But you don't have to (and really shouldn't). But what's wrong with having some adults get cut to ribbons if they make a mistake, or get caught in a chase? I mean, we already have ultra violent videos games anyway.

Then it hit me, rarely are YOU the one doing the killing of seemingly innocent people in video games. That's when people seem to freak out a bit more. With cases like Manhunt, or Hatred or anything like that. Manhunt is something I never saw as a problem becuase every person you kill in that game is a piece of shit and has it coming, honestly. But the games like Hatred and the like, yeah those are bit more questionable. Still, if you played a serial killer in a game stalking innocent victims...would that be ok? I suppose it depends on who's playing/watching it.

Well, regardless we've seen more and more things like this in recent years. An interesting twist came in the form of games like Dead By Daylight and Friday the 13th, where several players are playing as the victims while one player is playing the serial killer. To be honest, as a slasher fan, these games are fun as hell to me. Played from either side. But still, you don't see many developers willing to put you in the shoes of a killer who goes to shred some victims. It's still a taboo. Hell, you rarely even see games where you're trying to escape from a serial killer as a potential victim.


DBD

Well, that was until I discovered Puppet Combo games. Puppet Combo (Bendetto "Ben" Cocuzza) is a huge fan of 70's/80's horror movies, most especially slashers. He makes small PS1-looking (Think Silent Hill 1 here) horror games often based on this subject matter. I say he, because he's a one-man development studio. That's important to note before I begin here.

I randomly discovered one of his earlier games, "Babysitter Bloodbath" when watching one of my favorite Youtubers who specializes in horror games. (John Wolfe/Harshly Critical) It's a simple premise, you play as a teenaged girl coming to the home of some strangers to babysit their child, a young boy. And a serial killer is on the loose from the local asylum. You've seen it a thousand times in film. But how often have you gotten to play this experience as a video game? Surprisingly few. Shit hits the fan fairly quickly in the game and we're introduced to a red coverall wearing masked serial killer named Neokalus Burr who strikingly resembels Michael Myers.

The game is rudimentary, simple tank controls and inventory management with some fetching puzzles and running and hiding from this maniac. Gameplay wise or plot wise it's nothing special, but it still stands out. Why? As I said, for some reason slasher games aren't very common (Even from the perspective of the victim). The low-rez graphics combined with the 80's VHS like film grain and menus enhance the atmosphere greatly, and what seems (and honestly is) extremely simple on the surface becomes something pretty atmospheric. You run and hide form this guy while he stalks you from room to room of the house before having a confrontation with him finally in the garage in the end.

BSBB



This immedately made me take notice. This was the thing I'd been looking for all this time. In a mad dash of google-fu I discovered that Puppet Combo was originally called "Pig Farmer Games". He had been working on games like this one for a little while (Since 2000-2013, when Babysitter Bloodbath was completed) before I discovered him and I found myself head over heels with his work. Another of his finised games at this time was Powerdrill Massacre, originally released as "Minotaur" and then remade as Powerdrill Massacre in 2015. Gameplay wise this one is similar to Babysitter Bloodbath, where you play as a mostly helpless, innocent victim to a serial killer. In this case playing as a young woman who's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, where you tries to find help in the closest structure she can find, a large seemingly abandoned factory building.

Inside she finds herself trapped into the gigantic sprawling building with a madman stalking her equipped with the powerdrill that the title suggests. Despite the silly concept and the purposefully aged graphics, both this and Babysitter Bloodbath absolutely ooze atmosphere and create some extremely high tension chase scenarios for the player. They're VERY stressful games to play, in my opinion. But that just means that they're effective in what they're trying to do. The killer encounters are completely random and non-scripted, as are the item locations that you need to find in order to escape this ordeal. The "jumpscare" of the killer charging you around a blind corner while screaming, combined with the loud whirring of the powerdrill is intense and extremely effective when combined with the 70's slasher like burst of chase music. (If you're a fan of these types of films, you know what I'm talking about here.)


PDM

By this point it's easy to see the angle Puppet Combo was going for. That b-movie grindhouse vibe, complete with those awesome retro VHS cover art pieces for the games. (I seriously LOVE these.) The titles of the these first two games I discovered from him absolutely scream this. And this type of game and general vibe would continue for a bit with his work. From 2016's "Meat Cleaver Mutilator" to 2017's "The Night Ripper". The Night Ripper was the next games I saw in action from him and immediately it brought to mind the real life 1982 Italian exploitation/slasher "The New York Ripper". It was clarly inspired by this, and this just further cemented my love for Puppet Combo's work.

"Buzz-Saw Blood House" mixed things up a bit with a different twist on the same general gameplay. You play as some drugged young schoolgirls from the perspective of a deep web "red room" livestream. You have to navigate a torture dungeon of various death traps, all while sometimes being chased by a maniac with a chainsaw. This one forgoes the slasher angle and focuses more on raw carnage, all while "viewers" to the livestream are constantly commenting on the action unfolding. Sometimes donating to bring in the maniac or more elaborate death traps. The gameplay here deviates a bit from the previous offers by mostly doing away with puzzles and item finding, replacing it with just navigating around the death traps, which is already difficult as is, but much more so when the chainsaw man is on your heels. The game doesn't end when you die, and your next "life" is represented with a different looking girl to play, seemingly another of the kidnapped victims.

