Warning: As with any scary game, most will want to experience the spookiness fresh, without spoilers. The following will totally spoil Eversion in its entirety. Note that I'm so much of a scaredy cat that I still derived an amount of fun after hearing mild spoilers of the game but for purists, you should totally just play the game now. It's a cheap and quick thrill. You can probably beat it in a half-hour and come back to read this.
Cold, hard, lies.
Horror and I have an awkward relationship. I can't stand tension, dread, suspense, or the scaries. That rising heartbeat, the tensing of the muscles, leading up to an explosive outburst with a rush of adrenaline is something real horror fans thrive off of. That palpable feeling of terror is like a drug for most but I'm no addict baby, no siree. I ain't about that wacky tobacky Jack. I'm clean and sober and also a pussy, you see gee? Please don't scare me.
Resident Evil 4 is about the only game that's even remotely close to horror and we all know RE4 struck a balance between pants goldmine cave-in and Die Hard that only saw the balance slide in favor of Die Hard: The Musical. Any horror game people talk up, I simply look it up on YouTube and derive a poor, sad sense of satisfaction knowing that watching it is as far as I want to go, rather than play it and feel the dark clench of evil wrap around me like a slow fear fart creeping out of my cheeks. I stay out of horror's way and horror stays out of my way, you dig cat? It helps that horror is very clear in marketing: Silent Hill has deep, foggy covers, Resident Evil has gritty, dirty color schemes, and Outlast is just a disturbed mind trapped in night vision mode. So imagine how perplexed I was when I take a gander at a friend's Steam review of Eversion.
Huh? Lovecraft? With rainbow font?
Eversion's box art completely ignores the common traits many horror games use to indicate that it is indeed a spoopy game for people who want a spoopy time. The preview image is bright, cutesy, and is in no way threatening unless such a colorful palette was able to give you diabetes. What really doesn't add up is that you'll see this preview image first, then see the tags to confirm what kind of game it is. Is it a platformer? Yes. Is it indie? Yes. Is it Lovecraftian? Whoa, hold on a sec Jimmy, you lost me there. Did you just say Lovecraftian? And horror? This is just the start of our descent into the rabbit hole. The game doesn't begin at start for me. It started at the sales page where my senses tell me Mario rip-off but my eyes seem to be playing tricks on me. How does a game that uses as many pixels as the average NES game become a horror experience?
Turns out, less is more.
Eversion is about cliche as you can get in the beginning. You're a weird little dude named Zee Tee who must travel across the land in a left-to-right manner to find and rescue the fair princess of the Flower Kingdom. It's so simple in its conceit, it lures you in a that classic false sense of security. Go right, jump on monsters, and collect more stuff than an episode of Hoarders starring Banjo-Kazooie. In no time at all, you'll come to a roadblock by design. You can't move forward and there's no point in going back unless by go back you want turn off this game and go make a sandwich. So naturally you wander around the screen to find an eversion point. Zee Tee has the ability to cross over to parallel realities, which in this case allows him to bypass obstacles à la Nintendo dark worlds like Zelda or Metroid Prime. Early on you'll find eversion points that will allow Zee Tee to cross back and forth to exploit the different rules of each. In the first dimension for example, clouds are just background images. In the second layer however, they act like actual platforms you can jump on.
Notice how I painstakingly detail how you evert forward than evert back in one example though. In this very short game, you'll find eversion to be a subtly menacing mechanic. One which seemingly unravels your sanity each time you evert forwards in dimensions. Like a trans-dimensional travel machine gone wrong, you'll gradually evert fowards into alternate realities but not back to your happy, home dimension. Every time you evert forwards, the world loses a bit more color, a bit more music, and becomes more hostile and disturbed. It's easy to see as your enemies start out as happy little Goomba knock-offs and slowly transform into mute, expressionless oddities until finally becoming creatures possessed by an unspeakable madness. The music becomes a more and more twisted beat that urges you forward to escape your current reality until eventually you're playing in eerie silence. The landscape doesn't just become more desolate and sad but it becomes openly hostile to you. Ordinary bushes that prove to be simply background at first become thorny vines that kill you. I've played levels several times to collect items I'd missed before and the Lovecraftian horror claws still creep me out as they reach out to me from the depths of each blood red pool. Even the very mechanics and design of the game seem to go crazy, as if to confirm that the game isn't just going crazy; its trying to drag you down with it. The score counter goes insane, your deaths transform from simply animations to full on blood explosions, and by far the worst part of it is the small collection of randomly assigned splash messages which range from slightly humorous (Get ready... to die!) to downright horrifying after playing for awhile (Behind you).
