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Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion (PC): Ironic Horror (Detailed Review)

Note: This review pertains to the original free to play version of this game, not the HD Remake. The remake did not exist when this review was posted to GameFAQs on October 26th of 2015. I do intend to check out the remake at some point though.

Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion is a game with a very ironic title to say the least, although not in an entirely literal sense. It is ironic in that the title denotes some sort of parody of horror titles, yet the game itself is actually a very competent and atmospheric horror title. In fact, this game is one of the scariest horror games I have ever played… which honestly isn’t saying much since I haven’t played that many. Spooky’s is a game that consistently maintains a tense atmosphere throughout and does not let up, and it is light years ahead of other indie horror titles like Slender or Five Nights at Freddy’s. This is a game that clearly knows its stuff, and uses it in just the right way to keep you on edge despite its silly nature. To top it all off, it is free to play, so that should already be enough of a reason to play it, but I suppose more detail is needed.

The story of Spooky’s is a pretty thin excuse plot of needing to explore a mansion while avoiding paranormal stuff, so there is not much to expect there. However, that does not mean the game is completely bereft of any kind of detail. The main recurring character that you meet the most is a cute ghost girl named Spooky, who has a very casual and lax tone to her dialogue, and is actually a nice figure for once instead of going for the typical condescending or evil route.


The game itself also has somewhat of a flippant vibe to its horror at first. While most horror games would throw in a jump scare by having a scary monster pop out at you, this game has cardboard cutouts of kiddy haunted house monsters like spiders, ghosts, and jack o lanterns accompanied by loud noises. As such, it gives off a sense of self awareness to how cheap this horror trope is, and only throws them in there to throw the player off guard instead of as a substitute for actual horror.

What really puts the jump scares in Spooky’s above most horror games is that they always tend to be placed at just the right moment and when you will not expect them. These become especially nerve wracking when they spring up in the middle of a chase sequence where you are trying to avoid an actual monster. In addition to startling you, they can also block your path and make you panic as you try and move around them in order to get your ass in gear, and due to the game’s control scheme, you need concentration to get away quickly.

What really makes this game as effective is its presentation and design, as well as how well they go hand in hand. The settings are not the stereotypical dark brown and grey rooms you see in every other horror games. Instead, Spooky’s still has a videogamey feel to it in several areas. The first being the arcade like, endurance based way of progressing in the game. You simply try and outlast the game by making it through 100 rooms until you reach a save point, but have to risk starting over if you get nailed at the last minute. Even most of the sound effects sound more in line what you would expect from an arcade game.

Every monster that you run into throughout the game is built up flawlessly, and there was not a single one that was not intimidating. No two monsters ever feel alike either and each give off a separate tone to them. What is also interesting is that there are obvious inspirations that these monsters have taken from other sources. There are obvious nods to several well known horror series such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, The Ring, Corpse Party, Clock Tower, The Thing, Amnesia, Penumbra, Five Nights At Freddy’s and even some to creepier characters in non horror series like The Weeping Angels from Doctor Who, Giygas from EarthBound, and the Happy Mask Salesman from Zelda Majora’s Mask (and there could be possible inspiration from the BEN Drowned creepypasta). Despite this, every monster still manages to feel like their own thing as opposed to just random references to other games, and the nods are quite subtle.

The music is simply brilliant as well. The music always manages to give off the sound that perfectly expresses your situation while also giving off the eerie atmospheric vibe. Every monster has their own unique chase theme, and each one gives off a unique sense of dread that fits said monster, and they even sound somewhat similar to the music of the series that inspired them, without sounding like they are rip offs.

There is also just the right amount of variety between the tracks that there is never a moment where any of the music gets old. Specimen 2’s chase theme was probably the most memorable with it being the first you hear, as well as its intimidating drum beats. Specimen 4’s chase theme goes with a peaceful yet ominous chiptune style that fits the motherly nature of the specimen itself. Specimen 5’s uses metallic sounds similarly to Silent Hill 2’s “Betrayal”, while Specimen 6’s has a strange distorted sound somewhat similar to the infamous reverse song of healing. Specimen 8 uses an ominous violin tune along with the static background noise over it.

The one common factor among these songs is that, despite them all having a unique sound, all of them are soft and ambient tracks. As a result, hearing the loud and abrasive final boss theme “fried Calamari” sends chills down the player’s spine due to its contrast from the previous songs, similarly to the nature of the boss fight itself since it is the only one. The use of this song is notable seeing as how most horror games would use the most bombastic music possible for chase sequences.

