While Stian worked hard to assure October was rich in reviews for horror games, I wasted away the month doing a whole lot else. When asked if I had a contribution for this spookiest of months, I revealed that I was going to do a single review. Unlike Stian and his serious video games, I opted to play something comedic and surprising. I bid you all welcome to Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion.
A Fearsome Foe
A text scroll across the main menu reveals that we are a history enthusiast that has come to a small town to investigate the legend of a mysterious mansion atop a hill. As you venture inside, you are greeted by a cartoon ghost called Spooky, who challenges you to make it to the 1000th floor of her mansion. It’s an introduction that appears to set the game up as a parody, but it quickly reveals itself to be even trickier still.
While Spooky herself is a comical antagonist and the first floors of her mansion are hardly frightening, you begin to find notes that talk about experiments that took place in the mansion. It’s not long after that when you encounter real monsters who are out to murder you.
Storytelling in the game is sparse and the most interesting bits are the rare encounters with Spooky at certain milestones in the game. Each monster is also an interesting character, as they are references to famous horror series and creepy pasta stories. Each one is introduced through a special floor where the player finds notes about the monster and must solve tiny puzzles before proceeding, leading to their first encounter. The notes themselves are interesting, but the writing style is a bit stiff, save for the few bits of ominous poetry. Suffice it to say, I didn’t really grow a fondness for these monsters until I hit up the wiki and read about all the details and references fans dug up.
At the end of the road, the game has two twist endings that were both fun, if a bit sudden. The game isn’t too long and, while the story isn’t that gripping, I at least enjoyed it for what it is.
Story score: 6/10
Room after room
The game is about making it all the way to the 1000th floor of Spooky’s house, with checkpoints every 100 rooms. This might sound like a repetitive task and it sort-of is. You’ll soon find yourself disregarding the actual decor of the rooms and moving through them as fast as possible. You have a sprint meter and honestly might as well pin down the shift key for how much you’ll need it. You’ll find yourself entering a room, analyzing what kind of shape it is, and then dashing for the quickest exit to get to the next one: the most basic of speedrunning.
The tricky part comes in when the monsters are introduced. Each one first has you do a small puzzle or otherwise learn of its existence, after which it will spawn in and chase you. Each creature has its own mechanics, such as Specimen 6 who only moves in to attack when you aren’t looking, or Specimen 2 which will spawn puddles of goo that slow you down. Once a monster is introduced you’ll have to make it through a number of rooms to lose it again, after which the game resumes at its normal pace. However, any monster that was introduced can randomly spawn in to chase you again afterward, so you never quite know when you need to deal with them again.
All these foes add a neat twist to the existing goal of crossing rooms quickly, but the difficulty of each individual monster can vary. Some of them hardly require any attention at all, such Specimen 3 & 4. Unless you end up in a room with a dead-end you fall for, it’s entirely possible to finish the game without ever even looking at these enemies. I finished the game twice and didn’t discover what specimen 7 looked like until I looked it up online. On the flipside, some foes are way too strong, such as the tedious stealth bits that introduce specimen 12.
At the very least it’s unique and the occasional monster chase spiced up the gameplay well, even had me panicking when faced with the fearsome “locked” message when trying to open a door. Finding out what new monsters are about to reveal themselves also keeps up the interest and had me burning through those 1000 rooms quickly. Still, it feels like some refinement is in order here and perhaps spicing up the puzzle mechanics of the special rooms would have gone in the game’s favor.
Gameplay score: 7.5/10
HD Renovation you say?
I first played this game when it came out as a free-to-play title under the name Spooky’s House of Jump Scares, so I was surprised when I saw an HD remake was available for 9.99. I was even more amazed when I bought it and had to try my hardest to figure out where all the HD was at.
Spooky goes for a fun mixture of styles, where the graphics are simplistic and fun, yet the monsters are as creepy as you’d expect. Environments and objects within them are simply shaped and have bright, flat colors with little to no shading, making them appear very much like they belong in a cartoon. Spooky herself fits in perfectly, with her cute design that looks more at home in Adventure Time. The specimen, however, are genuinely creepy and use art-styles that don’t fit in the brightly-colored world of the game, making them feel even more alien.
Despite looking fine, I still couldn’t differentiate the original game from this HD renovation. Some of the monsters are now completely 3D models instead of sprites, that much is true, but the game still uses flat sprites in many other places, which still look as janky as ever. They also made some areas really dark and as somebody who struggles with seeing in the dark, that was a major bother. They also do this annoying thing where picking up letters only enlarges them slightly and you have full control of the camera. I’d rather just have the text fill the screen so I can at least read it without having to strain my eyes.
While visually it’s mixed, the soundtrack is absolutely great! Each monster has its own theme, with tracks like “Breakfast was too late” fitting their character so well. Their sound-effects and dialogue are also well done and fitting of the characters, which is important as you need to figure out what’s chasing you and don’t usually have the luxury of turning around to find out.
Presentation score: 7.5/10
Mansion of the Endless
Besides the regular game, Spooky has a few additional modes for players to partake in. There is an Endless mode that is not only an endless variety of the regular story mode, but also has enhanced versions of the existing monsters and allows for several of them to chase you at the same time. Heck, you can even get in a situation where duplicates of the same monster are after you. Additionally, this mode also comes with room designs not seen in the main game.
There is also a mode that lets you play the game without monsters, which is more of a joke and kind of robs the game of its purpose. The HD Renovation also comes with the Kalamari Hospital DLC thrown in, which is probably its saving grace when you consider the lackluster visual upgrade. Even then, this is more a support-the-developer version of the original freeware game, and I don’t regret buying it with that in mind.
There is a mapmaker tool in the works, but not currently available.
Extras score: 8/10
The HD Renovation is a neat, premium version of the original game and while it’s not quite worth it if you just want to play through the campaign once, it does enough to be worth the extra investment if you value features like the endless mode, pacifist mode, and future mapmaking options. If, like myself, you’ve played the game before and like the idea of replaying it while supporting the developer, then this is also a good option.
Either way, Spooky is an homage to many fantastic horror stories, with its specimen referencing everything from classic movies to internet creepy pasta. The gameplay can be repetitive and dull when no monsters show up, even frustrating at times, but the remarkable mixture of actual horror and charming, cartoon comedy does a good job at keeping you interested until the end.