Puppet Combo is no newcomer to the indie horror game scene. Beginning years ago with games like Minotaur, an “escape the killer” title with fixed camera angles, the developer has been steadily pushing out content since. Just in time for the Halloween season, Puppet Combo has released a bundle anthology of sorts, titled Scary Tales Vol. 1. Inside, players will find Feed Me Billy, Spiders, Night Shift, and The Riverside Incident. It’s an anthology similar to the VHS films, each entry equally disturbing or frightening yet still unique.
In Feed Me Billy, players wake up to discover a room in their house with a giant, tooth-lined pit. It simply asks you to feed it, and upon walking out a clown mask, a revolver, and a flashlight wait for you on a table. It’s not hard to guess what comes next, and over the course of three days players exit the house to find food for the pit. It plays well, with simple controls and no game-breaking glitches. Bodies will often stretch and distort, but if anything this adds to the overwhelming uncomfortable atmosphere. Horror games often involve escaping some sort of killer or horror, but rarely are players the one playing as the evil or slasher killer, especially in first-person. Despite knowing the goal is to please the pit in your house, one cannot help but feel the grime coming straight from the PSX style graphics, with multiple retro filters including CRT, VHS, and black and white, among others. The sounds are delightfully creepy as well, and as with many of Puppet Combo’s games, it feels like a buried gem from that era of gaming. It’s definitely hard to play at times, but there is no alternative to the singular goal of feeding the pit, and feed it you must.
Spiders is a much different title, taking on a Doom feel with its HUD and graphic style. As the father of a household, you must protect your family from wave after wave of giant spiders. The game ends when you defeat the last boss spider or die, and the ending varies depending on each scenario. Players only begin with a machete and unlock more powerful gear after successfully surviving certain waves. Even for those afraid of spiders, the game is great fun and its aesthetic once again makes the whole thing feel gritty and surreal, like a nightmare straight from Courage the Cowardly Dog. It moves fast, and the frantic pace makes it even scarier. Spiders is a challenging little game, but its fun makes for a rewarding experience. The art and sound design really drive home the horror arcade feel, and the local high score tally adds another level of replay value.
Night Shift takes the uncomfortable atmosphere of the first two and cranks it up even more. As the lone worker in a remote gas station working the titular night shift, players must complete a list of tasks while seeing to several customers. Meanwhile, the store is eerily silent, and a white van patrols the lot. The title serves as a prologue to the upcoming Stay Out of the House, and if this slice is anything to go off of, the full game should be something deeply unsettling and special for indie horror. Throughout the shift, the game feels more and more foreboding and players will often keep looking out the door or behind their backs. For such a simple premise, it works remarkably well. Players can also play an arcade version of Puppet Combo’s earlier Power Drill Massacre game, lending further authenticity to the atmosphere and serving as distraction that may keep your eyes away from whoever is watching you.
Last, we arrive at The Riverside Incident. While probably the most subtle of them all, given its “walking-simulator” and found-footage sensibilities, it is no less creepy for it. It plays out as a tape people found in a park along with clothing, taking place mostly in an abandoned asylum. The time and day are always shown, as the footage will jump after several minutes in each set piece. Players cannot run and move rather slowly, pushing open every door. Such deliberate choices, while unexpected, increase the dread of every decision. Each part you explore feels like a maze of doors and furniture, and the ability to zoom in and out allows you to examine every part of the environment, though don’t expect any quick pivoting. Dread is the key word here, and the game is oozing with it. The old VHS tape look, coupled with some fantastic lighting, creates some very photo-realistic frames. Tapes and music will play in certain areas too, disrupting and otherwise silent experience. Toward the end, the action shifts to an isolated house, and the anxiety becomes palpable. Multiple playthroughs are required to fully explore every nook and cranny of the environment, but not without some tension-relief in between.
One consistent success across the board is how perfectly Puppet Combo nails the intended atmosphere, despite the retro graphics and aesthetic of each title. Even with lights on, all one needs is a good headset or pair of headphones for a truly creepy anthology of games. The developer is adding a story mode soon that will link all four, but even without one there is not a weak title among these. For the current sale price of $6.66 until the 20th, the entry fee is more than worth it for a spooky night alone or with friends. The style may not be for everyone, but those who are interested will certainly find a wholly creepy experience that does not overstay its welcome.