In a bit of tonal shift, the next game to release from this madman of a developer was 2018's "Planet of the Bloodthirsty Santas". A Christmas based game that plays more like the previous offers, where you play as a member of a space mining expedition that lands on this Christmas-y planet in order to find minerals. You soon discover you're not alone on the seemingly empty planet and end up being chased by a derranged, monstrous santa creature. This one is about as tongue-in-cheek as it gets, but how many other Christmas themed horror games are out there?

"Stay Out of the House" followed this and goes back to the less cheesy grindhouse roots that Puppet Combo started with. You play as a gal who wakes up trapped in a home in a cornfield after having been knocked out by a man wearing a burlap sack over his head, when searching for a missing friend. There's less emphasis on being chased in this game compared to past ones and more on finding items in a means to escape the dire situation you're in. This game is also entirely in first person, changing the dynamic a bit.

Sooth



A short prequel game accompanied this called "Night Shift". Here you play as the missing friend from "Stay Out of the House" as she works her night shift job at a convenience store. You deal with mundane, though sometimes strange customer interactions before being abducted in the end up a man through the back room of your store, thus setting up the beginning of "Stay Out of the House".

Puppet Combo was very busy in 2018, and has been in 2019 so far as well. He's released a slew of short games. "The Nun Massacre" refined his ore typical serial killer chase game type and was followed by a very short, but different game called "Feed Me Billy". This is one of those games that starts to toe the line between opinions of what's too much for some or others. You play as a man named Billy who wakes up to find his closet...talking to him and telling him to feed it. It looks like a gaping maw of sharp teeth and flesh and demands human flesh. Billy suits up with a mask and grabs a revolver and you step into his shoes and must go out and kill innocent people and then drag their corpses in your pickup truck back home to feed your monstrous closet.

There were previously some unreleased games by Puppet Combo in which you played the role of the killer, but this was the first one released that put you in that role. While the premise of the game is almost slapstick, the tone changes so dramatically when you first go out and pull the trigger on an innocent girl by a payphone that's almost jarring. And to be honest, the fact that the game makes you feel uncomfortable when doing so means it's being effective in what it set out to do. What Puppet Combo did here was no different than what many of the movies he's inspired by did when showing the act of murder through the eyes of the killer. But the big difference of course is that it's you pressing the mouse button to pull the trigger here. Frankly, it took balls to make this sort of game, and it's one of the reasons we probably won't be seeing any console releases of his games anytime soon. That being said...

Earlier this year "The Glass Staircase" was released. I saw more mainstream coverage than I have for everything else Puppet Combo has made combined with this game. In fact, it was the first time I saw much of ANY mainstream coverage of his work. I'm not sure exactly what made this one be THE one in this regard. It's overall less in your face violent, that probably helped. It doesn't focus on the 70's and 80's slashers a lot of his previous work did, but instead it's a slow-burning psychological horror romp that pays an homage to oldschool Italian zombie movies. Though it's also not really a zombie game either. Strangely enough despite being the most mainstream covered game of his, it's one of the only ones to feature younger protagonists...that are murdered.

It's quite different from the previous games in tone, theme and atmosphere.
Glass Staircase


Another very different game in this catalog came next called "The Riverside Incident". This one is a first person investigation game, playing out like a found footage film. There is no actual combat or encounters here, making it very different from everything else Puppet Combo had done to this point. It feature a neat twist that I won't spoil here.

The year is rounding out with a few more releases, such as Day 7 another first person game that's loosely based on both the PS1 game "Hell Night" and the creepy pasta called "The Backrooms", the latter of which was originally this game's title as well.

Samhain is the latest release, a Halloween themed game about trick or treating. I unfortunately haven't had the chance to play or watch this one, so I can't comment much on it.

This is honestly just scratching the surface of this guy's body of work. He releases new games and updates constantly if you're a patreon supporter. His brand of retro styled grindhouse horror is entirely unique and he's one of the few indie horror developers out there that's willing to push the envelope and not just churn out recycled asset pack Amnesia or P.T. clones these days. It makes perfect sense WHY his work is as niche as lesser known as it is, but it's still a shame. As a fan of the brand of horror he usually works with it's just so refreshing to see someone with this much passion working his ass off to bring his visions to us.

He's constantly trying new things, new ideas and gameplay elements. Each of his games, even the ones that are quite similar to one another are almost always refining his idea and visions into something more compelling to play. In short the guy works hard in a field where so many others like him are content to just rehash the same tired old tropes and ideas over and over again. And I just wanted to take this time to highlight what he's all about. I know there are others here who appreciate his work already and maybe some more that hopefully will after this.

I unfortunately have been extremely busy with real life issues and things so that I wasn't able to get this blog up before Halloween, which was originally my intention. But hell, if you're like me every day is still a bit like Halloween anyway. If you've read this far I want to thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy Puppet Combo's special brand of horror.

Aparently there's rumors of Devolver Digital having been in talks with him to see some of his work published under them and who knows, maybe we'll see some console ports afterall?

Puppet Combo

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About Xeoone of us since 1:36 AM on 02.21.2011