The Witch’s House

The Witch’s House is an RPG Maker gothic horror game from 2012 that was released in a remastered edition for Nintendo Switch in October 2022. The game consists of cute environmental puzzles presented in gorgeous 16-bit pixel graphics, and it’s brutally violent in an over-the-top and almost cartoonish way. It takes about fifty minutes to play if you’re good at video game puzzles, and maybe an hour and twenty minutes if you need to consult a guide like I did.

You play as Viola, a 13yo girl who finds herself alone in the woods outside a mysterious mansion. A black cat greets her and invites her to wait inside until her father comes to pick her up, thereby trapping her within a hungry and malicious labyrinth. Your job is to find a way to escape the house while learning the story of the girl who lives there, a young witch named Ellen.

The game drops you right into the action with very little preamble. Within sixty seconds, you’re inside the house. Within another sixty seconds, you’ve probably already died for the first time. I was shocked and delighted by how graphic this first death was. Viola’s deaths become more horrendous and creative as you get deeper into the house, and the main appeal of the game is seeing all the fun ways this cute anime girl can die.   

With one or two exceptions, surviving the traps isn’t a matter of reflexes. Instead, the game asks you to solve simple puzzles by interacting with the environment. The house is divided into five floors, and each floor is further divided into discrete suites of rooms associated with a specific puzzle sequence. Only the fifth and final floor has enough moving parts to necessitate consulting an online guide; and, for the most part, it’s fairly clear to figure out what you need to do. 

Of course, you can always choose to do something else just to see what will happen. The Witch’s House rewards exploration and experimentation with especially gruesome deaths. My favorite death is when Viola gets eaten by a grand piano. There’s a nice discordant crunch when the lid slams down, and I appreciate how blood oozes from the cracks.

On the game’s opening menu screen, you can choose to play in an “Easy” mode that will allow you to respawn at the start of the room where you died. When you finish the game, you’ll unlock an “Extra” mode that adds more objects and text to the environment while slightly increasing the complexity of the puzzles. Despite the fact that the Extra mode and the Easy mode are mutually exclusive, I enjoyed replaying The Witch’s House with the added difficulty. You can interact with just about everything you see on screen, and the flavor text is terse yet interesting. The house is like a murder playground, and it’s fun to wander around while triggering various awful scenarios.

The game’s story is self-contained and satisfying. There are two extra endings unlocked by meeting special challenge conditions (which aren’t a big deal in Easy mode), and they both add horrifying context to the default ending. Apparently, there’s also a fourth ending where the house simply allows you to leave if you wait in the foyer for an hour of real time. I’m not going to do that, of course, but that’s neat.

For me, The Witch’s House was $15 and two hours well spent. I think some people might complain about how the spooky atmosphere of the game relies a bit too heavily on jumpscares, which is fair… but they’re very good jumpscares. In the end, The Witch’s House presents a perfect short story with excellent pacing that continually surprises the player and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The puzzles are clever without being difficult, the 16-bit graphics are beautiful, and the translation is excellent.

Horror Fiction Zines at Common Meter Press

I’m honored to have three of my zines in stock at Common Meter, a new zine distro and poetry micropress!

These three zines – Ghost Stories, Haunted Houses, and Haunted Haiku – are only available through Common Meter. They’ve done a fantastic job of creating listings, which you can find on their website (here). It’s incredible to see my creative work presented in such a cool and stylish way, and I’m beyond impressed by how Common Meter supports the writers and poets they work with. I understand that the press is currently creating a series of original, hand-printed chapbooks, so please check them out if you’re interested in reading (and perhaps publishing) cutting-edge writing.

I also want to recommend Common Meter’s Instagram (here), where they’ve started to post gorgeous photos featuring zines ranging from bright and colorful minicomics to letterpress poetry chapbooks. They’re just getting off the ground, and I can wait to see where the wind takes them.

How The Wind Waker Navigated Fan Expectations

I’m excited to have published an essay titled “How Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Navigated Fan Expectations on one of my favorite video game sites, Sidequest.

