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Indie Game of the Week 243: Creepy Tale

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I've been knee-deep in horror games from 2017 for this month's Dredge of Seventeen entry, but one more couldn't hurt (my cardiologist might have a different take though). Creepy Tale reminds me of the Frog Detective games: not in the sense that they share an aesthetic or a sense of humor, but in how they seem to be propagating fairly quickly by being relatively brisk in size and reusing some of same tech from game to game: exonerable in this case because the core of both series can be found in its puzzles and stories, rather than complex new mechanics or anything else that might require an expensive and time-consuming engine do-over. Inspired by the works of the Brothers Grimm - the studio is even called Creepy Brothers - Creepy Tale is a vaguely Teutonic tale about a pair of brothers picking mushrooms in a forest, when one is captured by a shaggy creature after chasing a golden butterfly. The other, more timid brother is then tasked with rescuing him.

Creepy Tale has some Limbo/Inside vibes, largely owing to it being a 2D platformer-adventure game with a young male lead, but it's far more puzzle-focused and not nearly as unsettling (for better and worse). There's only three buttons to worry about beyond movement: jump, pick up item, or use item. Items are automatically selected from your inventory when used, so there's no trace of a point-and-click interface: it's streamlined this way on purpose, as a few of the puzzles are very timing-sensitive. An example of that would be one of the first puzzles in the game: you need to chase a guard out of the same hut your brother was abducted in, first by setting a mushroom on a nearby stump, knocking on the door, moving out of sight, and sneaking in when the occupant goes after the mushroom. Once inside, you have a few seconds to get into a nearby chest and shut the lid: both steps are manual, so it's easy to forget the second and be very visible once the monstrous sentry walks back in (you even get an achievement for getting caught out by it, perhaps as a consolation prize). There's a few of these instances where you need to avoid enemies on patrol as you solve puzzles around them, and it's not too dissimilar to the structure of the Little Nightmares series if not quite as involved with the platforming aspect.

This is what you get for going too deep into the Hundred Acre Wood, Christopher Robin. Doubt jars of hunny will work on these guys.
This is what you get for going too deep into the Hundred Acre Wood, Christopher Robin. Doubt jars of hunny will work on these guys.

Aesthetically, it has that slightly cheap paper-doll animation style shared by a great many Indie games but otherwise the art direction is pretty strong and reminiscent of a creepy Gorey-esque storybook style, or something riffing on the same vibe like Don't Starve or the Samorost games. It eschews spoken dialogue or text of any kind to dodge localization expenses, relying instead of ideograms: this includes the protagonist's thought bubbles, which are sometimes expressed if the player is spending too long on a particular puzzle and might need a hint. While not particularly scary it does have villains that chase you down, grisly (but not overly so) death states, and appropriately tense musical stings whenever the protagonist is spooked by something, so thematically it hits all the right notes. The puzzles, too, are easily the match of the game's sense of style: there's some clever escalation in mechanics, like a trap that probably caught you the first time that you then use to catch an enemy instead, and there's a handful of cases that require observation and patience to solve. One scenario has you trying to defeat a witch whom carries the key to the only exit, and if you accidentally leave a cupboard open while rummaging through her possessions she instantly becomes agitated, eventually sussing out your hiding place in case you thought you got away scot-free: the goal next time is to make sure you close that cupboard once you've taken the necessary item out. I was impressed with little touches like these that gift the game's antagonists with an extra layer of cunning, even if they often served to trip me up and necessitate a checkpoint reset.

Creepy Tale is a bite-sized affair but generally gets everything right in terms of tone and in building a spooky adventure game over a handful of smart puzzle ideas and Germanic arboreal monster designs. Like Oknytt, it's steeped in local mythology in a way that makes its world a little more surreal and alien even before you add the horror factor. If I had a gripe, it's in how every interactive object has to exist on the same plane which leads to areas where it feels like they overlap in a messy way: accidentally activating the neighboring hotspot by being just a few pixels off, say, which becomes a significant problem during those time-sensitive puzzles where something's chasing you or you're trying to corral a NPC to a specific spot. A bell puzzle in the third chapter, necessary for dragging a patrolling enemy down a few floors in a tower so you can explore the above stories, is one that runs afoul of this hotspot-congestion problem. Otherwise, the game is a small-scale spooky delight and a far less terrifying alternative to all the Phasmophobias, Devours, and Outlasts out there if you want to get into the Halloween spirit this weekend without the concomitant pants-wettery.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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