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Not So Child's Play

  • Frogge
  • 09/02/2020 07:49 PM
  • 519 views

Dollhouse by DeyJay5
Length: ~2 hours


Dollhouse is unique in that it's probably the only rpg maker game out there that I can say truly feels like a B-movie. I don't know if that was the developer's intent, but if you've seen your fair share of cheesy, campy horror movies, you'll probably be able to appreciate some of the things this game does a lot. It's a nice breath of fresh air - rpg maker horror is almost entirely dominated by either J-horror or games by western developers that take heavy influence from J-horror. While I do love some good ol' J-horror, it's always appreciated to see developers trying something new for the genre, and that's why I have a lot of respect for Dollhouse despite the fact that it has quite a few flaws.

Being a horror game that feels very B-horror influenced, the story is not what you would call great. It's a ton of fun, especially later on into it, but it has some problems. Early on it was the most noticable for me, where the game almost seemed like it was going for a sort of serious vibe, even putting in a pretty ballsy character death only just one chapter in. Around that time, it was a lot more noticable when the writing was being kind of silly. I don't really mean the intentionally silly writing at the start, which does have some nice lighthearted humour, by the way, but rather the part where a doll first starts doing creepy stuff every night at the house. Somehow, throughout an entire segment where it's painfully obvious that the doll is moving around, it never really occurs to the main character to throw the doll out, even though she is suspicious of it moving around on its own. She then finds her daughter sleepwalking one night, and assumes it must have been her the entire time, even though she was nowhere to be seen during any of the previous events. There are moments like this throughout the game that make the story seem not very well thought out, such as another example being a doll later on that single handedly kills two policemen, who presumably have guns, and one adult male, but is then taken out by the main character with a knife. You could argue that these moments might be intentional to add to the campiness of the game, and if there's anything 2020 has taught most of us it's that some people really can just be this stupid, but regarldess if the intent was satirical then I think the game would have benefited a little more from playing into these to make it obvious. It's also worth noting that the characters don't really have any personality that makes you care for them and they're mostly just there, some of them barely even present before they die. Without spoiling anything, there's a character who would logically be very close to the protagonist who gets less screentime than a character who's just someone the protagonist knows, making the death that should feel less impactful be the more significant of the two. The characters are mostly just there rather than actually feeling like real people, but it's not a huge issue since it's not a character focused game, just something worth pointing out but not worth docking points over.


A back door leading outside? ...On the second floor?


The positives do outshine the negatives in terms of the writing, though. I mostly bring it up as my first point as a segue rather than it being my most major complaint. But before I get to that, it might be worth pointing out some of the things that the writing does do well. For one, I like that the game gets increasingly more and more bonkers as it goes along. The final chapter in particular is an absolute blast. Being a western B-movie style game, it does some things that I don't think I've ever seen other rpg maker horror do - even just having the main character be a married mother of three rather than a teenage girl feels like such a nice change of scenery to see. Outside of the fifth chapter there are still a couple really fun scenes, such as one where you first enter the dollhouse and fall down a hole that does that cartoony thing where it shows you sliding through a winding tube before you actually get to where the hole leads to that doesn't look great, but is an awesome idea none the less. The scene where the leader of the dolls is in the shower and you have to sneak around gives me Coraline vibes for some reason, which can only really be a good thing. The antagonist in general, actually, makes me think vaguely of the beldam from Coraline, and as I said, that can only be a good thing. The last bit where you're swimming up from the sewers feels like a super fun slasher movie homage, though as I said earlier that entire final chapter is pretty awesome in general. The developer does take the effort to give the antagonist a fairly understandable motivation, which you don't agree with, of course, but you at least understand, and it's a nice touch not to have a rpg maker horror villain whose evilness stems from their ideology rather than some excuse like past trauma or just no motivation at all. So all in all, Dollhouse does feature a lot of fun scenes and ideas that make up for the shortcomings of the story, probably even more than I mentioned here, but I don't want to spoil everything.