I’ve been studying fan interpretations of the Legend of Zelda games for about five years, but I’ve mainly focused on fancomics. In this essay, I finally ventured into the stormy territory of IGN forums to try to understand why people disliked The Wind Waker when it came out twenty years ago. Here’s an excerpt:

For better or worse, gamers have grown up, and video games have developed as an artistic medium alongside us. In the case of The Wind Waker, the Legend of Zelda fandom has matured enough to appreciate the depth of the game’s story and design, as well as the unique character of its graphic style. Meanwhile, the challenge Tears of the Kingdom will face is that many of the younger players who embraced Breath of the Wild are now seven years older, and they expect the game’s sequel to reflect the seven years of cultural progression they experienced alongside gaming fandom on social media.

If you’re interested, the full essay is available to read online here:

Hyrule Apocrypha Zine Preorders

I’m excited to share the premise of the piece I wrote for Hyrule Apocrypha, an illustrated fiction anthology exploring the myth and lore of the Legend of Zelda series. Everyone knows the tale of Hylia’s chosen hero, but myriad other stories hide in the shadows…

Hyrule Apocrypha is a substantial full-color book that weighs in at 120 pages, and preorders are open until June 11.

🌿 Preorder page on BigCartel:
🌿 Hyrule Apocrypha on Twitter:

She Came from the Stars

She Came from the Stars is a speculative minicomic fanzine that reimagines the myths and lore surrounding gods and mortals in the Legend of Zelda games.

Hyrule is dystopian, and its goddess Hylia is more than a little scary. In a country ruled by a hierophant queen, what does it mean to be an outsider? Perhaps, before he became a demon, Ganondorf may have once seen himself as a hero…

The digital zine is free to download from Itchio:



Deadeus is a retro Game Boy horror adventure game in which you have three days before the apocalypse. If you play the game straight, you quietly enjoy your remaining time in your small seaside town before climbing a scenic hilltop to watch the sky fall. If you discover the hidden passageway underneath the town church, however, you can join an evil cult and get the party started early.

You play as a young boy who lives with his mother. Attendance at the local school is voluntary, so you’re free to explore anywhere you like in your town, which is large but not unmanageably so. The town consists of about thirty screens (not including indoor areas), and you can pull up a map with Select if you need it. There are about forty people you can talk with, and their dialogue changes every day. There’s no time limit to these days, which end when you decide to go to bed. If you’re doing a pacifist run, it takes about twenty minutes to explore everything each day has to offer.

The premise of Deadeus is that all the town children are having bad dreams. In the first of these dreams, an eldritch horrorterror informs the children that it will manifest in three days. The town itself seems quaint and utopian; but, as you talk to people and read various documents in the library, you learn that the area has a dark history. There have been waves of unexplained disappearances, for instance, as well as a surprising number of attempted murders.  

If you want, you can steal a ceremonial knife from the town cult and attempt some murders yourself. The game subtly guides you in this direction, and this is where most of the potential gameplay lies.

Deadeus has eleven endings, and the more interesting of these endings involve killing people in specific ways. In order to get the most satisfying (by which I mean the most gruesome) ending, you need to play through the three days while collecting objects to use in a cult ritual.

Meanwhile, the most gameplay-intensive ending involves killing every single NPC in town without getting caught. Deadeus has no combat, so this is largely a matter of stealth and strategy. A few murders require you to be clever, and I enjoyed the challenge.

Still, you don’t have to hurt anyone, and the default ending of Deadeus stands on its own. I think this might actually be the ending I prefer, especially considering what you learn about yourself and your town.

If you make use of your Game Boy emulator’s Save State function, it takes about three hours to see everything there is to see in Deadeus. Some of the endings are much better than others, so I recommend consulting the list of endings (here) and following your heart. The spoiler-free town map (here) is also useful.

A lot of homebrew Game Boy horror games are rough around the edges, but Deadeus is extremely polished. The gameplay is great, the art is perfect, the writing is decent, and even the music choices are interesting. Despite the disturbing imagery, there are no jumpscares in the game, and it’s entirely up to the player how gory they want their experience to be. It’s also up to the player how much reading they want to do, and there’s a fair bit of text on offer if you’re into lore hunting.

And finally, I like how your character’s eyes seem to be bleeding throughout the entire game. Understated pixel horror is always appreciated.

