Budget Bytes #6: Spooky Edition

Budget Bytes #6: Spooky Edition

With October upon us, I thought it would only be fitting if we focus on horror games for this edition of Budget Bytes. There are plenty of horror games out that cost $10 and less that are just waiting to be played.

For those who are wondering if I’m going to be featuring any Spooktober 2021 entries in this article, I won’t. However, the VN Game Den team does have something planned for Spooktober 2021 games, so look out for that later this month!

EGOLOGIC

Price: $7

Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux (itch.io)

The game follows Tâm, who moves away from the city to a small apartment complex, the same one his sister Linh recently moved out of. When he arrives at his new place, he notices the lack of tenants. Although there are some friendly faces—such as Mantra, a social butterfly and Linh’s old friend, and Index, a quiet man who would rather spend his days in the forest enjoying what nature has to offer—our protagonist feels uneasy. He hears things rustling around with nobody to attach the sound to, and the light in his bathroom constantly flickers, although the janitor claims there’s nothing wrong with it. Lastly, there was an incident here. Someone went missing, and they’ve yet to be found. Does this missing-person case have anything to do with the strange happenings going on? Is it why Linh and so many other tenants left to go elsewhere? Will Tâm end up doing the same? Will he even be alive to make that decision?

At the start, the game does a great job at building intrigue and uneasiness in the player. When I saw Linh mention the lights flickering and the janitor saying there’s nothing wrong with it, it immediately set off alarm bells in my head. The game even shows the player this bathroom, where the light will flicker every few seconds. You expect something to appear, but nothing does. However, you get the feeling that there is something more to the flickering lights. Once the game gets into the meat of the story, which deals with spirituality, the supernatural, and your inner self, the game gets really good. Although I’m not really a believer of spirituality and spirits, the game manages to pull me in and make me care about the subject matter it tackles.

What I like most about the game is its art. For the majority of the game, you’ll be seeing monochrome visuals, with very little color. But I don’t find this to be a negative aspect of the game at all. I think the lack of color adds to the lack of life within the game. The game world, at least in Tâm’s eyes, is empty. So, stylistically, this color palette makes sense, because we’re seeing the world how Tâm sees it. To add to this, the game is very quiet as well, which again adds to the lack of life in the game’s setting. There are music tracks that pop up more in the second and last acts of the game during its more intense moments, which bring life to the quiet, uneasy atmosphere.

I highly recommend checking out EGOLOGIC when you get the chance.

HIKEBACK

Price: Free

Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux, Browser (itch.io)

HIKEBACK is an interesting, short game jam title that was submitted to SCREAMORTALITY earlier this year. The protagonist is an unfortunate driver who picks up a hitchhiker looking badly in need of help. After they’ve picked up the stranger and driven to get them some aid, the stranger stabs the protagonist, causing them to swerve and crash. The protagonist asks the hitchhiker why they stabbed them and all they say is that they couldn’t help it, it’s in their nature.

The game ends there. Well, that playthrough does. You see, when you start up a new game, the game is different. In your first run, you don’t make any choices. You simply play through the scenario I just explained to you. But each subsequent playthrough does have choices, which in turn determine your ending. The text changes up as well with each subsequent playthrough.

What’s important to note here is that the game doesn’t let you manually save, which I think is a brilliant idea here. It works for two reasons. First, each playthrough is short and the game automatically saves itself after each playthrough, so the player won’t have to worry about losing progress. Second, the lack of a save feature during gameplay also plays into the game’s atmosphere.

The game does a great job of building an incredibly intense atmosphere. After all, the protagonist has just been killed by this random stranger, and now you’re replaying the same scenario again and again, unsure if history will repeat itself or if perhaps something different will happen. Will it, though?

The writing is phenomenal. I mentioned earlier that with each playthrough, the writing changes. You don’t re-live the same exact event over and over again. It’s changed up slightly, and it’s based on how the previous playthroughs went. For example, the player drinks up the last of their energy drink. On the next playthrough, there’s nothing in the can. Strange, right? It’s little things like these that show how your previous playthroughs have an effect on future gameplay, and I think that’s great, especially given the time-loop situation the protagonist finds themself in.

There are so many little things about this game that I loved, but I won’t dare spoil what those are. I highly recommend this game to anyone, especially to those who love games with time loops as much as I do.

Up All Night

Price: Free (game jam version), $6.99 (remastered version, out October 20th)

Platform: Windows, Mac (game jam version & remastered version), Linux (remastered version) (itch.io) (Steam)

Stuck after a bad snowstorm, Nick is alone at his cabin until he meets Felix and Grayson. Things only get worse from there when Felix comes upon a gruesome murder.

This game is incredibly sad, so be warned. The game talks about serious subject matters, such as PTSD, but it’s solidly written. When Nick is experiencing a panic attack, the world around him disappears and he’s transported to a dark area. In one scene, I noticed his eyes become dead, hollow. His thoughts, ones that only fuel his panic, flood his mind. He’s stuck in this nightmare-like scenario where he’s reliving horrors he wishes he could forget. The game manages to help us, the players, understand what Nick is going through, using visuals and what’s written on the screen. I really love that about this game.

There’s one big issue I have with the game, however, and that’s the game’s engine, TyranoBuilder. I experience slowdowns; for example, when skipping text I’ve already seen before, the game will have to take a second or two to load up the next scene. My computer can run most modern games, so I’m sure this is an issue with TyranoBuilder. At first, I didn’t mind it, but it ended up getting annoying when I kept bumping into this problem over and over again. This issue isn’t the fault of the game or the developer, but I would have wished for the game to be a better-optimized engine. Thankfully, the remastered version of this game will be in Ren’Py, a commonly used engine in the visual novel scene that works very well.

At the time of writing, Up All Night‘s remaster is going to launch on October 20th. This will feature numerous changes that weren’t possible in the original due to the TyranoBuilder engine. The GUI will be completely revamped, with various customization options such as different typefaces, audio captions, bug fixes, and a lot more. The remastered version will retail for $6.99, making it a budget-friendly game that fans of the original game jam title should pick up when it releases later this month. If you’re eager to see the revamped game in action, there is a demo build available for it on the Up All Night game page.

You can read our review for Up All Night here.

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