Deja Womb

Spooky PS1-adjacent games have become a fully fleshed out subgenre of indie horror. While I was browsing through options to play this Spooktember I discovered Torture Star Video’s gorgeous looking Bloodwash, but my excitement faltered when I saw it was a Puppet Combo joint under a new label. Despite my dislike for Murder House and some of their smaller titles I do want to believe in Puppet Combo, otherwise I wouldn’t keep playing these. In terms of presentation you’d be hard pressed to find many other horror games that look and sound as good as their output. Unfortunately I’ve yet to play a single one that I’ve actually enjoyed all the way through, and Bloodwash has not changed that. 

The premise is gloriously grizzly, peak exploitation horror material. You play as a pregnant college student named Sara stuck in a terrible relationship and shitty apartment. You need to do your laundry so you can make a good impression at a job interview tomorrow. Unfortunately the unit in your building’s basement is busted so it’s off to the only 24/7 laundromat with you. Oh, one other important detail: there’s a serial killer on the loose in that area who’s been specifically targeting pregnant women week after week known as the Womb Ripper. Cool! Cool cool cool. 

Sara is the most likable protagonist in a Puppet Combo game thus far. She’s immediately sympathetic, she’s funny, she’s relatable, and she’s incredibly vulnerable. The voice acting is just the right amount of understated; most of what she sees early on is business as usual, which makes the pivot into slasherville hit harder. When things go off the rails she doesn’t lose her head, she puts everything she’s got into getting the hell out of there with her womb intact. I got Laurie Strode vibes off her towards the end and that’s the highest praise I can give. It’s a shame that everything around her does her a disservice.

There are no other characters in Bloodwash. Oh there are other people, they walk and talk, some of them even get murdered, but they’re all setpieces. No one affects the plot aside from Sara and the Womb Ripper, who sucks. Murder House‘s Easter Ripper was not executed especially well but at least they’re an identifiable, memorable slasher with a striking look. The Womb Ripper has no features, no personality. They’re effectively a piece of set dressing that runs around naked while stabbing people. Disappointingly, the Womb Ripper name ends up being a misnomer. Every kill that takes place during the game is a dude. There are some corpses found with their guts missing later on, but so what? We came here for rips! There aren’t any!

This lack of danger carries through for the entire game. Until the last area you are not being pursued or threatened because Bloodwash isn’t interested in putting you in dangerous situations. Instead things happen from a safe distance, or to someone else, or some other variable prevents you from being at risk. The presentation tries its damndest to convince you otherwise but it’s a lie. You’re here for a ride whether you like it or not.

So what happens for the entire duration of Bloodwash up until that point? Almost nothing. Find the broken washing machine in the creepy basement and discover a jump scare featuring a t-posing hobo. Get on a creepy bus full of foreshadowing events that never happen. Walk through a creepy shopping center parking lot. Load a washer with a 10 minute timer. Wander the shopping center. Move clothes to the dryer for another 10 minutes. Wander again. I am not kidding, the game gives you comic books to read and games to play with the expressed intention of killing time. 

You may think that this exploration would come into play later, setting up an area to survive the ripper’s assault later. You would be wrong. None of it matters. The best part of the entire experience was visiting Peepaw’s, which is run by Peepaw, a man that sells the 3 most important things: snacks, horror media, and porn. I’ve spent plenty of time in laundromats and let me tell you, people who leave their machines running unattended deserve to have their wombs ripped.

I couldn’t believe it when I realized that the game had wasted almost half an hour of its just-over-an-hour runtime. The first 1/2 of the game is establishing something that never comes! Thank goodness BW has chapter select because I cannot imagine anyone wanting to replay most of it. If this was a movie it would be strongly criticized for its lethargic pacing, just like many obscure slasher also-rans were.

Even when the game hits its mid-point and starts to deliver spooky punchlines to some of its setups, none of them land because of the lack of danger. A perspective change at the halfway point only sets up the existence of an item for later use. Murders happen, but they’re nowhere near the gorefests achieved in prior Puppet Combo titles. You spend almost all of your time just walking, reading, looking at things. There are no puzzles, no action, no suspense when you realize what the game is up to. They don’t even make use of any of the established locations, making the whole first half feel even more pointless. The climax, in Puppet Combo tradition, feels equal parts rushed and out of left field. There’s a post credits stinger which I won’t spoil, but it contains an attempted scare so goofy that it sent myself and friends into a giggle fit.

Look, I love schlock horror. Truly I do. But it needs to feel genuine; a team of creators working their asses off to create something as close to their vision as possible. Bloodwash doesn’t have a vision. Bloodwash doesn’t even feel like it’s trying to do its best impression of the genre. Instead of being a tribute to the media that it resembles, it’s a tribute to Puppet Combo itself: another ripper, another set of retro textures and filters, another Youtuber voice cameo to cater to the intended audience of internet spectators, another goofy out of place ending. I’ve played this before, and I don’t want to play it again.

A Steam code was independently purchased for review.