Indie horror continues to be an especially abundant subgenre. There are more projects in various states of completion than anybody could reasonably keep track of, which makes collections like the Haunted PS1 discs so very useful. This year’s was particularly well curated, with some demos so strong that I personally wishlisted several after completion. I’ll be covering my five favorites here ending with my most-favoritest, but first…
HONORABLE MENTION: Mothered
Mothered is a really cool game from Jamie Gavin ENIGMA STUDIO, which has had a remarkably solid track record thus far for creating tense, surreal, unsettling experiences. Thing is, Mothered is already part of that track record. Because it’s been out for 9 months. I don’t really know exactly why it’s here, though I’m certainly not complaining because it’s excellent. Just makes a recommendation tricky because you could just, you know, go play it! Which is what I would suggest. Go hug a mannequin.
Edit: Apparently this demo coincides with a free DLC for the full game, because Gavin is a class act. There may also be reason to return to the demo after playing the real thing for additional content, because Gavin is a mad-dev.
#5: Future Reality
I can’t say I’ve ever played a horror/racing game before unless Halloween tracks in kart racers count. Future Reality is admittedly light on horror unless you have a particular aversion to meat, but boy does it deliver a Brazilian steakhouse’s worth of carne. It’s a flight racer, something that’s been fairly hard to come by, where racers are trying to balance staying ahead with collecting the “refuse” that seems to keep growing throughout the track. Pick some up and it’ll allow you to either refill your shields or boost depending on how aggressive you’re feeling. Protein and sinews make for excellent jet fuel, turns out.
The game’s sense of speed is solid when piloting the faster machines and the risk/reward of meat spending is excellent, like a more active version of F-Zero’s boost meter. My one criticism is with the draw distance – it’s impossible to see where all the meats are until you’re practically on top of them, meaning you’ll rely on memorization from lap to lap more than reactions. I’m not sure if that’s by design or a consequence of the visual style, but it’s a minor quibble considering you’ll need to learn the tracks anyway. Futuristic racers are rare these days, and this one delivers the kinds of thrills I often find myself going through withdrawals for.
#4: Nowhere, MI
Feverdream Johnny has burst onto the scene over the last few years, most notably with the excellent Peeb Adventures (the best game of 2021’s HPS1 batch). Nowhere, MI offers a substantially different pitch: a metroidvania directly inspired by Cryptworlds, one of my personal favorite entries in the ever growing “walk around a weird place and talk to weirdos while weird things happen” genre. Hell, there were at least 4 games on this disc I’d categorize as that, and this one was my favorite by a good margin.
It helps that it’s funny. Johnny’s sense of humor comes through in all of his works and Nowhere is no exception. It’s a land where cops appear to share a very stupid hivemind, monkeys have a tendency to end up in unfortunate situations, divers reproduce like algae, and at there is at least one (qty 1) wizard whose wife is upset with him. I’m compelled to play this on release just for closure on that beat alone, but the snappy first person platforming and gunplay with your sentient revolver will almost certainly keep me engaged past that.
#3: Blast Cats
Arguably the least “horrific” of my selections, Blast Cats is about as scary as Grabbed By The Ghoulies, and arguably less so because that game was also frighteningly awful and Blast Cats isn’t. I’m going to rattle off a bunch of platformers: Bomberman 64. Wario World. Sabrewulf (the GBA one specifically). Do I have your attention? Do you get the vibe? No? I’ll elaborate.
Blast Cats is a funky platformer with a fixation on bombs. You navigate the creepy mansion’s rooms, periodically entering side areas to earn necessary collectables via challenges. There’s a hammer you can use to bonk things and a couple other moves, but the bombs are the star of the show. Launching yourself great distances with pseudo-rocket jumps and taking out foes while working around time-delayed fuses is the norm, but there’s plenty of variety. We’ve got vehicle levels, platforming challenges, and other assorted action that keeps each area feeling fresh. What particularly impressed me was the chase sequence after grabbing the key items, in which a monster chases you through a gauntlet of remixed mansion rooms trying to take its treasure back while you race to the safety of the lobby. It’s somewhere between Wario Land 4‘s “HURRY UP” level crescendos and Mario 2‘s Phanto trying to take its key back as you run for your life. More platformers should have you outmaneuvering one very tenacious baddie.
