It’s here! And this time it’s spoopy!
Dread X is back with its newest entry in the horror-gamejam-anthology series, making it a trilogy. This time everyone was given 10 days to make spooky/cute hybrids. No more time for preamble! Spoiler-free spoop evaluations await!
The hub: We’ve been given another hub this time, proving that the hub from DX2 is a very tough act to follow. There are barely any puzzles so finding all the ritual candles to unlock the games can be done extremely quickly, and it doesn’t actively mess with the player in the same manner the manor from the previous collection did.
There is the addition of periodic dialog with a ghost sharing your character’s head, which is a good idea if a bit awkwardly executed, but I never found it particularly engaging and in more than one instance wanted to just get on with things so I could play the games. Overall it feels like 1 step forward 2 steps back. It’s fine enough to walk around in, don’t get me wrong, but don’t feel like you’re missing anything massive by just selecting freeplay this time around.
Bubbo: Adventure on Gerald’s Island – This was my first game of the collection and I couldn’t have asked for a better start. An adorable setting, moving text effects that make all the written dialog entertaining to look on top of being funny, solid platforming controls, and plenty of well executed weirdness with subject matter that’s close to my eldritch heart.
If I had one complaint it’s that the endings don’t wrap things up so much as screech to a stop, but that’s a very minor quibble when everything else is so polished. Overall I thought this was a fantastic time over multiple playthroughs and I very much look forward to playing more of Breogán Hackett’s games going forward.
Reactor – As I’m committed to not spoiling the content of these games I can only talk so much about Reactor. What I can say is that it has phenomenal aesthetics and presentation all around; it’s a very cinematic experience and I mean that in a positive way. With the exception of a slightly goofy segment towards the end it maintains its tone perfectly the entire time. There are also vistas aplenty, all wallpaper worthy, especially towards the end. Is it as stylized as Solipsis? Not quite, but few games are. This is still a solid scary spacewalk.
Matter over Mind – I see how a game like MoM could work. It’s conceptually solid if not wholly original, reminiscent of other reverse-horror games only this time with a cute blobby protagonist. Unfortunately this one is hobbled by jank at every turn. Being unable to hop back into necessary bodies because their heads fall through furniture, waiting to charge every jump making platforming slow, extremely spotty hit detection for you and enemies alike, and seemingly no point to the hard-to-see collectables hampers what enjoyment there is to be had in the game’s 1 level. It certainly feels like an authentic PS1 demo, but one that wouldn’t sell too many copies.
Chip’s Tips – I’m increasingly convinced that Torple Dook is the Dread X MVP as he’s currently 3/3 for great submissions. Hand of Doom and Undiscovered were both some of the sharper games in their respective collections and Chip’s Tips continues that tradition. It may not quite lean as hard into its Harvester influence as I’d have hoped, but it makes up for the lack of spooks with a relentless barrage of jokes delivered with some of the best voice acting any Dread X game has had. The game is the absolute best version of itself, fully realizing and utilizing its scope and concept, and the results are hilarious. I’ll play anything TD puts out going forward. ORT.
Soul Waste – The recent trend indie of low-poly/PS1-likes has led to the creation of a bunch of games that don’t really “get” the system they claim to emulate, often copying aesthetic and mechanical decisions the original games made without understanding why they were made in the first place. Soul Waste not only understands what it’s styling itself off of and fully makes use of it, it also knows exactly when to break tradition in order to provide a better play experience without shattering the illusion.
Simply put: SW is a PS1 love letter that takes full advantage of actually having draw distance and processing power on PC without compromising the look and feel of the era. The controls take a bit of getting used to but work wonderfully, allowing for all kinds of momentum trickery that you’ll use to slap baddies and dodge obstacles. It plays smoothly on controller and keyboard/mouse, though I obviously recommend the former for maximum authenticity. The only criticism I have of the entire experience is some repetitive music in the main area. That’s it. This was some of the most fun I had in DX3 and I highly recommend giving it a go. I’ll definitely be revisiting it soon.