What starts as a happy, joyful little journey gradually turns into an experience I wish would stop. In the beginning, sometimes I'd evert forwards someplace creepy than back to normalcy. Further in, I might evert forwards then go a few levels going back and forth, like I'm promised some amount of normalcy in this game. But the further you get to the impending end of this short game, the more you realize that you're only going to evert further and further into a nightmarish dreamscape which mirrors a descent into madness and stress. Eventually there is only silence save for the sound of your jumping and the hell claws that try to rend you into a thousand pieces of shattered confidence. No matter how much I prepared myself before buying this game that something was going to go horribly wrong, there's nothing quite like experiencing the jarring transition from depressing fields to 7th circle of hell for yourself.
There's a moment midway where a block is enticing you to hit it. Maybe something good will happen for once. Maybe this seemingly unimpressed face block can show me something better? But as soon as you hit it, the world around you comes crumbling down and the once somber world that linked you to a happier place has suddenly everted you forward someplace very dark and very disturbed with no hope of return. The face on the block is now frozen in an expression of sheer terror and all you can do is move forward and witness what else this sick little game will show you with its limited tech set. The worst part is that every time you've traveled dimensions before, it was by your will, after finding a very specific warp point. This time and further along, you'll find that just like a person going certifiably insane, there is no control and no warning to manic episodes of dementia. Once you start falling, you don't magically slow down thanks to prescription drugs or important story plot points. As if the power of eversion had been forbidden all along, you now find yourself plummeting into a pit of evil filled with malicious plant life, unnerving creatures, frightening claws, and in some levels a scrolling wall of doom and oblivion.
This game isn't really forgiving either. The platforming is strict and difficult like games of yore and you'll find yourself dying a lot in order to perfect runs and collect all the gems. Out of the many things that unnerve me, dying for the fifth time on a stage only to be greeted at the ready screen with, "I See You," makes me genuinely glance around my room nervously as if I really am being spied upon by some invisible, menacing force. Every frustrating death at a difficult curved jump or a super strict leap of faith while trapped in a world populated only by living nightmares leaves a piece of my sanity stranded in some negative zone as I trudge onwards into this god forsaken desert called a game.
The real kick in the balls is the ending. None of them, except maybe the last secret ending, are particularly happy endings. And all of them have an unnerving atmosphere of pure, 100%, unadulterated dread as the environment goes full on Lovecraft around you and the music transforms into something only appropriate when you're surrounded by impenetrable mists with someone, or something, lurking within them.
Eversion is a game that manages to disturb me at my core. It surpasses simple horror via jump scares like dumping cold water on me through sudden monster appearances. Instead Eversion soaks you in a warm bath, all the while slowly turning the heat up until its too late to realize that my blood is boiling from out of my skin. It promises scenes of cutesy color and systematically lowers you someplace dark and forbidden. Its like you assume your party host is dimming the lights for mood but it turns out he's just fading to black before turning you into his next Hannibal-inspired art piece. Perhaps this the kind of horror someone who doesn't have an active palette in horror should consume. Not necessarily through false promises and subversion but rather through a slow burn that puts you in a situation of terror and dread before you even realize it. Instead of wandering a dirty Spanish village and hearing a chainsaw go off in the distance to trigger my response, I'll wander an ordinary landscape for a few minutes, not noticing that the a fog is slowly choking my vision until a dark hand creeps onto my shoulder and whispers something unintelligible into my ear.
Crap, I just composed this all before going to bed.