Game review: Spooky’s House of Jump Scares for Steam

First I should give credit to Polygon and Griffin McElroy for bringing this game to my attention. Griffin’s been somewhat responsible for several of my purchases because his videos do what a lot of text articles and photos can’t; explain why these games are fun. (I also like his videos because he cusses almost as much as I do when I’m gaming. This makes me feel like we are kindred spirits.)

Spooky’s House of Jump Scares is on Steam’s Early Access, and it’s not finished yet. Some of you know my dislike of early access and may wonder why I got this anyway. I can explain in two words: it’s free.

The game is in a beta test phase and isn’t charging me money to help test it out. You know, like in the old days, before developers realized they could charge people 50 dollars to be a beta tester and never release an actual game. This, however is a classier model, giving me the game for free in exchange for me looking for bugs. And you know what? Aside from an occasional glitch where the textures to a wall might suddenly reveal the tunnel around the next corner, I didn’t see a whole lot of bugginess. For an early access game, this is pretty stable.

Spooky, the eponymous owner of this haunted house, appears at the start of the game challenging you to make it through 1,000 rooms to reach the end of her ghostly gauntlet. But as of this writing, there isn’t an end or 1,000 rooms. At room 754, the game stopped and told me that I’d reached the end of the available story, and that I could keep playing or stop there. I stopped there, but whenever this comes out with an update and a conclusion, I can see playing it again. I could even see it going into my rotation of games I pick up and play when I want to kill some time.

Graphically, Spooky’s House of Jump Scares is very simple, with most rooms wrapped in tile patterned textures. These rooms are randomly ordered, so every time you die, you’ll find a new maze to wander through. Several rooms will repeat throughout the game, such as the arcade, the computer room, and a foggy area where you must go through four arches in a certain order to reach the door. (A single piano note alerts you when you’ve found the right arch, while a two-note alert tells you when you’ve messed up and returned to the start.) As you wander the rooms and hallways, cutesy monster cutouts mounted on plywood will pop up in front of you with a sound effect that may or may not be scary. Let me be honest, these did not work on me, AT FIRST.

But within a few rooms, you uncover a note that activates a much scarier ghost, and that dude is going to pursue you from one room to the next, trying to get close enough to slash you and drain your health. You get no weapons to fight this guy, and while your health does regenerate without health packs, it does so very slowly, and this ghost does a LOT of damage.

So I’m running from this evil ghost who’s right on my heels, I’m down to a third of my health and know the next hit is going to kill me. THEN that cutesy ghost on plywood pops out of the wall, and then, it’s super effective at scaring the shit out of me because I thought the bad ghost somehow got in front of me. Of course, once I recognized it was the cutout, I would laugh and say something like “Up yours, cutesy ghost!”

And this is pretty much the whole game in a nutshell. Move through rooms until you unlock a new, much scarier ghost, and run until you lose it somewhere in the maze of repeating rooms. During the first few rounds, you find a save point every 50 rooms and an elevator that takes you deeper down into the house. But after 300, you only find saves every hundred rooms. It doesn’t take long to navigate 100 rooms, not with you doing half of them at a sprint. But as you get closer to the end of a round, you get more paranoid about dying and having to start over. So then every sound, even the harmless stuff, is jump inducing.

There’s also a point when the cuteness is blurred by different effects warping your vision or the rooms themselves, and much later on, the faces of the cute ghosts are replaced by something much scarier, and that also helps make some funny jump scares. There’s also some rooms with horror themes that are creepy even without a ghost around. Again, I won’t spoil them, but trust me, you’ll know when you find them.

Around room 555, you get an ax, and maybe this will be used more in the final rooms. But aside from breaking a few barriers and dealing with four enemies that I won’t spoil for you, you never really use it for anything else. You can’t ax the ghosts, you know. Cause they’re already dead. One ghost in particular is both scary and annoying because you have to walk backwards for something like 15 rooms. If you turn your back on him, he’ll catch you and kill you even if you have health, leading to a very long unskippable cut scene. That ghost…oh, how I hate him.

Actually, now that I think about it, there was one other problem right near the end that may or may not have been a bug. When I got to room 750, Spooky granted me “unlimited stamina” which should have made sprinting easier. Only, I lost the ability to sprint at all. Whether that’s intentional or a bug, I don’t know, so I plan to ask about it in the game’s support forums. But it could be intentional, as Spooky’s other “gift” given earlier in the game was equally “useful.”

Overall, my impression of Spooky’s House of Jump Scares is a positive one. I think it proves that you don’t need next-gen graphics to make a game fun and addicting, and you don’t need photorealistic monsters to make a game scary either. Just take away any useful weapons, give the monsters the advantage, and then pop up some goofy kiddie Halloween decorations when I least expect it. Pure gaming gold, y’all.

I’m giving Spooky’s House of Jump Scares 4 stars in its unfinished state, and I may bump this up to a five for the final release. It’s fun, it’s scary, and it’s quite good.