Like I said in a previous post, I am very much a fan of pixel graphics games, especially if they are of the psychological horror genre. Every now and again, when I’m not overwhelmed by the too many things which this blog is named after, I like to visit Itch.io to look for indie games of this kind. If I have to be honest, I don’t often come across games I really like (on Itch.io or in general), but if you look hard enough, there are some truly rare gems just waiting to be discovered and that deserve more attention. The following is a spoiler-free review of one such gem, The House of the Living; if you’re interested, at the bottom of this post there is a spoiler-with video commentary on the same game, the latest addition to my brand-new YouTube channel.
The House of the Living (HoL) is a short Bitsy game made by Fred Bednarski for the Gothic Novel Jam and the Sublime Bitsy Jam hosted on Itch.io a few years back. (Note to self: if you like a game in a game jam, it should dawn on you to check out the other entries of the jam right away, not when you’re reviewing the game years later. No, I didn’t accidentally leave this bit in—I’m intentionally publicly shaming myself. That’ll teach me to pay attention.)
Where was I? Ah, yes. Depending on your definition of game, HoL might be more of an interactive novel, like most Bitsy games. (Bitsy is a simple, web-based pixel-graphics engine that allows you to create interactive stories even if you can’t write a line of code to save your life.) Regardless, it’s a neat, creepy adventure that won’t take more than five or ten minutes of your time; like many games on Itch.io, it’s free and you can play it in your browser.
Aside from my personal bias in favour of pixel graphics, I find that Bednarski made excellent use of the medium to create a truly creepy atmosphere. The manor itself is impressively well-drawn and imaginative; you could tell right away something is not right simply by looking at it, even without the ominous music (composed by the very aptly named Haunted Corpse).
The choice of the colour palette (which in Bitsy is limited to three different colours) is perfect and it definitely plays a big part in setting the general tone of the game.
The dialogs, which drive the entire game, are convincing and well-written (except for a few typos), if a little cryptic; I’m not entirely sure of this, but I think there are a few covert references in the game, such as the fact that the House used to be owned by the Radcliffe family. (Nope, the reference, if it was intended, isn’t to Daniel Radcliffe, but to Ann Radcliffe, a pioneer of gothic fiction.) There are at least two endings to the game that I’m aware of, though I doubt there are more as there isn’t a whole lot you can do in the game.
According to Bednarski, the game touches the themes of religion, murder, death, and suicide (cheery stuff, but given the theme of the jam…) which is definitely true, but the meaning of the game is up for debate. I gave my own interpretation in the video below; feel free to watch it and tell me all about how I got it all wrong.
In any case, if you have five minutes to spare, make yourself a hot cuppa and enjoy this bitesize horror game. You won’t be terrified, as that was obviously not the author’s intention, but I do think you will enjoy it.