Yet what is probably the best factor of this game is its subtlety. Despite its title, the cardboard cutouts are the only jump scares in the entire game and it never refers to cheap tricks. There are never going to be any moments where you die because a monster jumped out at you when you were not prepared. Initially, some may say that this means the game is not scary because it is “predictable” (which it is not), but what these people do not realize is that knowing when to relent is an important part of horror. If you are constantly worried that something is just going to pop out at you, you will be quick to adapt to the feeling and thus the scare factor is completely lost. However, by having some spots where the player can feel safe, it will suddenly become scarier when they are in actual danger. Not to mention it would give no time to build up lore.

Speaking of said lore, this is yet another game where the background lore regarding the story of the game really drives the game forward. There are several notes left by victims of each specimen that are left around that really allow one to put together several aspects of the game’s backstory. However, the background info is often given in much more subtle, out of the way manner that requires the player to think put the pieces together themselves (or the much more likely option of looking it up on Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion Wiki). However, these are still accessed in ways that do not disrupt the flow of the game itself as opposed to making one stop in their tracks to read a bunch of background info to understand the plot.

It’s generally a good sign when a game can be both scary and also oddly fetishistic.

The only problem with the game’s storyline is that the ending is largely unsatisfying. While trying to avoid spoilers, the best way I can sum up the story is that it is an absurd nonsensical ending on the same level as Silent Hill 2’s infamous dog ending. Yes, one may say that this is to be expected in a game called Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion, and the game itself even lampshades this itself. The problem with this claim is that the game has built up a serious unnerving and dark atmosphere throughout, and the final boss itself was very menacing and fierce. One cannot just claim that the game should not be taken seriously after several serious and legitimately frightening moments.

Just because the game has some quirky aspects to it does not mean everything else is undone. Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion is NOT a parody of horror games any more than something like Five Nights at Freddy’s is. As a result, the ending itself feels very unsatisfying and one will not feel accomplished during the ending credits sequence.

The goal of Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion is to make it through all one thousand rooms of the mansion alive, and not end up as a victim to any of the specimen inside. Gameplay is in an FPS perspective where you move using the WASD keys and shift your view by moving the mouse. You also have the ability to sprint by using holding the shift button while moving. Normally, this would seem like a very awkward control scheme given that this would mean you are pressing the shift button with your pinky finger to run, and as such, it is easier to misplace your fingers given the distance between your pinky and the rest of your fingers, not to mention that you need to open doors by pressing the spacebar with your thumb.

This game is one of the few instances I have played where a slightly awkward control scheme actually improves the game. The reason for this is that this control scheme requires precision and focus, which is something that is hard to do when one is panicking. If one can focus and think clearly, the control scheme should not be difficult to use in the slightest. However, if you are panicking, you will suddenly be much more prone to misplacing your fingers and screwing yourself over.

This is what really shows the difference between a good horror game and a bad one. A weak horror game is one that will only scare you if you go in already nervous and thus susceptible to beginner’s traps like jumpscares and the like. Anyone with a strong sense of confidence and focus going into a game will not be scarred if they go into something like Slender or Five Nights at Freddy’s, they will just be confused and annoyed. If one can become immune to a game’s scare factor simply by going into it with the right state of mind, then chances are the game does not have much of a scare factor to begin with.

In a good horror game like Spooky’s however, the game will become nigh impossible if you are overly nervous, and as such, it will bring you up to its level by making you adjust to it. If you are already focused, then it still challenges you and tries to throw you off of your sense of confidence and bring you back down to being nervous. It does so by designing itself in a way that is constantly introducing new mechanics. You already have 12 different specimens that each need to be dealt with in separate ways and randomly generated rooms, but there are also a lot of fixed events and locations that you come across throughout the game. These places will have different looks, different music, and will even introduce new mechanics like needing to hide behind boxes despite you being over 80% of the way through the game. This game kept up its nervous atmosphere through the entire experience, and every time I thought the game was going soft on me, it threw something else at me to tell me otherwise.

Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion is a game that is way too good to have a title like this. The only reason I can assume they gave this game this title is to trick its player base into thinking it was going to be some sort of joke game. Everything about this game clearly shows that its creator put a lot of thought into it, and had a lot of ideas, and I am greatly looking forward to whatever game Lag Studios creates next because of it.

They obviously knew their stuff when it comes to horror, and it is surprising that something made in Game Maker of all things can be this good. To top all of this off, however, is that this game is free to play. There is nothing stopping you from going to Steam or Desura and downloading it right now as long as you have a PC. If you are looking for a minimalist indie horror title this Halloween, forget Slender, forget Five Nights at Freddy’s, and forget every other lifeless clone of either of those to games; go with this game right here.

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