Best played while crossing your legs
For something I never really directly experienced myself, I have a lot of nostalgia for the halcyon days of the slasher flick. The days where the good stood alongside the bad, and it didn’t really matter which you got. You were in it to watch unrestrained filmmakers try to scare, disturb, or gross you out. They could be as tacky as they wanted to be, there was a market for it.
I’m too young, which is a phrase that, at my age, always makes me laugh. But maybe something stuck with me. Maybe it was glimpses of the offputting covers of those forbidden VHSs that I saw as a kid. Perhaps I have fond memories of a grade school friend who, even at their too-young age, had a passion for horror.
Whatever it is, I’ve been drawn to the interactive horror experiences that seem to have been spurned by indie studio Puppet Combo. Combining PS1 visuals with slasher tropes, there’s nothing quite like these lo-fi titles. Bloodwash comes to us from Henry Hoare and Jordan King and is published by Puppet Combo’s label, Torture Star Video. It’s everything we’ve come to expect and more.
Developer: Black Eyed Priest, Henry Hoare
Publisher: Torture Star Video
Released: September 16, 2021
The premise of Bloodwash gave me pause. You’re a young, pregnant woman who is out doing laundry while a killer is on the loose. This murderer, named the “Womb Ripper” by the media, is butchering women and taking their unborn children. So, you know, the perfect night for a woman like Sara to go out and do laundry alone.
The reason I hesitated is because of the concept for the villain, which, while not completely unique, is nonetheless disturbing. However, my appreciation for its late-night strip mall atmosphere won out, and I decided to give it a chance.
Boiled down, Bloodwash follows pretty close to the “walking simulator” genre. There isn’t that much in terms of action, but there is some. Most characters stay in static locations, but that’s just a general guideline, not a rule.
You do what is literally written on the box, which is laundry. You’ve got a job interview tomorrow, and you find that the machine in your apartment is out of order, and the only 24/7 laundromat is on the outskirts of the city. Also, the last bus to get there is arriving soon. It’s dangerous to go alone, but you do it anyway.
Where Bloodwash succeeds the most is with its atmosphere. While many of Puppet Combo’s titles have been based in abandoned locations and houses, Bloodwash takes place in a populated area, which gives the illusion of immediate safety. You aren’t alone, but, like, in a good way. There’s a guy working at the pizza place and pawnshop, and even in the laundromat, there’s another patron and a staff member there.
I mean, you know things are going to go terribly wrong, but when there are people around, you’re left wondering how the carnage is going to start.
An interesting twist is that you can do just about anything while waiting for the laundry to finish. You can explore the plaza, talk to people, learn about the deeper mystery at play, or you can literally just read a comic book, watch television, or hit the arcade. There are lots of ways you can just screw around if you want to. You’ll probably feel more satisfied if you uncover the background details, but I’m not your mom.
The enjoyable atmosphere is a helpful way to offset the fact that Bloodwash leans heavily on jump scares; not too far removed from the subject matter it’s based upon. The PS1 graphics allow for the complete, open display of some pretty gruesome scenes, without the gore taking center stage.
The time-waster content is pretty excellent as well. The comics are extremely well done to the point where they almost justify the price tag on their own. The actual game is lightweight at about 1-2 hours, but if you play as organically as possible, it can be stretched out across multiple playthroughs.
To answer a question that will be lingering on some people’s minds, yes, you can turn off the VHS and CRT filters you see in the screenshots. Combined with PS1 visuals — including warping, pixellated textures — it can be a bit much. I left them on, but I don’t think the atmosphere would be worse off without them.
I’m largely fascinated by Bloodwash’s approach to the subject matter. While it sticks to slasher conventions, the amount of agency you’re given and the choice of locale helps it stand out, even among the lo-fi horror crowd. The plot may be your usual ghost-story schlock, but that’s exactly what was aimed for, and it’s accomplished satisfyingly.
Bloodwash is a horror snack, just like the low-budget VHS’s you found in the back of the video store. It’s a tight little package that thrills in small measures. The perfect way to spend an evening. Nothing that will tax you too much, but won’t leave you feeling empty, either.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the author.]