Review: Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion

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I’m so annoyed at how effective this game is. I’m so annoyed that a stupid cardboard bat popping out of a wall can make me jump. I’m so annoyed that just hearing the music change can make my heart race. But maybe what annoys me most is how much this goofy, free game gets right about horror, when so many others can barely inspire a gasp.

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Spooky’s House of Jump Scare Mansion or whatever you know it as is a journey through 1000 rooms of a haunted/cursed/infected/infested mansion. Each journey is broken into blocks of 50 rooms, with a save point and an elevator at the end to give you a breather. Everything in between is randomized, meaning rooms 1-50 will never be the same sequence or contain the same elements for anyone. All you have to do is get to the end of each room, but you’ll soon find that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

The interface is as simple as can be, with mouse/keyboard movement, a sprint button, and a use button. You have regenerating health and stamina, the latter of which is spent to sprint (and do other things much later). That’s all you need to progress through the mostly barren rooms at breakneck speed, which is what you’ll be doing most of the time. The vast majority of rooms are simple and featureless, with only a few turns to take or a single fork to pass. Larger rooms can have more complex layouts or puzzle elements, but are broken up by vast expanses of randomized hallways. Some of them get a little tiresome in how long they take to navigate and how often they’re used, but in general you can clear a 50-room block in about 10 minutes.

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This probably sounds like garbage, but there’s a method to the monotony. There are things in Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion, you see, things that will jumpscare you. At first they’re literally cardboard cutouts that spring from the walls when you least expect them. Later you’ll find yourself pursued by far more lethal things, and your attention will be focused entirely on how to escape them. Those same dumb cutouts will still be around, though, and the first time you yelp at a smiling cartoon spider while fleeing a psychotic, faceless thing will make you curse yourself. But it works.

The pacing of the game is one element of its brilliance, and this is buoyed by the special rooms and encounters sprinkled through the halls. You’ll come across certain threats and their unique lairs around certain level bands but there are other events like the looping hallway (and the thing living in it) that can show up at any time to ruin your day. You’ll start to feel out the rhythm of the game in your first hundred rooms, identifying when you’re safe and when you need to run… and then a hundred rooms later all that goes out the window. You never really feel fully safe here, thanks to how Spooky’s plays with the expectations of the genre.

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No matter what horror game you’re coming here from, there will be something familiar that plays on your fears. Everything from Resident Evil to Five Nights at Freddy’s is represented, with scares designed around what you know about the genre. Much of the terror is tied up in how much you fear being chased, as the graphics don’t allow for much beyond pixellated monsters trailing you. The sound design deserves special mention here, though, because it is some of the most effective, oppressive ambiance to grace a horror title. Taking clear inspiration from Silent Hill and otherworldly experiences, the Spooky’s soundtrack is full of industrial pounding and dissonant chords to keep the hairs on the back of your neck up. It’s something worth experiencing, because until you do you can’t ever fully understand how aggravatingly well Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion can inspire terror.

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