Nun yer business
It’s great to see Puppet Combo’s short-form horror experiences reach a wider audience. Murder House was the first to land on consoles and Nun Massacre somehow stopped off on mobile devices. Now, Nun Massacre is making its way to consoles.
It’s one of his more popular titles among his fanbase. It’s distilled Puppet Combo. Murder House may have stuck fairly close to the survival horror formula, but Nun Massacre is the lo-fi slasher horror he’s more known for. However, there’s a lot to know about Puppet Combo before you decide to take the plunge.
I think I figured out why I like slasher games. Video games have lost the ability to scare me, but when faced with the literal embodiment of a lose state in a game, it’s hard not to panic. I mean, it even worked in retro games. Look at Sinistar.
Nun Massacre casts you as a hapless parent who is alerted to their child’s illness. Like any wise parent, you have sent them as far away as possible to a Catholic boarding school. Yet, somehow, they have found a way to interrupt your bath, and you need to go… kiss them better? You go to the boarding school, then find yourself hunted by a nun with a knife.
So, the goal is to unravel the mystery of the creepy boarding school and try not to die. Like, for example, why is it derelict? What went on here? Who chose to build it in a spot that is surrounded by cliffs? Say what you want about playground safety, I think I draw the line at heights from which a child can reach terminal velocity.
What follows is a PS1 game that didn’t exist but would have been awesome if it did. The visuals adopt the console’s limitations and the puzzles feel like something ripped out of Silent Hill or Resident Evil. Everything looks jaggy, the textures warp, and you need to find a gear so you can set a clock for some reason.
What would have been awesome on the PS1 is still awesome today. I think. Full disclosure: I still play PS1 games and think they’re awesome. However, I’m going to give you a few details right now that may deter you.
You’ll probably die. When you do, you start over. The Nun can kill you, sure, but she’s not as deadly as some of the insta-kill traps you can easily fall into. Some are obvious, and you feel dumb for falling for them, others you just kind of walk into. Considering that Nun Massacre is a game that requires exploration and experimentation, getting killed and starting over because you explored the wrong hole is never fun.
Thankfully, Nun Massacre is a rather short game. If you know what you’re doing, you can probably cruise through it in less than a half-hour. It just seems strange that the main gameplay loop is trial-and-erroring the protagonist into complete clairvoyance.
There are also a couple puzzles in the game that are pretty obtuse. One that annoyed me is that something in the environment says you need a wrench, which you never find. Instead, you come across a hex key, which I know better as an Allen key, but is also known as an Allen wrench. Nun Massacre could have just called it that to better its communication and clean up its nomenclature, but screw you.
Yet this kind of plays into Nun Massacre’s meat and potatoes. You’re supposed to wander around the school, searching through the gloom for stupid items because that gives time for the nun to hunt.
She sees you, then there’s screaming and the sound of a queue of fire trucks falling down an elevator shaft. Then you run and try not to hit a dead end. The nun can follow you everywhere, including into vents, so don’t think that will save you. If she sees you duck under a bed, you’re done. Thankfully, she’s… not that smart. Her AI has a number of interesting routines, such as hiding in wait. However, I never saw her react to the lighter, and I once walked past a room that she was peering out of the door from and she never reacted. Alien: Isolation, this is not, but chances are you won’t be thinking that when the nun is bearing down on you.
Added for the console version are some new difficulty options if you find the nun too ineffective. Also, if you’re wondering; yes, you can turn off the CRT filter. When the nun is nearby, the faux-VHS tracking goes nuts, and you can turn that off too. There’s also an option to toggle jump scares, but you can’t turn off what your imagination conjures. Still, it’s nice that adjust the game to your own tolerances.
Nun Massacre is effective horror in a small package. You can say what you want about the sometimes obtuse puzzles or how crappy it is to start over when you die, but that nun will really get your blood pumping.
The slasher horror genre isn’t quite as sparse as it was when Nun Massacre was first released in 2018, but it’s surprising how well it stands today. Its efforts to build tension, the sound design that keeps you peering over your shoulder, and its simple but confusing environment all build it into a harrowing adventure.
However, not everyone is going to be accepting of its more retro proclivities. Even beyond the horror barrier, Nun Massacre is a rather unfriendly game. I suppose if you’ve grown accustomed to the more accommodating nature of modern games, this might be a tough sell. For everyone else who is okay with a bit of tough love with their terror, Nun Massacre is a unique and entertaining experience. It makes the transition to console admirably. It’s perhaps best suited for the Switch, since you can play it on the toilet and it’s not so bad if you pee a little.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]