It’s time to finish my plate. I figured before I started my next dubious streaming project*, I might as well clean up The Tower of Dubious Horror Games. So here it is, a testament to my 14 years of writing dumb things on this silly webzone. Should only need one more part after this. If you'd like to find stream VODs of all of my playthroughs of these games, consider checking out my youtubes
Category: Actual Garbage
Release Date: August 21, 2000
Time Played: Around six hours
Dubiosity: 5 out of 5
Would I play again? I won’t pretend I wouldn’t.
Countdown Vampires has occupied an outsized place in my brain for the last few months, even among the weird shit I’ve played for this feature. To call it a “bad Resident Evil clone” is like calling the Louvre a “building with some art in it.” It transcends mere badness and becomes high art, worthy of being put in the Louvre. Or at least the MOMA. Few other games aspire to this level of exalted ineptitude, perfectly balanced between being “sort of playable” and “deeply incompetent.” It’s cargo cult game design at its finest and easily sits in the Dubious Hall of Fame. No I’m serious. It’s been like six months since I streamed this game and I still think about it.
To explain *why* Countdown Vampires is The Birdemic of Video Games, it’s worth considering what games like Resident Evil do correctly. Take the Spencer Mansion of the first game, or the RPD of the second as examples of tight puzzle box environment design. Those games start with an environment that you slowly unwind and learn over the course of a handful of hours, with enemies acting as the obstacles. Even in games with a more linear structure, the idea of resource expenditure and exploration plays a key part in Survival Horror as a “genre.” If you remove that, it’s basically an adventure game. If you give the player too many resources, it becomes something closer to an action game. It’s a tricky needle to thread, but the actual nuances of that design aren’t the topic for today.
My point is more that Countdown Vampires doesn’t understand any of this. It doesn’t understand how to create an interesting environment, or the basic fundamentals of video game puzzle design, or why you’d want to run past an enemy instead of unloading on them. It’s performing a bizarre pantomime of a Resident Evil game where it understands the controls, the UI, the way a pre-rendered background is supposed to look, but exhibits no meaning behind them. It’s a game whose one unique idea is to give you a tranquilizer gun to knock out vampires (you can then sprinkle them with holy water to “cure” them) but said tranquilizer lasts like 10 seconds at most. Oh by the way you need to save at least 30 people this way to get the good ending. No, this isn’t indicated anywhere. There’s no real “flow” state to environments, nor is the game shy about just spawning new enemies by the time you return to those areas. MULTIPLE puzzles will have the item needed to solve them in the adjacent room. It’s deeply incompetent on such a fundamental level that it doesn’t surprise me to learn this was this team’s first game, or that none of the lead developers had much experience with the genre beforehand.
None of this would be possible if the overall presentation wasn’t also deeply nonsensical and silly. Keep in mind this thing came out four years after the original Resident Evil and somehow matches it in terms of hilariously bad line reads. How did they get away with the audio popping and crackling the way it does? Why does it take a full second to open up the inventory menu? Why is the protagonist a shirtless goober? Why do I have to gamble at a casino to afford health items? Wait, I have to play the entire game again to see the true ending? What?
Without exaggeration, Countdown Vampires is the perfect example of why I do this nonsense in the first place. It’s a laser-targeted piece of garbage aimed directly at me and my stupid preferences. I have no idea if you, the reader at home, will get anything out of it, but as someone who loves him some classical survival horror-ing, inventory managing, tank controlled nonsense it’s that premium quality junk.
Now time for a lightning round, because "I don't want to write a minimum of 2-3 paragraphs for some of these games and also it's been long enough that I don't remember everything"
The Evil Within 2:
Dubiosity: 3 out of 5
A revisit probably best left in the past; I think The Evil Within 2 is fundamentally a more coherent game than the first one, but it’s also less interesting as a result. As these replays have cemented for me, both Evil Within games aren’t great. They have interesting ideas. They might even have good sequences. But for the most part, they’re games I define by their failures more than their successes. Especially in a post-RE7, post-RE2 Remake world, I just straight up think they’re not worth my time. Probably aren’t worth your time either.
Dementium: The Ward and Dementium 2
Technically ambitious, pushing the DS hardware in a really fascinating way. Are they remotely fun and/or scary? No. No they aren’t. Had my fill after about an hour.
