October, that wonderful time of year when the weather starts to cool and scary movies start to pop up on television and on the main page of streaming services! To celebrate this month and the upcoming Halloween holiday, I have decided to take a look at some games in the horror genre. To kick off this series, let’s take a look at the free-to-play cute comedy/horror game Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion published by Lag Studios in 2015.
In Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion, or SJSM for short, you take up the role of a nameless history buff exploring a seemingly abandoned, mansion on a hill overlooking your town. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, as you immediately meet a ghost, Spooky, who refers to you as “player” and challenges you to make it through 1,000 rooms in the mansion. After that, you are on your own to explore the mansion.
Initially, the gameplay consists of walking through hallways or rooms, with things sometimes randomly appearing in front of you with an accompanying noise. As the name implies, the game has a lot of jump scares. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a jump scare is a technique often used in horror movies where something jumps out unexpectedly, often at the camera and typically preceded by a quiet moment.
This was often used in 80’s slasher films and has since been heavily co-opted by horror video games. Some consider this a “cheap scare”, relying on camera tricks to try to frighten the audience, rather than building “honest” suspense through story and mood. Essentially, this boils down to someone jumping out and shouting “Boo!”
The initial monsters are not particularly scary, and the noises they make are also less scary — giggling or dings. As you progress, the images and noises become more disturbing. However, if this was all there was to the game, it would just be a walking simulator with a few jump scares.
As you progress, other monsters start to appear that can actually hurt you. The red bar in the upper-left corner of the screen indicates your Health, while the green bar indicates your Stamina. You can sprint briefly, which uses Stamina. Both Health and Stamina will regenerate over time, with Health being much slower.
The mansion seems to be mostly randomly generated out of a collection of preset rooms, though there are certain rooms that appear at set points. As an example, before the monster pictured above starts chasing, you there is a room with a note that you can read. You can also find notes from a previous explorer of the mansion scattered around, though the one before the monster appears seems to have a different author.
To keep things interesting, there are also a variety of rooms: ones where you need to walk through entryways in a particular order to proceed, halls with multiple doors – some of which can be locked, and branching pathways where some lead to dead ends. Monsters tend to chase you through multiple rooms, usually giving up after around 20 or so. The combination of special rooms with monsters chasing you can be particularly problematic.
To make things easier, every 50 levels there is an elevator room where you can save your progress. This also allows you to take a break from the game and pick it up later without losing all of your progress, as it doesn’t automatically pick back up from where you last exited. I believe saving also restores your health to full, as the elevators seem to be a safe room where you could wait to regenerate Health.
There are various monsters that appear, and reappear, as you progress through the mansion. I should also note that you are unarmed for the majority of the game. When you are presented with the game controls when you first start, there is clearly an attack button, but you won’t have much use for it until you are almost through the mansion.
Each monster has its own special ability. The one pictured above causes puddles to appear on the ground that slow you down when you try to move through them. I won’t spoil the rest, but a few have different techniques that you’ll need to figure out in order to survive your encounters with them.
The game also comes with an Endless Mode, where the mansion just keeps going and you have to try to flee from increasingly difficult situations. For the main campaign there are also a couple of endings, though neither one takes itself that seriously. Even though SJSM is noted as being a comedy/horror game, I personally feel most of the gameplay veers towards the horror side.
The graphics for the game are relatively simple, as you can see from the screenshots above, but are quite effective. Combined with well-timed audio cues and a forced first-person perspective, this can be a surprisingly suspenseful gameplay experience. The main campaign is relatively short, as I was able to complete it in a few hours.
Overall, this is a really solid free title from an indie developer. I give it an “A-“, or 9/10 stars. There is also a very inexpensive downloadable content expansion, that is essentially a separate game, with a second one planned to be released before Halloween this year. If you like the title and want to support the developer, I recommend picking it up.
If you would like to check out Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion, you can find it on Steam here. Again, it is free, so if you don’t have a heart condition, are not a small child, and like games that might be scary, you might as well try it!