Sato Wonderland – Like Reactor, it’s difficult to talk about Sato Wonderland without ruining it as it’s very story focused and very short. To summarize: it’s a game about figuring out why an AI did something. You do so via combining discussion topics in different ways to trigger different responses in a manner vaguely similar to cross examination with evidence in an Ace Attorney game. By the end I found myself a bit disappointed with the twist but that impact was lessened by it only being about 10 minutes long, and a longer game may have just felt drawn out whereas this feels just about right for what it is. An enjoyable experience, albeit one I may not come back to.
Disparity of the Dead – God dammit this was so close. The opening of DotD is stellar and the hook of collecting soul orbs while talking to weirdos and stitching clues together is strong. The presentation is top notch as well with PS1 aesthetics nailed to the level of Soul Waste and unsettling audio, in particular the conversation noises that are unique to each NPC.
My issue here is that the ending, such as it is, feels like the devs bunted when they were set up to smack this thing out of the park. The tension built up through most of the play is top notch but never given a chance to pay off. Despite its flaws this left such an impression on me that it’s the one I would love to see developed into a larger project the most. There’s an incredible skeleton to DotD. I hope we get to see it fleshed out someday.
Nice Screams at Funfair – Nice Screams is a game sandwich with two short films containing a playable center. This is kind of an unfair description as the opening and ending sequences are interactable, but they’re mostly on rails so you don’t really have much for agency. That said, the visuals and in particular the music are so ridiculously well done that I found myself not caring. Sure it’s short, and the game really doesn’t have much to it, but does that really matter when the result is this enjoyable? 10/10 presentation, also I guess there was a game in there.
Submission – I don’t have a lot of affection for meta games and Submission, despite some clever comedy, doesn’t buck the trend. Perhaps it’d hit home a bit harder for the devs out there and as such I recognize I may not be the target audience, but regardless of its twists it’s just a slog to actually play. The game’s simple puzzles are strung out by having to sit through multiple un-skippable transitions and punching in answers to puzzle sequences you solved ages ago just to progress past simple obstacles. In many ways this feels like the inverse of Nice Screams, forcing you to play through tedium instead of just moving things along with a cutscene. Also I still very much want to play the game it pretends to be. My Gambit Engine meter is full.
SPOOKWARE @ the Videostore – I love WarioWare an unhealthy amount. I own them all, play them all, love them all. And SPOOKWARE, despite its charming skelebros, is no WarioWare.
There are two microgame collections here, one for keyboard and one for mouse. Neither are particularly fun. Some of them feel like they barely function, requiring memorization to get past them once the game speeds up even a little. I appreciate how well it integrates all sorts of horror movie mainstays into microgames but they just aren’t enjoyable to play. The best thing I can say about this is that it was short.
EDEN: Garden of the Faultless – What if you combined a Chao Garden with Monster Rancher and filled it with old testament angels? That’s Eden, and it’s one of the most unique games in any Dread X entry. Pet sim games are typically a slower paced genre but that’s certainly not true here. Get a faultless one, feed it, toss it into a tournament, unlock improvements in your garden, repeat until “THE GRAND EVENT” is won.
Monster raising games aren’t normally my thing but EDEN ended up being one of my favorite games in the pack. I’m a huge fan of the mostly texture-less look, as well as the unsettling ambience and “be not afraid“-adjacent creature designs. This is a weird one, make no mistake, but it’s a winner for sure.
Bete Grise – Finally we have Bete Grise, which is a very cute riff on the ever popular “do mundane tasks until they become less mundane” horror subgenre. I don’t want to diminish how effective this one is though – its pivot halfway through is as disturbing as it is entertaining, turning the game on its head in a really memorable way. It also helps that Pom is a likable lead and I never got tired of seeing how happy fixing vending machines through brute force made her.
Phew! That was a lot of spoops. Let’s tie this thing up and put a cute bow on it.
Overall, while I quite enjoyed this collection I ended up slightly preferring DX2. I found the games there to be slightly better on average, though Soul Waste is masterful and Chip’s Tips is comedy gold. That said, DX3‘s low points don’t sink as low as The Toy Shop or Arcadletra so it ends up evening out. The games on the whole are getting increasingly polished with each subsequent release and that’s really great to see. There’s still not much else that’ll give you as much Halloween fun for your dollar as Dread X does, and how better to get a curated offering from some of the best indie horror creators out there?
Review code provided by publisher.