Yet despite these seemingly disparate components and possible inspirations, Blast Cats feels uniquely satisfying. Tight platforming requirements but not relentlessly quick (at least not in the demo), instead focusing on taking several attempts to noodle on how best to tackle its bevy of obstacles. It’s creative, clever, and most importantly smile-inducing.
#2: 10 Dead Doves
Horror comedy is a remarkably challenging balance to strike. Too much horror and the comedy is a distraction, too much comedy and the horror feels forced. 10 Dead Doves gripped me for the entirety of its runtime with a perfect balance between the two, and the most bewildering part is that I’m not entirely certain it was trying to.
Ok, I think it was. You don’t stick this landing by accident. There’s no way you write this demo’s dialogue and think it’s serious top to bottom…right? But I don’t know that, I can’t know that (unless the dev wants to chat, which I’d be all ears for). For every comedic beat there’s a spooky one, for every bit of tension-building dialogue there’s goofy inter-character banter, and for every featureless bird-man-hybrid typing on a typewriter in a white void there’s…there’s actually just one of him. He doesn’t really have an equivalent. It’s fine, he’s fine, he’s doing great.
The thing is, I don’t need to know what the demo was going for to know that I loved it from start to finish. Whatever it tried I found it succeeded at. Amazing Siren-style human faces? Check. Dialogue that felt like it came from real people filtered through a Twin Peaks-inator? Check. A horror sequence towards the end that legitimately works on every level despite all the aforementioned goofery? AAAAAH. This thing surprised and delighted me every moment of its runtime and I cannot wait to see if that continues for the duration of the full release. In terms of sheer potential this might just be the strongest of the demos.
#1: House of Necrosis
This was literally the last demo I played in the compilation, and to be honest I went in with no substantial expectations. You play as a member of a team sent to investigate a creepy mansion filled with zombies? Sounds a bit familiar. And you know, in a way it is. What I couldn’t have been ready for was a look into an alternate timeline, one where Chunsoft came up with Resident Evil instead of Capcom. House of Necrosis is a peak into that world, and if its quality is any indication it’s a timeline I wish I could at least visit.
In what’s arguably the most PS1-authentic game of the pack both visually and mechanically, we have a traditional roguelike presented with appropriately chunky polygons. HoN has got everything that made them brilliant since the creation of Rogue itself: Grid movement! I-go-they-go turn structure! Carefully aiming every single attack lest you swing at the air and get your ass whooped! Unidentified items that could be deadly poison or a stat boost that you’ll just have to try once to figure out!
It’s got all the things I love about the genre and its not-too-far-offshoots, but with some fascinating changes to the traditional formula. Switching between third and first person modes isn’t just a matter of preference; third gives you a good sense for your surroundings and makes aiming easier but first allows you to see further ahead, making hallways and long-ranged attacks more viable. Some enemies hide on the ceiling, requiring you to watch for their shadows and shoot the seemingly-empty square before they get the drop on you. It’s a brilliant twist on a familiar formula, and I found myself making constant use of it.
Lest you think they’d forgotten Resident Evil, no, there are still safe rooms! They crop up periodically between floors, offering a respite in the form of an herb, an item box that stores things upon each visit, and the obligatory chill music. Finding these always felt like a godsend, both a moment to collect yourself as well as a signifier of a milestone reached. By the time I took on floor 7’s boss (which was as well designed as it was genuinely creepy) I was hooked, which made hitting the end of the demo feel almost like something had been taken away from me.
We live in an era dominated by roguelites, and while I enjoy those plenty I’ve always had a lot of affection for the older school of design. House of Necrosis offers that, but with oft unseen inspirations for a roguelike and just the right mix of old and new concepts. This is better than a remake, it’s an unmaking of the games of that era that uses their parts to make something truly new, and what is here is glorious. It would take me meeting the business end of a bus to stop me from playing this the day it comes out.