Are you sad to see the spooky season go? Are you looking for one — or five — end-of-season scares? Do you want a gradual artistic shift from scary to miserable to match the real-life transition from exciting spooky fall to the dull, cold, gray miasma of Michigan winters? Look no further. Itch.io and Steam are absolutely awash with low-quality horror, so I’m focusing on games that do something with their play experience to take the horror or discomfort beyond simple first-person jumpscare games.
This is a bite-sized spotlight on some of the gems to be found in the proverbial digital bargain bin — but don’t use price as a marker of quality here. I’ll be highlighting a few choice games from digital marketplace itch.io. They’re all under $10 and no longer than an hour or two, making them perfect for a dreary night in.
“Endoparasitic” – miziziziz
This game is pure concept. You play as a scientist who has had all but one limb torn off by monsters, surviving primarily by dragging yourself across the ground with your one remaining arm. The game is concerned with feel more than anything. Each movement is a click to grab at the ground, then a drag to pull your body across it. In the same way that a well-designed game can be smooth and easy to pick up, Endoparasitic makes itself jagged and uncomfortable to play, making for an experience that expertly generates discomfort.
“Alternate Watch” – Tesseron
Tesseron has created a beautiful example of how horror can do a lot with just a little. Alternate Watch is a simple game about reporting reality-shifting anomalies in a dark house. Minute things like the faces of paintings changing and shapes becoming visible in the mirror are the building blocks of the game’s scares. Fixed camera angles and sharp lighting effects make the static environments pop. The gameplay loop encourages paranoid double-checking, perfectly suited to your role as a watchman. Small focal areas and a slow pace make the game excellent at generating the same fear you get staring into the darkness beyond your bed at night. This game is excellent for late, dark nights.
“Proverbs of Hell” – Saifey Roth and Isidore Weis
Earthbound made some people very weird, and Proverbs of Hell is a testament to that. Riding the niche wave of the revival of RPG Maker games, Proverbs of Hell is a character-driven story about blood, capitalism and what it takes to survive in a weird world. Organ removal minigames, a dreamy, semi-amateur art style and some shockingly sharp writing make this turn-based RPG worth the time.
Here, grossness is pushed beyond its commonly acceptable limits. How Fish is Made made waves last year for delivering a potently disgusting walk through the life of a fish drowning in air. You guide the fish’s flopping through a squalid, disgusting environment. This month, the game has received new free content, following in the same vein. It uses the slow movement speed and gruesome sound design to push the extremes of gross horror in pursuit of a muddy and disgusting philosophical message.
Taking a step away from traditional games and into interactive fiction, Don’t Rock the Boat is scary, unique and deeply political. Set amid a women’s rowing team beset by both questions of transgender athletics and under the gaze of a direct threat from something in the water, the game differentiates itself by giving a perspective section to each woman on the boat, traveling through many perspectives. This repetition simulates the cyclical nature of transgender debates and leaves nothing to be desired on its own merits of grotesquery as well.
A few games that have gotten their due attention, but are absolutely worth checking out: “Iron Lung” by David Syzmanski, set in a windowless submarine under an ocean of blood, made waves last year for its sharp premise and intense sense of dread. In addition, it’s being adapted into a film coming in 2024. “Anatomy” by Kitty Horrorshow is perhaps the scariest game I have ever played. Your protagonist is metaphysically digested by a haunted house. “The Upturned” by Zeekerss is becoming my quintessential Halloween game: a trip through many floors of a haunted hotel that’s equal parts scary and funny, full of soul and a bright vision of the future as designed by kids raised on Roblox.
I hope these offerings can help you unwind from your Halloween and take a little of the scary stuff with you. Onward, to winter.
Daily Arts Contributor Holly Tsch can be reached at email@example.com.