That brings me to the game's other big positive before I get to the main negatives, which is the cutscenes. It may seem like a strange thing to point out in a review, but it would be a crime not to seeing as how much effort was put into the cutscenes in this game. There's a lot of movement to accompany what's going on, which plays nicely into some show don't tell, and a lot of scenes are honestly pretty impressive. I must once again mention the final chapter, which has some of the most striking cutscenes in the game thanks to how ambitious it is in general, but there's a lot in the earlier chapters to appreciate as well. I see a lot of rpg maker horror games that use cuts very jarringly or just weasel out of animating movement by having things teleport instead, or even just fade the screen and describe what happens, so it's nice to see a game that feels so influenced by B-horror movies also put in a lot of effort into its cinematics.

Unfortunately, the two things that hold me back from loving this game the most are the gameplay and the visuals. While the cutscenes are very cinematic and look great as I mentioned, the rest of the game leaves something to be desired. Maps are often a mixed bag, ranging from okay to pretty ugly. The most noticable for me was the doll store, which not only looks nothing like a store, but also uses a wall and the ceiling as a counter rather than just using a table, which I'm fairly sure the tileset the developer was using has. The exteriors are kind of nice, and the dollhouse has a few underground garage looking areas that look pretty neat too, but otherwise the game is pretty weak in terms of the mapping. It's also worth mentioning that some interiors, like in the image a little further above, have doors blocking hallways that don't actually connect to the walls that look really weird, and even have that black void thing behind them when they open. despite the other side clearly being visible, if that makes sense. The sewers in the final chapter also had a few perpective issues I caught. Are those swimming sections meant to look like sidescrolling or have the same top down perspective as the rest of the game? Because you can see the walls under the ceiling, but the character only facing sideways sort of implies it's a sideview perspective. If there's anything else to praise here, it would be that it's a nice touch to have character poses for Natalie getting on the mom's shoulder and stuff like that. Otherwise, there's improvements to be made to the visuals that might help enhance the game.


Ah yes, the stairs leading down to each of the classrooms, a staple for every school.


As for the gameplay, there's some fun ideas and sections here and there, but there's a few that really annoyed me as well. The passabilities being kind of weird is worth mentioning, even though it's not really much of a subset of the gameplay as much as it is of the game's overall polish, but the game is polished enough that I don't feel the need to do a seperate paragraph talking about it instead of just bringing it up here. There's a lot of objects that you can't even get close to, passages that look like you should be able to pass through them but you can't, et cetera. I could almost never get as close to objects as much as the visuals implied I could, and even if minor, it was still a prevalent issue throughout the game. More importantly, I commonly the puzzles to come across like they were padding the time or just straight up frustrating. The pushing puzzles are particularly tedius, despite having some nice ideas, because the pushing itself is pretty slow and time consuming, and it's so easy to make one wrong step and get an instant game over and have to redo the entire thing. The last pushing puzzle was easily the worst offender of this - I spent like 20 minutes just on that one puzzle despite solving most of it in five minutes because I was not sure what to do after opening the gates and any mistake I made meant I had to redo the entire lengthy puzzle. My first assumption was to move the bench to the red block to open the door, so when that didn't work I tried switching the places of the bench and the boulder instead so that the bench would keep the gates open while I push the boulder toe the red block, but that didn't work either, so I had to redo the puzzle because the boulder got stuck in a location where I could no longer move it. Strangely enough, the solution to this puzzle is to push the bench on top of one of the insta kill tiles so that you can walk across it safely and push the boulder across as well, which felt like the weirdest solution of all, considering common sense would probably make you think that wouldn't work. Maybe if it was a wooden board or something, but pushing a boulder over a bench just feels nonsensical? One other minor thing I would mention would be the swimming sections in the final chapter, which are a nice idea, but you swim soooo slowly. It's really annoying, especially if you die and have to redo them, which thankfully only happened a few times in the segments with the blue flames and I got through them easily enough, but I'd have much preferred having less time before you drown but being able to go faster over having more time and being this slow.

All in all, though, I enjoyed Dollhouse. It's a short and fun experience that you can easily get through in one sitting, and it's nice to see a developer trying something different in rpg maker even if it has its shortcomings. I'd give Dollhouse three Annabelles over five.

Posts

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I play alot of crappy RTP games so the graphical mishaps didnt really bother me when i was playing, but those bathroom doors did look pretty weird just floating off its hinges. Those puzzles though, were pretty hard especially when u have time pressure.

But yea, as the B movie that it is its just fun horror as opposed to the more serious jrpg horror. Right up my alley so I enjoyed it.
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