Death, dismemberment, and demons, all just in time for Halloween
According to Irish folklore, Samhain is the day on the calendar when doorways between the land of the living and the land of the dead and other regions of the supernatural open at their widest. Over time, the day morphed into what we now call Halloween, a holiday where children’s minds are filled with thoughts of monsters while they stuff their mouths with candy that will eventually kill their bodies. It is also the night when the most people on Earth can be found wearing slutty Luigi. The Yin and Yang, life and death relationship between teeth-rotting, blood sugar-spiking candy, and the horny Mario Bros. are just part of what makes this such a special time of year.
If you’re a Switch owner and you want to celebrate the day in a more off-beat way, these five new-ish games (most of which are also on PC) may do the “trick.” Unlike most conventional horror stories, these titles don’t always work hard to make you fear death. Instead, they allow the player to engage in contemplative, sometimes empowering relationships with the end of their lives, making them a perfect fit for Crom Cruach‘s big party.
I was not expecting much out of this game, but it really blew me away with its writing and voice acting. It’s not clear that any of the characters in Pinstripe are alive for any of our time with them, but they really come to life emotionally, especially Bo, your three-year-old daughter who faces a fate worse than death for most of your adventure. The game is about trying to save her from Pinstripe, a shadowy, devilish man who wants her for himself. It’s uncomfortable stuff, but never exploitative. It’s impressive how close the narrative comes to directly addressing serious topics like alcoholism and child abuse while never veering into territory that I’d hide from a ten-year-old.
The game’s puzzles are more hit or miss. They range from short re-appropriations of Flappy Bird to hidden object hunts straight out of Highlights magazine, though they’re all tailor fit for the narrative. There are also some limited-scope action sequences, usually involving shooting something with a slingshot or jumping on a dog with a big butt. They all range from fine-to-fun, but it’s the Burton-esque art direction, unsettling use of By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, and underlying themes of paternal guilt and addiction that really make this one work. It’s a rated-T 2D Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the modern era.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories
As Chris said in his review, there is a lot more to The Missing than you might glean from just the trailers. I’ve heard some people say that the game looks like another dread-filled 2D platformer in the style of Limbo or Inside, where grisly shock-value deaths lie around every corner, except that this time it’s an attractive young woman who gets repeatedly massacred. That’s not entirely untrue, but one of the things that makes The Missing special is the way it turns player motivations on their head, sometimes literally. Instead of wanting to run away from having your skull caved in or your legs cut off, you must run into these brutal attacks in order to progress, and it hurts every time.
Hurting herself is the only way for J.J. to save someone very close to her. In that way, The Missing forces the player to alternate between the roles of protector, victimizer, and victim on a constant cycle, and that’s all just in relation to controlling the game’s protagonist. It’s extremely intense, which makes me all the more thankful that the carnage is broken up by the occasional bursts of surreal comedy and in-game text messages that feel very real. Despite some issues with wonky physics and uneven difficulty curves, The Missing is a must-play game for fans of body horror, survivor stories, and anyone who knows what it’s like to be hated just for being yourself.
This new Fantasy Zone-meets-Metal Slug shmup from the mind of Yoshiro Kimura (Dandy Dungeon, Rule of Rose, No More Heroes, Little King’s Story) is also about a girl who dies and comes back again and again, but unlike in The Missing, the violence here is rarely masochistic. Instead of coming back broken and bloody, the star of Black Bird reanimates as a ghostly raven’s head who wreaks havoc on everything she sees. The message is also a little more difficult to parse. Do all the soldier-peasants look like Mario because the game is about struggling indie devs who want to let loose on the mindless mascot-worshiping consumer culture that often leaves them ignored? Would the world be better off if the spoiled innocence of nature rose up in a rage and destroyed mankind and all its environment-poisoning technology? Which has more of a right to exist, the vengeance of a dead child that left the world in ruin, or the lives of apathetic bystanders who did nothing but watch as that same child died in the streets?
I don’t have answers to those questions, but I do know that Black Bird makes it very fun to blow up things, and its soundtrack is already one of my favorite game scores ever. It’s a gibberish opera sung by passionate Muppets the likes of which we haven’t heard since LocoRoco, and better yet, many enemy spawn events are tied to the choral beats. This inherently fun fusion of sound and action combined with non-linear progression and a copiously deep combo system makes replaying the eight levels (four in the main game, four in new game plus) a pleasure to blast through every time. Though the game is technically pretty short, it has tons of secrets, unlockables, and random events to help every apocalyptic round of destruction feel fresh.
Friday The 13th: Killer Puzzle
Yes, believe it or not, this makes the fourth game to release on Switch this month where you play as some form of a dead person. This time though, the rotten face you take on will probably look more familiar, despite the fact that it’s hidden behind an adorable hockey mask. Like in the films from which he hails, Jason Voorhees is out for revenge again, but this time his murder spree takes place in a series of human jigsaw-like puzzles. Instead of movie pieces around a board, you move Jason, who’s basically the Superman of the slasher world; impossibly strong, able to move into your personal space in an instant, and vulnerable to very few obstacles. In this case, his forms of kryptonite include lakes, bear traps, and even getting arrested by the cops. Jason may be a mass murderer, but when it comes to interacting with the police, he’s downright polite.
Those things rarely slow Jason down though. His main problem here is, he can’t walk diagonally, and he can only stop moving when he hits a wall or someone to kill. That can make it hard to stroll up and decapitate a camper who’s hiding in a corner down by a bear trap next to the lake. While the first 10 stages or so are a little too easy, the next 100+ more than make up for it with smart design and satisfying solutions. The devs also worked all the DLC content from the Steam build into the Switch port with more natural, in-game unlocks. Now new versions of Jason are accessed via progressing through various modes and entering secret codes. That includes the return of the NES’s green and purple Jason to Nintendo consoles, which is a hallmark event for anyone who grew up with that particular iteration of our illustrious drowned boy.
Streets of Red: DDD
This may be the only game on the list where you play as a living person, but don’t you worry, it’s still got plenty of reanimated corpses to play around with. In fact, there’s at least one boss that bears more than a striking resemblance to the previously mentioned Voorhees child, though this mama’s boy is more of a parody and less of direct representation. He’s just one of the many satirical tributes to horror film icons. You could almost think of the game as co-op horror Smash Bros., as it has similarly simple inputs, but with a crossover of game characters mixed in with the lookalikes of The Demogorgon, Freddy, Colossus Titan, and the one who scares me most of all, none other than Jim Sterling.
We also just received word that the game is about to get a whole lot bigger. As you can see in the trailer above, it’s getting a free update, tentatively set to go live on Halloween. The patch includes a good amount of new content, including new bosses, language options, and the implementation of online leaderboards, all alongside a temporary price drop.
I’ve helped advise the creator of Streets of Red on various aspects of the Switch port for a while now, so any praise from me may come off as biased, but hey, I’m not the only one who likes it. While all the games on this list come highly recommended, this is the only one that’s built for four players, so if you’re planning on partying this holiday, putting this on your Switch is the way to go.
This art by James “Illmosis” Beaver, entitled Horror Fight 2, is for sale right now and I can’t recommend it enough. I bought an 11×17 print of this piece last month, so I can attest to the print quality and paper stock, which are both top notch. If you have time for one last Halloween decoration before the 31st rolls around, don’t be afraid to pick it up.