Halloween Gaming: Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion

Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion.png

Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion by Lag Studios is the next game on my Halloween playlist.  As an avid enthusiast of history, you, the player, decide to embark on a mission to explore a local abandoned mansion whose past is shrouded in mystery.  Upon entering the abode, you are greeted by the gal ghost Spooky, who challenges you to survive all 1000 rooms of her haunted lair.

SJSM 7.png

The layout of the massive titular mansion is procedurally generated.  The player is tasked with overcoming 1000 rooms in the house, and a little counter exists at the top of the screen which keeps track of progress.  The house is mostly composed of a limited set of pre-designed rooms which are put together in a random sequence that changes each time the player starts up the game.  Because there’s a much smaller number of these pre-made rooms than the 1000 total, you’ll see a lot of them repeated over and over again across the course of the game.  There are certain specific rooms, however, that always appear at the same spot in the overall sequence.  These rooms are usually considerably more elaborate than the others and serve to give some story to the game and usually set up the appearance of a new monstrous resident of the mansion.

SJSM 6.png

The monsters of the game, called specimens, are the source of the adventure’s challenge, along with the player’s nerve to move forward.  When specimens appear, they give chase to the main character through the randomized rooms of the mansion.  It’s not the most complex game, and often it is pretty easy to outrun the various specters.  They doggedly pursue you from room to room, but will stop after predetermined points.  Things get a little more complicated later in the game, as there are certain tricks the player needs to figure out to escape the more advanced specimens.  Eventually, the player also gets a weapon of dubious effectiveness.

The story in SJSM is rather minimal and exists purely to provide flavor to the haunted adventure.  The Jump Scare Mansion and its mistress possess a mish-mash of chilling horrors and flippant comedy.  Despite being home to some truly evil supernatural entities, the mansion sometimes feels like an elaborate practical joke.  Spooky comes off like a juvenile prankster who has assembled the horrific deathtrap not out of prime malevolence, but more for her own dark yet frivolous amusement.  In addition to the more elaborate story-centric rooms I described above, little snippets of story tend to emerge here and there.  The player can find bits of text, like notes left behind by other foolish trespassers, and occasionally, Spooky, herself, will come out to interact with the player for a short bit.  But otherwise, there’s not much of grandiose plot behind the game.  All of these little story bits exist merely to enhance the mood and atmosphere.

SJSM 1.png

Despite the fact that the game is built from a fairly small set of simple rooms strung together by procedural generation, I felt like it still managed to be highly effective at creating atmosphere and tension.  Much of this was due to how the game continually subverted my expectations.  For the first several rooms, you are faced only with goofy pop-out haunted house scares, until you meet the first specimen, a fairly uninspired creature which only slowly gives chase.  But from then on out, the specimens become increasingly disturbing, and eventually the game began to challenge the “rules” by which I thought it worked.  There were times I felt like I was safe, only to be desperately alarmed to find out otherwise.  Eventually, even during the down periods in which there were no monsters present, I felt constantly uneasy, because I realized anything could happen at anytime.  By keeping the player on their toes in this way, the designers were able to create a level of tension and suspense that I felt was highly effective.

It’s often said that the fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all.  It might be a trite saying, but I find that it is especially true with games.  I’ve noticed in SJSM that the scariest parts of the game are when there are no active threats against the player.  It was those times when there was nothing chasing me that I began to psyche myself out while waiting for the next monster to dreadfully appear.  When the monsters finally did present themselves, I found my stress rapidly dropped off, since I could more rationally assess the threat.

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I often find people say that video games can’t be scary, because the player can just reset to the last save point if they die, and thus there is no real danger to be fearful.  That point isn’t really wrong, but I think it misses a huge element of video game horror.  The true horror of video games, like the true horror of any fiction, comes from withinside the player, themselves.  It’s the dreadful anticipation of what might be lying around the next corner, the internal struggle of the player against their own imagination of the frights to come, that makes us terrified when we otherwise have no rational reason to be.  In reality, I think the monsters are the least scary part of any horror game.  Rather, it’s the atmosphere which creates true tension and dread in these games.

Despite its simplistic gameplay and primitive Doom-like graphics, I found Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion to be a great horror game.  It’s not the most elaborate game, but the setting and atmosphere really make up for it.  I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet, which is that the game is free on Steam.  And with such unsophisticated graphics, it’ll run on even the most basic PCs, so I encourage everyone whose interest I might have piqued to give the game a try.  

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Posted on October 17, 2016, in Essays, Halloween Gaming and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I really enjoyed playing this a few months back. It’s a nice idea and the gradual decent into actual horror is surprisingly effective.

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  2. I do like how the game isn’t scary from the get-go, but rather it takes a while for the really disturbing stuff to appear. It’s far more effective than having a bunch of disturbing images bombard the player as soon as the game begins. It really pays to establish the atmosphere first. I remember a platformer from 2008 known as Eversion pulling off something similar.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh, nice review! This sounds really interesting. Sounds great for Halloween. I agree about what you said regarding the fear of the unknown. Sometimes that can be the worst, even if nothing happens. The disturbing creatures here sound like they get truly scary though. I might not be able to handle this game, haha…

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  4. I have not played this game. It sounds like an interesting idea for a game, exploring the different rooms of a mansion while escaping pursuing monsters. The design of the game seems strange, most of the pictures look too light and cartoony to be scary, but others seem to be dark and foreboding, although I suspect it is part of a plan to lure the player into a false sense of ease. I also enjoyed your description of how the fear of the unknown can affect a player, knowing that they will have to make their character enter terrifying situations. Some of the ideas reminded me of when I played Labyrinth of Time. The game was not a horror game, but part of the soundtrack included the sound of heavy footsteps, which (coupled with the fact there are a small number of living creatures in the game) gave the feeling that a ghostly presence of pursuing the player. I suppose part of the horror is that, when the actual monster appears, the player can take measures to overcome it, but there is no way of defeating the anticipation.
    How is the game played? Do the repetitive backgrounds get tedious? Does the player complete the game 100% each time they play?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The repetitive backgrounds can get a little tedious, but for the most part, you move through the rooms so quickly that it doesn’t really bother me. Playing the game once, you’ve basically seen everything and 100%’ed it (I think), but there is a way to get a “bad” ending if you don’t defeat the final boss in the right way.

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  5. I swore that this game was called “Spooky’s House of Jumpscares” the last time I heard of it. Regardless, it’s a shame this isn’t quite on the level of popularity of games like FNAF. This looks like a whole lot of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Huh. I had seen the beginning of the game, and completely written it off as just not being my style. I hadn’t expected that it evolves as you get through it as you describe here. May be worth a second look.

    Liked by 1 person

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