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Scary and fun

A residence burns down. The husband and wife were found dead in the wreckage. They were stabbed, and the building set aflame. Their 7-year-old daughter Ellen has been missing since the fire.

This is the backdrop for spook story Witch's House, a horror game developed by Fummy that's bound to make your skin crawl. It's an item-interaction game that rubs shoulders with Ib and Yume Nikki, but with its own distinct flavourings. Viola wakes up in a forest, lying in a bed of flowers, next to a road, with a Cheshire-like cat sitting on top of a stump. You grab a machete, try to chop down some roses, but you can't make your way out of this place. You're in a forest - and you're trapped!

The story of the game is fed to you bit by bit. Viola enters the witch's house, and becomes subject to the "trapped in a mansion and I can't get out" syndrome. Of course, most doors are locked but they'll eventually be unlocked if you solve some logic puzzles. They start off rudimentary, but they get progressively harder. Most of the puzzles in this game are challenging, yet achievable without a hint guide. If you get stuck, there are some walkthroughs that you can Google, but I only got stuck twice throughout the game - once during a portion where you had to discern which bloody passageway between eyes you had to traverse, and the second time whilst not knowing how to clean a simple pair of shoes. I'm sure you'll be able to figure it out if you play it, but if you get lost, don't hesitate to consult the walkthrough.

Despite being a game flavoured by its story, it doesn't dwell too much on the details. Most of the time the game focusses on the frights and sights as you traverse throughout the mansion, making sure you notice the little bits of clues pasted around on the walls. The clues that you receive for each solution are usually self-explanatory, and if you are careful then you don't have to die all that much at all.

I was initially surprised that such a popular and well-lauded game had RTP graphics, that weren't that impressive looking at first glance, however as you go along, you start to see little visual polishes, such as the animation of a notice burning up, or other blood animations, and various presentational polishes and flourishes that make the game stand out from the rest of the crowd. There seems to be a sort of directorial assuredness in which Fummy makes sure you get scared... it's this same polish that makes you feel like you're in a game that has been well thought-out.

Scares were hit-and-miss for me. Generally, the scares to do with either loud noises or furniture moving really quickly seemed either silly or nonsensical, as well as the random blood splatters on the wall that just channeled a vibe of imitating Ib. But on the other hand, Witch provided some distinctly new feelings of NOPE in my heart, particularly during an extremely scary 'dark maze' portion where I was proceeding to deposit brown plops in my pants as I scurried out, with the feeling of being about to be violated any second now as I fell relieved to the floor, sweating at the exit of the tunnel.

Gameplay is exploration-based and item-based, and interacting with items brings up their descriptions. Items are not used automatically, but you have to walk up to a certain object in the room and use the item in order to activate the solution. Random deaths happen, and they're often very violent (extremely!) but one of the things that makes many of these instadeath-upon-touch ideas tolerable and perhaps even scarily fun, is that the turnaround rate is so darn quick. You're crushed by a boulder, and then you're back on your feet, both within the space of 5-10 seconds. If the game over animation lasted about 15-30secs, as is the default, then it'd be a terrible nightmare, and not in the good kind of way.

The developer was wise enough to give you breathing space in the form of a humourous and touching Cheshire Cat-like character that speaks to you fondly and sometimes rather condescendingly, but also functions as a save point. When you see the cat, it's a relief, because you can save again.

The game is filled with some pretty awesome puzzles, that are well-thought-out. A particular puzzle to do with symmetry stands out as a good one, as well as a puzzle to do with the direction in which skulls face, and a soldier. There are others, however, where it starts to feel just you're interacting every item with everything, hoping that you'll find something new, which is a bad sign for a game like this. Luckily, those moments of frustration are brief, and few and far in between.

The presentation on this is generally brilliant, with a few flaws. I am usually anti-jump scares, but here they are done masterfully, because they don't use such a huge jarring sound to scare you, but rather unnerving unexplainable events that cause you to become creeped out rather quickly. Some of the chase scenes are rather too difficult, especially the bleeding eyes one at the end, because if you pick up the doll head from a certain angle then they will immediately kill you without you having a chance. The bloody pawprints weren't all that scary, but creeping through the viscera of slimy skeletons, and hearing their bones crunch under your feet was unsettling and disturbing. I loved it. There was a particular portion where you can mistakenly wear an item of clothing, and when you return to a certain spot, you will get laughed at for it. It was these kinds of recognitions of meta mistakes that made me a little more creeped out than usual, especially since I'm sure that that mistake was not recorded in the save file I loaded O_O

Endings. There are 3 endings, apparently. I would recommend that you at least get the 2 main endings, and there is an extra ending where you don't save at all but 1. I find that very hard to believe that someone would do that in their first attempt, and 2. You can just look it up on YouTube if you didn't get it. However, concerning the two endings, the main ending where you do not collect a certain item is rather standard, yet slightly chilling with the tenacity in which it happens. The SECOND ending is absolutely horrifying and I was entranced by how genius it was. It almost made me tear up slightly. That is to say that it is worth getting this second ending to the game, which some would say is the "pseudo" or "false" ending, but I believe it is the true ending because it best lines up with all the facts given before hand.

Overall, Witch's House is a mesmerizing horror game that is captivating in its scares, but not without its flaws. The absurdity of some of the scares rob them of their horror, because they seem like just scares for the sake of scares. The scares that are accompanied by quieter noises are better than the jarring "LOOK THERE'S A SKULL BEHIND YOU" moments where you're left less horrified and more annoyed. However, one of the things that sets Witch's House apart is its logical riddle-based gameplay combined with its intuitiveness and never losing sight of the player's capabilities. In a game such as this, it's good to be able to judge what the player finds both scary and fun - Witch's House delivers in both these areas.


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What I always hated from this game is its Trial-and-Error gameplay. I can completely understand why one of the endings is get by not saving, because that's hard as it sounds.
But the rest is flawless, even the real, sad, surprising ending that shocks everyone who doesn't know it :D
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