Back in the golden age of VHS tapes and striped sweaters, the home video revolution brought about by these mysterious black boxes fueled the rise of cheaper movies, with the slasher genre finding its primary audience on the platform. These films were inexpensive to produce and, even when they were lackluster, often provided a good dose of fun and entertainment. This is the very atmosphere that developer Puppet Combo has embraced for years, and Murder House is their first VHS/PS1 aesthetic horror title to make its way to consoles.
Murder House sets the stage with a prologue where you play as a young child who wakes up in a mall photobooth after closing time. After exploring the mall, the child is kidnapped by a horrifying man in an Easter Bunny costume wielding a hook. Three years later, a small-time news crew visits the now-abandoned house that once belonged to a serial killer known as the Easter Ripper to shoot a story. The player takes control of the team’s overworked intern, Emma, who is tasked with performing menial chores around the house. When the crew discovers that the Easter Ripper is still in his old house, they become his next targets, and Emma must complete the Ripper’s twisted egg hunt to survive and escape.
Gameplay in Murder House doesn’t stray far from the familiar, taking clear inspiration from classic PS1 titles, such as Silent Hill. Characters move using tank controls, where pressing up or down will always move the character forward or backward based on their orientation, with left and right used to rotate. These controls work as well as tank controls usually do, and your experience with them may vary. However, I found them to be quite unruly when using the Pro Controller’s D-pad, leading to instances where I became stuck on walls or met an untimely end. While the fixed camera perspectives generally work well with the game’s mechanics, there were moments when the camera seemed to have a mind of its own, leaving me to navigate dark hallways while it stared blankly from a distance.
As you explore the house, you will find various items, usually keys, that can be used for plot progression or self-defense. One notable item is pencils, which are required to save the game, much like Resident Evil’s ink ribbons. While this requirement might normally irk me, the game’s short length of about 2-3 hours makes it a bit more tolerable.
Unfortunately, Murder House suffers from a significant issue that reared its ugly head on three separate occasions during my playthrough. Upon dying, the game would throw me back to the main menu, requiring me to load my most recent save. Multiple times, when I attempted to load my save file, the game crashed, booting me back to the Switch’s main menu. Even when the game didn’t crash, it would often freeze and stutter until the level had completely loaded, creating unnecessary tension and frustration. This problem made dying a much more frustrating experience than it should have been, which is the exact opposite of the desired effect in a horror game.
Despite these technical issues, Murder House offers an authentic and enjoyable campy, gory horror experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game is unafraid to splatter a few buckets of blood now and then, making it an ideal choice for those who enjoy the B-movie charm of ’80s horror flicks. While dated elements like tank controls or limited saves might be frustrating for players new to these types of games, Murder House could be an excellent starting point for those looking to explore these mechanics for the first time.
In terms of atmosphere, Murder House excels, with a fantastic aesthetic and sound design that truly immerses the player in the game’s world. The short runtime helps alleviate the stress of the controls and save mechanics, but the unfortunate crashing issues may replace that relief with frustration. With potential patches and improvements, Murder House could offer an even better horror experience on the Nintendo Switch.
In conclusion, Puppet Combo’s Murder House is a nostalgic nightmare that successfully captures the essence of ’80s horror flicks while embracing the limitations and charm of early 3D gaming. While it may not be perfect, its campy plot, atmosphere, and sound design make it a worthy addition to any horror enthusiast’s library, despite its technical flaws.
With a bit of patience and a love for the genre, players will find a delightfully disturbing experience in Murder House that will keep them on the edge of their seats. The game’s unapologetic embrace of its B-movie inspirations, complete with cheesy dialogue, over-the-top gore, and a synth-heavy soundtrack, creates an entertaining and engaging horror experience that feels like a long-lost slasher from the VHS era.
The game’s environments and character models, reminiscent of early PS1 titles, further contribute to the nostalgic atmosphere. The low-poly visuals, combined with the fixed camera angles and grainy filters, create a sense of familiarity that will resonate with fans of classic survival horror games. However, this aesthetic also highlights the game’s limitations, as the tank controls and camera issues can sometimes hinder progress and create unnecessary frustration.
Despite these challenges, Murder House manages to maintain a consistent level of tension and fear throughout the game, thanks in large part to its sound design. The eerie ambient noises, coupled with the creaking floorboards and unsettling whispers, create an unsettling atmosphere that keeps players on edge. The jump scares, while occasionally predictable, are effectively implemented and provide a satisfying payoff for those willing to brave the game’s terrors.
Another aspect that makes Murder House stand out is its inventive use of the Easter Ripper as the main antagonist. The serial killer’s twisted backstory, combined with the gruesome methods he uses to dispose of his victims, adds a layer of intrigue that keeps players invested in the story. The game also features multiple endings, providing some replayability and encouraging players to explore different paths and strategies to survive the night.
In summary, Murder House is a must-play for horror fans looking for a nostalgic and campy experience that harkens back to the VHS era of slasher films. While the game’s technical issues and outdated mechanics might be off-putting for some, those willing to embrace the challenge will find a unique and entertaining horror experience that is worth the occasional frustration.
With its blend of classic survival horror gameplay, inventive antagonist, and B-movie charm, Murder House is a worthy addition to any horror enthusiast’s library. The game may not be perfect, but its commitment to its vision and dedication to providing a genuine throwback to the golden age of VHS horror makes it a standout title that should not be missed.