Back in the olden days when you needed a pair of binoculars to see your TV and people thought striped sweaters looked good, the method you used to watch movies at home was on VHS. The rise of these mysterious black boxes also fueled the rise of cheaper movies who found their main audience on the platform, and no genre made out better than slasher films. See, slashers were especially cheap to make and even when they were bad, they were a lot of the time at least fun, and this is the vibe that developer Puppet Combo has called home for years. Murder House is the first of their VHS/PS1 aesthetic horror titles to land on consoles, and it does not skimp on or shy away from that signature style in any way. Outside of a few issues here and there, Murder House manages to be exactly the type of game it wants to be.
Murder House begins with a prologue during which you play as a young child who wakes up in a mall photobooth way past closing time. Upon exploring the mall, he ends up kidnapped by a terrifying man in an Easter Bunny costume who wields a hook. Three years later, a small-time news crew comes to the now abandoned house that once belonged to a serial killer known as the Easter Ripper in order to shoot a story. At this point, the player is put in control of the team’s overworked intern Emma, who is sent to perform menial tasks around the house. Everything turns sideways when the team learns that the Easter Ripper is in fact still in his old house, and begins killing off each member of the crew one by one. If she wants to survive, Emma must complete the Ripper’s egg hunt and avoid being killed by him at all costs.
In terms of gameplay, Murder House isn’t doing anything all that new, with clear inspirations from old school PS1 titles, namely Silent Hill. Characters move via tank controls, where pressing up or down will always move the character forward or backward based on where they are facing, with left and right being used to rotate. These work about as well as tank controls tend to work, and your mileage may vary depending on your experience with them, but I found them to be incredibly unruly when using the Pro Controller’s D-pad, getting me stuck on walls and killed on more than one occasion. While it overall works well with the game’s fixed camera perspectives, there were moments where the camera just sort of felt like it had decided not to follow me, sending me down a dark hallway as it looked on from afar. As you explore the house you’ll find various items, usually keys, that can be used either for plot progression or for self defense. One such item is pencils which are required to be able to save the game, much like Resident Evil’s ink ribbons. There is no way to turn off this requirement, which would normally irk me, but the game’s length of about 2-3 hours makes it a little more bearable.
A major issue with Murder House reared its ugly head three separate times during my playthrough. When you die, the game will throw you back to the main menu so you can load into your most recent save. Multiple times when I went to load said save file, the game crashed, booting me back to the Switch’s main menu. Even when it didn’t crash, it was clear that the game was teetering on the edge of crashing as it froze and stuttered until the level had completely loaded in. This made dying a lot more frustrating and nerve wracking, which is the exact opposite type of tension a horror game is generally going for. Other than these issues when loading in from the main menu, the game runs rather well, though that should hardly be surprising given its low poly art style and simple environments.
If you are hankering for a campy, gory old school horror movie that you are in control of, you really can’t get much better than Murder House. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is not afraid to dump down a few buckets of blood every now and then. Dated things like tank controls or limited saves may be frustrating to a player not used to these types of games, but I honestly think this might be one of the better places to try those things out for the first time. The short runtime helps alleviate the stress of the controls and save mechanics, though the unfortunate crashing issues may replace that stress with frustration in the end. Hopefully a patch will be coming down the pipeline soon, but for now Murder House has found a good but technically troubled murder home on the Switch.