Developer: Pure Bang Games
Fear is a primal and essential component to the human experience. Fear keeps us safe, alert and cautious. It also freaks the ever living hell out of us.
"Corril Slayer," an 8-bit-style throwback from Baltimore's Pure Bang Games, plays on fear in a masterfully accessible way. You see, "fear" and "horror" are two different things altogether. This reviewer checked out of horror back in 1999 when the first "Silent Hill" game was released. Way too creepy.
The beautiful thing about a well-made game, in any genre, is that you genuinely fear "dying," or simply losing your place. You make little "ahh" sounds if a bullet or a wad of goo flies in your direction. Your heart starts racing as you approach a boss and question if you have enough health left. What was so great about the pre-"realistic" horror-themed games was that the villains could only be so creepy. If you bought the "fear" though, and you genuinely cared about your character, your mind created the horror based on the sparse pixels at your disposal. It's amazing how your imagination can turn a simple 2D, geometric image into nightmare fuel.
"Corril Slayer" captures the fear and the horror pitch-perfectly for anyone with a soft spot for side-scrollers like "Caslevania" or "Mega-Man." You are Sam Asherton, a botched lobotomy patient who vaguely resembles a young James Spader. Your tools? Two magnum pistols and the ability to see into the ghost world.
"Corril Slayer" takes you through five levels with challenging bosses at the end of each one. Much like NES classics such as "Mike Tyson's Punch Out," every boss has a little quirk you need to figure out to defeat them. The game asks you to recall a completely different skill-set than the one guiding you through "Mass Effect 3" this week. Your options are limited: run, jump, duck or shoot. With games moving in the direction of complex, lifelike, sandbox adventures, it takes a second to realize that it's tougher to play inside a game's rules than it is to free-wheel. Anybody could be good at chess if the pieces didn't have pre-assigned ways they could attack. It's another element of "Corril Slayer" that shows designer Eric Ruth not only knows but loves games of the classic late-'80s to mid-'90s era.
Music also plays a critical role in creating the engaging atmosphere "Corril Slayer" offers. When dusting off or playing a port of a classic game, the first notes of the MIDI synth and crackly drums hit the nostalgia button hard, but after a while, the repetition of such untextured music can, well, make a zombie out of you. "Corril Slayer" takes a smart detour from the 8-bit realm with its music and enlists the talents of Midnight Syndicate, a goth band whose soundtrack will keep you on edge as you descend further into the haunted graveyards and eerie mansions.
With Ruth's Internet fame linked to his "de-makes" (retrofitting modern titles into classic-style games), the amount of story and depth he fits into "Corril Slayer" is quite impressive. In the visible world, your character is blasting away at zombies and flying pumpkins, but with a tap of the space bar, you essentially put on "ghost vision goggles." This leaves your physical body vulnerable, but allows you to find power-ups and clues about the grisly crimes and haunting lore of the level you're playing. For such a small software footprint, "Corril Slayer" provides you with a lot more gameplay time than you'd expect, retracing levels to weave together the game's backstory in addition to clearing out the haunting bosses.
Ruth joined the newly formed Pure Bang Games in December 2011. The company was formed by Ben Walsh, a veteran of large-scale, detail-intensive projects at Bethesda Softworks and Big Huge Games. Up until "Corril Slayer," Pure Bang's efforts have largely focused on the social and mobile gamer. This title shows an expertise and enthusiasm for creating new content for those who want a bite-sized game, but aren't totally satisfied with the "new wave" of Facebook and iPhone gaming.
"Corril Slayer's" success could spark further interest in gamers getting back to basics, especially when the development cycle (three and a half months) and price point ($3), are so attractive to consumers ... even those consumers who get jumpy at the sight of zombie ghost children.
Don't be ashamed if you have to play it with the lights on.