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.