Short Reviews: Spooktober 2021

I can’t believe how much the Spooktober Game Jam has grown in its first few years! I participated as one of the co-writers of Were|House last year, when we were one of 44 entries, and now this year’s list of submissions is up to 114! There’s no way I have the time to read all of them, but here are some of my impressions of a few that caught my eye. And if you’re a streamer reading this before October 29th, 2021, consider checking these games out on stream, as you could win awards from the jam for it too!

The Case of the Serialized Killer

I’ve enjoyed several of Alexis Royce’s other games, so I definitely didn’t want to miss their submission to the jam! The Case of the Serialized Killer follows a disgraced demonologist and his partner as they navigate a party full of curious characters, where things soon go awry and leave them with a mystery on their hands. I was especially impressed with the variety of unique and diverse character designs in this one, and my favourite part was the notebook you can open to read about the protagonists’ backgrounds and opinions. I also loved the piano soundtrack using compositions by Nicolas Gasparini! If you like supernatural mysteries with some point-and-click elements, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Stardander: Revenant

Stardander: Revenant is a preview/spinoff of the upcoming Stardander School for Witches, and it got me hooked enough to wishlist the full game on steam right away (considering doing the same if you’re interested, as wishlists really help developers get their games discovered). It’s similar to one of my favourite series, Magical Diary, with its focus on students at a magic school, but also sets itself apart with turn-based combat and some pretty complex spell mechanics that I’m looking forward to getting the hang of when I have more of the school year to play around with. I also really liked the little animations in the visuals, and protagonist Griselda’s aggressively optimistic attitude. If you’re interested in a Spooktober entry that’s a bit more of an RPG than a visual novel, give this one a try and keep an eye out for updates on the Stardander universe!

Scary Gourmet

I was drawn to this one by the cuteness of its concept: two dads trying to make the perfect dinner for their vegan daughter and her new girlfriend! With so many visual novels focusing on teenagers and young adults, it’s nice to read one about middle-aged parents for a change, especially with such eye-catching designs for this family of spooky supernatural animals. I would have liked to see some of the same visual creativity applied to other details like GUI elements, but of course, that’s the kind of thing you tend to run out of time for in a game jam—and a minor lack of polish doesn’t do anything to take away from the sweet story. I’d love to read more about Wingston and Barktholomew’s relationship to each other and their daughter in the future!

Wolfskin’s Curse

Wolfskin’s Curse struck me as coincidentally a little similar to Serialized Killer: it also centers on two people fleeing a mysterious past who stumble into a mystery after being welcomed into a stranger’s home. The art in this one is gorgeous as well, and I particularly appreciated the backgrounds as well as the subtle lighting effects on the sprites in some scenes. The voice acting came across a bit overwrought at times, but it’s still pretty well done, and very impressive for a game made under such a big time constraint. I’d be happy to see the same developers approach an even deeper and more complex mystery without the limits of a game jam one day, so their skills can shine even more.

Blank

Finally, the Spooktober entry I read most recently is a bit of an abstract and eerie story about using your thoughts to create a world on a blank canvas. Its set-up poses a compelling ontological mystery, and the cyclical nature of its structure had me intrigued by opportunities to go back and try out slightly different choices this time. Don’t be turned off by the slight uncanniness of the different character sprites, or the way they all seem to have the same face—you’ll eventually find out the reason for it! Check out Blank if you’re looking for a brand of horror that’s less in-your-face and more subtly unsettling and strange.

If you’re looking for more visual novels to read, check out my archive of past posts, my itch.io collection of all the short games I’ve reviewed in this series, and the rest of the Spooktober 2021 entries. Thanks, and have a happy Halloween!

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