Ever watched one of those reality shows where a team of “ghost hunters” go into a haunted location, discuss its history and pretend to be freaked out by every ambient noise that wafts in from anywhere nearby? Yea, they were all over tv for a little while. I always wished that something would show up and scare the piss out of them, not out of some desire of vindication for the existence of an after life, nor do I want to see them being eaten by some eldritch horror of Cthulu’s nightmares, but because I wanted to see them shit their pants. The pants-shitting part would be left on the editing floor, I am sure, but it would still be fucking fantastic. I want the little girl from this game to be in the house when it happens because being able to jump between the world of the living and the spirit world would make trolling these guys insanely easy and entertaining.
First, Elena is the main character and a young girl. Her father has disappeared somewhere in the bowels of the Willows, where he is the caretaker. After setting out for the mansion in a fit of female protagonism to make Samus proud, she gets jumped by a banshee of some kind and falls backward… breaking through a little-girl-sized area that falls through to the catacombs beneath the mansion. Shit gets heavy fast in this game as the catacombs are where the Willows family buried all its dead… for fucking centuries. So you’re this little girl hanging out with a bunch of centuries-old coffins when you’re jumped by this spirit of a bereft native american (Imma just say indian cause it’s shorter and I am apparently an indecent ‘Murrican with no sense of racial differentiation) that decides to lend you his aide and show you the ways of the for… I mean astral projection passed down by his people. Apparently until him, I guess.
Using this ability to send your soul out of your drooling human meat-husk, you can solve irritating little mazes in the walls, open doors otherwise locked and talk to people long since dead. It really is a lot of fun, and half of the fun in the game is exploring the labyrinthine rooms of the mansion and the many annexes on its grounds. After growing up in a reasonably aged house (149 years old is old-ish for East Coast America), I know that feeling of exploring an ancient building searching for evidence of its secret past. Finding lost loves, betrayals and sadness sitting in the coagulating dust: And Elena gets to see it all as if firsthand from the spectral mouths of the dead. You’ll also find fragments of the stories of the various dead laying around the mansion. Through pieces of ancient journals, you’ll be able to follow a story of sadness from the distant east to its conclusion in the founding of your hometown.
But all is not well in the peeling walls of the mansion, and Elena soon finds herself beset with as many foes as friends. Throughout the mansions the shattered pieces of an ancient agony skitter and hiss like cockroaches nesting in the walls. When you get close to a friendly ghost your father’s amulet, which you wear at all times, glows with a ghostly hue and thrums along with your heartbeat. Come across some element of spectral evil and it glows red, thrumming with its own agitation. And if you think that these enemies are just some negative energies that you can ditch with some clean living and good karma, you’re wrong. No amount of happy-thoughts will dish you out of this one. Get hit by an enemy, doesn’t matter what, you’re fucked. Checkpoints in this game are pretty reasonably spaced, too. Hit a major plot point and your game will save.
Puzzles in this game are also very fun and doable. Sometimes you will find yourself wondering if you missed something, as they can be deceptively simple at times. I know I could have gotten this game done an hour sooner if I hadn’t said “This shit isn’t working! I must have missed something or walked past something!” Nevertheless, each puzzle is simple and pretty cool when you finish it up. I didn’t need to call up the answers from the internet at any point, but at some point I really really wanted to, as the game doesn’t always just fucking tell you where to go. If that was the case, how much fun would it really be? Precisely. Story-telling in this game is very well done, too. It all makes sense and it adds a dark and enjoyable ambiance to the game. It is a game that kids will love and that adults can certainly enjoy. It has some elements of being serious with some pretty harsh topics, like genocide, but it still maintains the winsome feeling of a mystical world as viewed through the eyes of a young girl. More games should be like this.
Sound and music in this game are nearly indistinguishable from one another with everything being geared toward the creepiness. It is listed as horror, but it is really not that horrible. At times it might get your pulse up, but the game is generally more fun for its puzzle, adventure and storyline aspects. Not to mention the art. As is the case with indies, nearly everything in this game is a piece of art unto itself. Just looking at the buildings and the environments is a treat. Overall, a great indie title that is worth the 14.99$ they ask for on Steam.
So numerous times in the game they mention how the mansion is in a location where “the fabric of the world is thinner than other places”. And this is reasonable. Plenty of people report that places where Native Americans lived are thick with the linger sense of spiritual resentment. Thus, these places tend to have a high incidence of haunting reports. The Willows Mansion is no exception. This place is like fucking Grand Central Station for spirits. The thing that is most annoying about this is that it’s Grand Central Station. Ever been there? It’s full of all kinds of fucking people! There are spirits in this mansion that are part of the story. Finding them in the sea of all the ghostly faces that have nothing to fucking do with anything is like finding a contact lens in a fucking pool. There is a couple in front of the mansion that discuss how cold they are, there is a soldier that tells you how he and his girlfriend wanted to do their nasty business in the conservatory and I swear to god there is an undead hoagie salesman somewhere in that fucking place. Not sure what a hoagie is? Fuck you, go to a Wawa. (for those going to the Wawa link, I would like to point out how fucking fake that white car in the parking lot looks. They seriously fucking shopped it in.) Whatever, at least in a place full of fucking dust and dead-heads you can find a fucking hoagie.