The Mist

The Mist

The Mist is a Game Boy horror adventure game based on Cthulhu mythos and inspired by the 2019 movie The Lighthouse. Despite only consisting of about twenty side-scrolling screens, it’s an intricate game that takes around 40 to 45 minutes to finish.

You play as an old man sent to maintain an isolated lighthouse for two months. Your job is simple: keep the light at the top of the tower going, maintain the chapel, and don’t try to look for the body of the previous lighthouse keeper.

This potential gameplay loop is quickly interrupted when your character starts having strange dreams involving a sea monster calling him “son” and asking him to return to the ocean. Your character’s dreams become progressively stranger, and what you end up doing is completely neglecting the lighthouse as you poke around the tower to satisfy his curiosity.

About halfway through the game, you begin to navigate dream sequences as well as the waking world, and these dreams are a lot of fun. There are no jumpscares in the dreams, but there are a few (excellent) monster animations that you’re forced to watch become progressively more disturbing. In addition to the in-game cutscenes, there are about two dozen illustrations for longer conversations and reading passages. The pixel art in this game is wonderful, especially given the graphic limitations.

The Mist includes a few puzzle sequences, but these sequences mainly consist of figuring out what you need to do next. Given that your range of motion is limited, these “puzzles” can be solved by process of elimination. There’s one puzzle about thirty minutes into the game that might be a little frustrating, but the creator has embedded a full playthrough video in the game’s page on Itchio if you get stuck.

The creator of The Mist is French, which means two things. First, their English is a little off, but it’s off in a way that makes sense in French and is still completely comprehensible to English speakers. Second, their concept of Christianity is extremely Catholic, and it was amusing to me to imagine a grizzled New Englander consecrating an altar with wine and praying to various saints. It’s always interesting to see how other cultures interpret the Cthulhu mythos, and I unironically loved this.

The Mist loses its footing for a bit in the middle – especially around the puzzle I mentioned earlier – but it’s a neat piece of storytelling that creates an immersive environment at a slow but steady pace. Even if you’re not a Lovecraft fan, The Mist is an interesting and atmospheric game about slowly losing your mind on the fragile shell of land suspended above the massive horrors of the watery depths.

It’s Not Me, It’s My Basement

It’s Not Me, It’s My Basement

It’s Not Me, It’s My Basement is an RPG Maker gothic horror game from 2021 along the lines of The Witch’s House and Mad Father. It takes about 35 minutes to finish, and it’s free to download from Itchio.

You play as a kid named Embry whose parents have been eaten by monsters. Embry has managed to padlock the basement door, but the monsters are constantly hungry. The player is therefore tasked with feeding the monsters so they don’t escape and eat Embry. The game consists of navigating between Embry’s kitchen and the town market while stopping at the basement door a few times along the way.

The story is divided into three days, during which food becomes progressively scarce and the monsters become increasingly hungry. Each night, after feeding the monsters, Embry has a dream. All three dreams end with an extremely mild jumpscare, but the game is more concerned with creating an oppressive atmosphere than it is with trying to shock you.

What I appreciate is that it’s unclear what the monsters are or where they came from, just as it’s occasionally unclear what Embry is feeding them. Although you have the choice to enter the basement in one of Embry’s dreams, you never learn exactly what’s going on down there, and sometimes not knowing is worse.

If you’re worried that I just spoiled the game, please don’t be. There’s a lot going on here.

The creator has a few shorter games available on Itchio, some of which are loosely connected through a shared universe. The reason I chose to play It’s Not Me, It’s My Basement is because this game has a surprisingly large online fandom. Seriously, it even has its own page on TV Tropes (here).

It’s Not Me, It’s My Basement feels a bit like Homestuck run through a few filters. Everything about this game is catnip for edgy tweens. Even if that doesn’t sound appealing to you, It’s Not Me, It’s My Basement presents an interesting and open-ended story, and the game is a fun experience that doesn’t bother the player with any puzzle elements that impede the flow – or the steadily mounting creepiness – of the delivery.

An Autumn With You

An Autumn With You

An Autumn With You is a short and nonviolent Game Boy adventure game that you can play for free in your browser window. You are Daynese, who is five and three quarters years old, and you’ve just moved with your parents from the city to your nana’s house in the country.

