Mario teaches terror

Originally posted on tumblr February 22, 2012 It's been a long time since I played a genuinely scary game.

That's not to say they haven't been made. Oh my no. But since completing Silent Hill 2 I made it a general policy not to play games with horror themes. I really prefer getting that sleep.

That is until I accidentally got into the visual novel genre last year. Now I have been spending the past few nights delving into the story of the poor guests at Pension Brownie in the increasingly haunting tale woven in Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru.

The truly terrifying thing about this game is that nothing happening in the story is impossible. It's all about people and people being killed in ways people can kill people.

It's utterly haunting but I cannot stop reading. I have wandered into about seven different endings so far - none of them good. The poor main character has been clubbed over the head, slashed with an axe and beaten to death with a fire poker. It's completely gruesome (text only, mind) and yet that is not the most terrifying part.

The tension they have been able to build in this game is outstanding. By blending music, sound effects camera angles and the right choice of words everything falls into place in such an amazing way.

And if you look at the Kamaitachi no Yoru games they are so simple. So deviously simple. The backgrounds are static save for the occasional snowfall. The characters are mere silhouettes. And yet it manages to create an atmosphere more tense than any threat of dogs jumping through windows ever could.

It's been making me think about the glory of simplicity in games that has slowly been disappearing. It's not gone, but changed.

Have you ever thought of the original Super Mario Bros. as a scary game?

I finally beat it this past weekend after years of trying. And still after years of trying the game gives me this haunting feeling. It's present in no other Mario game that I have played. The constantly upbeat music and Mario's happy voice make this impossible.

But there is something about the original game that I find simply terrifying.

The simple music, the mostly empty backgrounds. The sense of solidarity. It's Mario versus all these things. Things that can pop out of pipes. Slowly float towards you underwater. Jump down from above. 

Maybe you don't think that. Maybe it is a colorful and cheerful game for you. 

But I remember playing the game in my basement. And I hated my basement. It wasn't unlivable by any stretch of the imagination but it terrified me.  And Mario's simple world allowed this terror to creep inside of it and make the game something unique to me.

And I believe it was this simplicity which allowed the imagination to go wild and turn what is on paper nothing scary into something that still sends chills up my spine.