One of the best ways to celebrate the spooky season is by closing the blinds, turning off the lights, strapping on headphones, and playing a horror game. And that is exactly what I did with the indie title, World of Horror. Panstasz developed and designed World of Horror with old-school spooks in mind — a 1-bit video game inspired by the works of Junji Ito and H.P. Lovecraft. As an experience, World of Horror is uniquely otherworldly, capturing the eeriest of vibes. However, its clunky gameplay can be an obstacle for fans looking for something more mechanically approachable.
Descending into madness
World of Horror is a rogue-like game set in a small town, where strange, cryptid events keep happening. You, the player, have taken it upon yourself to explore these mysteries and stave off the Old Gods trying to infiltrate and destroy your town. In Quick Play, you’ll get a random combination of a main character and an Old God — mirror beasts and spider gods that could disable your ability to heal or raise the Doom level with dark skies. You can also create a custom playthrough where you choose your main character and the God they must face. Each character and God has different skills and traits you must account for while attempting to solve five different mysteries across your campaign. If you survive all five of your missions, acquire five keys, and get to the lighthouse, you can possibly save your town from a horrific Cthulhu-like terror.
World of Horror’s design and mystery-by-mystery style is fantastic and effective. It gives the perfect aesthetic foundation for the rest of the game. Even just looking at a screenshot can make a player feel those eerie, Junji Ito-inspired chills.
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Great concept, confusing execution
World of Horror’s aesthetic is one of its best features, but its low-fi, 1-bit interface also makes its mechanics the most muddy. When you start the game, the cluttered controls are very confusing. There’s so much going on on-screen that it can be hard to identify which tabs or buttons you should interact with and how to use them to progress. Sometimes you’ll be confused enough that even your successes can feel like an accident. For example, I was doing so poorly at understanding the controls at first that the first time I successfully made it through three missions, I had no clue what I did right.
More streamlined controls could’ve gone a long way in helping ensure every solved mystery felt earned instead of incidental.
What’s even more confusing is that, in the introductory menu, the game recommends you play a mini-mission before playing a full-length game. However, the tutorial for the game’s controls only shows up in said full-length quick play or custom game modes. So, the encouragement to first play this mini-mission sets players up for early frustration.
Now, even once you go through the handy tutorial, the controls and mechanics can still be quite disorienting. The game has several tabs to flip through showing off dozens of stats and information. And when it comes to combat, it’s difficult to discern what information and actions are the most useful. For example, it took me way too long searching through the stats to realize the Stamina and Reason numbers equaled your physical and mental health. This led to several premature deaths. Another example? When fighting ghosts, you have to figure out a special chant of five bows and claps to fight them. But trying to figure out this clap-and-bow combo can get you killed long before you figure it out.
An effective doom screen
Once you slog through all these tabs and tutorials to get a handle on how things work, investigating in this game can become quite satisfying. It’s neat to travel places and have new random encounters that can stress or improve your gameplay. And when you do manage to make a smart move while attacking a monster or undermining the eldritch horrors around town, it feels like a real victory. With roadblocks and monsters and frights around every corner — including your own semi-baffling inventory — being able to succeed shoots one hell of a dopamine hit to your brain.
Also, as much as the cluttered screen might initially overwhelm you, it does effectively add a layer of horror to the game. World of Horror’s narrative is inherently mysterious and confusing. Scissor monsters stalking your classroom halls. Killers making mermaids out of dismembered students. Clues lead you in odd, winding routes, taking your investigations to strange places and random encounters. From the mechanics to UI to story, everything is a maddening adventure down the horrific rabbit hole. As both an Ito and Lovecraft fan, it’s easy to see their terrific visions in every creature, every story decision, even in every rendered pixel.
A few times the horror mechanics can overwhelm the game’s balance, though. For example, one randomly-spawned Old God trait bars players from resting at home and healing themselves, which can become a huge obstacle. Works great for the horror, less so for the gameplay. When that was the first Old God trait that showed up in my game, I knew my run — which had been doing really well to that point — was doomed. My health whittled down little by little each fight, and while I tried to find ways to heal myself, I only just finished my third mission when I succumbed to my wounds. World of Horror is a rogue-like, after all, so it commits to doing its best to kill you each playthrough. So, be prepared for quite a few heartbreaking, grisly defeats where the eldritch horrors win and you have to start all over again.
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A true World of Horror
If you’re all about the vibes, World of Horror is a perfect game for you. The design aesthetic is flawless and the interface gets you in the exact mood for an old school horror mystery. When World of Horror works, it works.
However, you do have to take some time to figure out the game to see it through. If you prefer a simpler interface and controls, you’ll quit World of Horror pretty quickly. But if you have the patience to work with its cluttered aesthetic and at times punishing mechanics, you’ll be delightfully haunted by this game for days on end.