On the game’s Itchio page, the creator says An Autumn With You was inspired by My Neighbor Totoro, and I can see the influence. The forest around your nana’s house is home to magical creatures called Wichu that are attracted to acts of kindness. As her parents deal with their own issues, Daynese explores the beautiful area around her new house and makes a friend.

The interesting pull from My Neighbor Totoro isn’t the forest creatures, however; it’s the way Daynese creatively engages with her environment in to help her process what’s going on with her parents. Like Mei and Satsuki’s father, Daynese’s mother is a scholar working on a manuscript, and her writing schedule is intense. Meanwhile, Daynese’s father seems to have lost his job, and the family couldn’t afford to stay in the city on an academic salary.

I imagine this situation will be spookily relatable to the many Millennial parents who had to move back in with their own parents during the pandemic, or perhaps during the prolonged economic depression preceding it. Daynese is five (and three quarters) years old, and she just wants to play outside. Meanwhile, her parents aren’t doing well. In between Daynese’s jaunts into the forest, the player watches her parents gradually break down while her grandmother stands outside and waits for the storm to pass.

The main narrative drive of An Autumn With You is figuring out whether Daynese’s parents are going to be okay. It’s a short game that should take about ten to fifteen minutes to play, but I nevertheless managed to become extremely invested the story.

Unfortunately, a few of gameplay elements toward the end of the game are somewhat opaque. To give an example, I had to consult a video playthrough (here) in order to figure out the next-to-last action necessary to finish the game. You know you have to fetch food for Daynese’s forest creature friend, but there are no clues to indicate that the game expects you to go fishing with the fishing rod in the back of the car parked outside the house. If your family just moved from the city, why would there be a fishing rod in their car? I spent a solid ten minutes searching for something to interact with in and around the house before I finally gave up and went online.

If you’ve just read the above paragraph, however, then you already know about the fishing rod, and rest of the game shouldn’t be too tricky. In fact, I’d say that An Autumn With You is a perfect game for its length, not to mention a wonderful use of the medium to tell a story. The art is lovely, and An Autumn With You is filled with small but significant grace notes that add color and depth to its world.

Lily’s Well

Lily’s Well

Lily’s Well is a lo-fi horror adventure game with a charming top-down NES aesthetic. You play as an anime girl named Lily who hears a voice calling for help from the well by her isolated cabin in the woods. Your job is to explore the house and its surroundings while collecting materials to make a rope. Depending on how many materials you assemble, you’ll be able to descend to a different level of the well. Each of the ten levels is its own horrible ending.

There are ten “good” materials and another five “bad” materials that you can find. If you incorporate a bad material into your rope, it will break. Lily will die, and you’ll have to start over again from the beginning. The game doesn’t signpost which materials are good or bad, so you have to go through them one by one and figure this out for yourself using the process of elimination. I got very frustrated very quickly, but this could have just been me being impatient.

I found the guide (here) to be extremely useful. This isn’t so much a walkthrough as it is a list of materials and a FAQ, and you’ll still have to put the pieces of the game together yourself. While using the guide, it took me about three hours to get all of the endings.

If you use the guide judiciously, you can finish the game in about 45 minutes. This involves spending 25 minutes to get to the bottom of the well, and another 20 minutes to explore what’s down there. Every other ending is an instant gruesome death for Lily, while the bottom of the well is essentially the second half of the game. In all fairness, the game’s true ending has a much better payoff if you die a few times first, and there are all sorts of fun little secrets to play with between runs, including certain events that only trigger on multiple playthroughs.

I said at the beginning that Lily’s Well has an NES aesthetic, but it’s really more of an early 1990s MS DOS game. The graphics are primitive, but the game uses them extremely well and puts a lot of care into the adventure elements. There’s all sorts of text for anything you care to interact with; and, if you’re patient, it’s possible to figure everything out on your own without using a guide.

The adventure game elements of Lily’s Well were hit-or-miss for me, and what I really enjoyed was the game’s dark humor. It was fun to see this cute anime girl die in all sorts of fun and creative ways, and I loved how over-the-top gruesome each ending is. I kept playing to dig deeper into the lore and see just how gleefully horrible Lily’s world could get under its placid surface, and I was not disappointed.