Resident Evil Gaiden
Dubiosity: 4 out of 5
Resident Evil Gaiden continues the longstanding Resident Evil spinoff trend of being kinda shit, which should surprise absolutely no one. As the unlikely, non-canonical duo of Barry Burton and Leon S. Kennedy, you get to investigate a boat, awkwardly navigate environments, and engage in a combat system I’d describe as “being pretty bad.” It’s definitely pushing the limits of what the hardware is capable of, but there isn’t a whole lot to it beyond “they kind of tried to cram a Resident Evil game onto a game boy”
No, seriously, it was probably a mistake to have a dedicated portable category. By their very nature, a lot of portable games from this era were simple and straightforward and there's not a whole lot I can say about this that wouldn't be made readily obvious watching 10 minutes of gameplay.
Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (GBC)
Dubiosity: 4 out of 5
You know how Capcom started making and then canceled a version of Resident Evil for the Game Boy Color? Leaked prototypes are out there, you can see what they were going for. It’s an impressive little thing, but you can also see why it was canceled. The GBC is an interesting platform for a lot of reasons, but Resident Evil Gaiden was probably a better fit for the platform than trying to cram the original in there.
So anyway, Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, recently released onto Nintendo Switch Online, is the actualization of what that RE 1 port was trying to do. It’s a game attempting to cram an abridged version of its console counterpart onto a 4MB cartridge, complete with pre-rendered backgrounds compressed to the point of abstraction. Is it good? No. Is it interesting? Absolutely.
Fobia: St. Difnia Hotel
Dubiosity: honestly too good for this feature.
Made by a small Brazilian team, Fobia is a reminder that, in fact, there are indie developers out there who are genuinely capable of making a decent survival horror in this day and age. Fobia is a notch or two below Tormented Souls in my “how good of a fake Resident Evil is this Fake Resident Evil” ranking list, but as a neat $20 take on RE7? Not bad!
Category: Visual Novels can be Scary As Well
Developer: Team GrisGris
Release Date: April 22, 1996 (original release)
Time Played: Around 12 hours
Dubiosity:5 out of 5
Would I play again? No please no oh god no
If you are of a certain age, or perhaps of a certain weebish disposition you’re likely familiar with the likes of Corpse Party. The original 1996 version of the game, a doujin PC-98 game made with the original version of RPGmaker, influenced an entire swath of Japanese horror stuff in video games and beyond. You wouldn’t get the likes of Yume Nikki, Ib, or Ao Oni without it, or even the likes of Undertale. I’m not even fucking joking when I say that Corpse Party is the most influential game I’ve played for this feature. So much J-horror stuff, RPGmaker stuff, and indie doujin stuff in general can directly or indirectly trace its roots back to this one thing. Unfortunately, it’s also terrible.
When I say Corpse Party is Triumph of the Will or maybe Birth of a Nation, but for doujin horror games, I’m not joking. I’ve played some pretty unfortunate visual novels in recent months, but Corpse Party has the distinction of being one of the worst things I’ve played on stream for any of these features, up there with Duke Nukem Forever and Daymare 1998 in 2022’s Hall of Infamy. It’s genuinely miserable edgelord trash, and I wish I had never played it. But I did so I’m going to justify myself by doing this write-up. I spent $15 american dollars on this video game, I hated pretty much all of it
Worth mentioning, the version of Corpse Party I played is actually the 2011 remake (which itself was a remake of a 2008 mobile/PC version, and then was subsequently re-re-remade for PC with higher resolution art in 2021), which came out over here on PSP courtesy of XSEED. That release in and of itself is actually pretty important, as it’s around the time visual novels started to gain real traction in the west, both officially and via fan translations. And in that sense, this game makes sense. If the year is 2011, you're like... I dunno, 16, and you've never seen an edgy anime before, I can see how it might resonate with you. Am I saying that Corpse Party is responsible for the endless garbage torrent of RPGmaker hentai games clogging up Steam’s new release calendar? I’m not *not* saying that.
To experience Corpse Party now is to have a rosetta stone for the previous two decades of edgelord J-horror tropes. If there's a shitty horror anime from the past 20 years, it probably owes something to Corpse Party. If you enjoy a nigh-endless amount of shock horror, where bad things happen to anime kids and they poop and piss and wander around getting scared, do I have a VN for you! If you enjoy wandering around the same handful of environments for 10 hours looking for the next story trigger, only to get a bad ending because you missed a thing an hour ago. There aren’t themes, the characters are mostly tropes, and the entire thing is genuinely just mean-spirited to the point of absurdity. The worst part is I can see where other, better things took Corpse Party's ideas and made them their own. Higurashi and Umineko probably owe some amount of debt to this game, but those games have likeable characters, themes, genuine dread, good writing, etc etc.
So yeah please don't play this one. You have so much to live for.
anyway there's one more of these on the way, in case you want my months-late thoughts on video games I streamed last year. Also should have another tactics thing out before the end of the month. The best way to start 2023 is to finish my stuff from 2022, apparently.