Nikkatsu Corporation / Mebius / Aksys Games
Genre: Point-and-Click Horror
The beautiful thing about the survival horror genre is that there are always developers trying to innovate and find new ways to break through the separation between the player and the distance of the screen to send shivers down spines and adrenaline through the roof. It gets tough with so many hands in the pot, though; for every Eternal Darkness, there is a The Ring: Terror’s Realm.
What happens when Japan’s oldest surviving film studio decides to jump into the ring, though? Nikkatsu Corporation is just that company and knowing quite a bit about films, it makes sense that they would eventually want to strike out into other media. Their first game to the development credit appears to be a PS Vita game from 2016 called Tokyo Tattoo Girls. While it doesn’t look up my alley, it genuinely seems like a strange first step for a company that’s been around for over 100 years.
Their second effort (so far as I can find, at least) was 2017’s Creeping Terror and it appeared on its surface to be a Clock Tower homage, which was the perfect draw for me to look further into it. As a fan of a number of games in Aksys’s catalog, it seemed like a safe enough bet that I’d at least enjoy it for a little while. It’s hard not to be wary as a horror fan, though. Some companies just throw some dark corridors together, slap some stickers on the outside comparing their game to “x”, and lure unwitting hopefuls into a web of mediocre and uninspired jump scares with nonsense plots.
Not that I’m jaded- but I had some hesitation heading into Creeping Terror.
Teenagers love to tell scary stories and perpetuate urban legends or rumors of weird things happening around their town. It livens things up, and some of the people who hear these stories want to experience the danger for themselves trying to prove the rumors are false- or that they were brave enough to find out that they were true and lived to tell their own tale.
This is how Arisa, an exchange student who is relatively new to the area, winds up at the front steps of an abandoned mansion on the edge of town. There have been stories at her new school of kids seeing a monster lurking around the mansion grounds and some of them have even said they’ve had friends who have disappeared after going to check out the rumors. When one of her friends, Bob, decides to investigate for himself with a video camera, Arisa, Bob’s sister, Emily, and Ken, Arisa’s mutual crush, decide to go along with him, each for their own reasons.
Shortly after entering the house, the rotting floor falls away under Arisa’s feet, sending her into series of caverns spanning underneath. It isn’t long before things go from bad to worse. As Arisa searches to find her way back into the manor and back to her friends, she winds up face to face with the “monster” everyone has been talking about- a man in ragged clothing, a shovel gripped in his mud-covered hands. As he pursues her, Arisa must fight her way through the strange catacombs and hallways of the mansion, struggling to escape, find her friends- and survive the many dangers lurking in the darkest corners of the estate.
In the vein of the games it draws inspiration from, Creeping Terror relies on navigating left and right to progress through the current room while using the Up and Down directionals will let Arisa travel through doors and passages in their respective positions. By interacting with the environment, she can pick up items and notes to help her and the plot progress. Hiding places are also important to interact with, as they are the only way to escape her pursuers once a chase begins.
The game does bring some of its own mechanics to the table, though. For one, Arisa uses a flashlight app on her phone to help her (and the player) see things more clearly in the environment. This becomes more important when she’s been hunted since running becomes the key to her escape and without a flashlight, there will be the occasional rock or wooden plank that may trip her up, slowing her down just enough to be caught. Being caught doesn’t mean game over, though. When Arisa lets the enemy get too close, she’ll enter into a struggle where she can avoid death through the player tapping a button rapidly. She’ll still take damage- indicated by a bar displayed onscreen- but it will give her another chance to escape and heal herself.
On the bottom screen, Arisa’s inventory and map can be accessed with the tap of a tab. Hanging onto the right items can be important- batteries will recharge your phone and keep your flashlight healthy while protein bars can heal your health and stamina. You may want to hold on to a stone or two to stun someone coming after you, but wood planks may help you get over parts of the mansion that have caved in. Choosing what to carry in Arisa’s limited inventory is important, though supplies are plentiful around the mansion and other areas.
The Good, The Bad, And…
As a rabid fan of the Clock Tower series, I walked into Creeping Terror expecting to be underwhelmed at a pale imitation. To get those doubts out of the way, though, the game wears its influence on its sleeve and mixes just enough of its own innovations in to feel less like a rip-off and more like an homage. If this had been made with 16-bit graphics, you could have easily put it next to the Super Famicom Clock Tower, and I would believe they were related.
Another similarity that I appreciated was that Creeping Terror has a few different endings depending on choices the player makes and information Arisa finds in notes throughout her ordeal. Despite the fact that the game looks a little more like a “kid-friendly” survival horror game, there is the possibility that some characters might meet a gruesome fate- and even Arisa might not get a happy ending once she’s made it out of the other end of the grounds.
Having played both the 3DS and Steam version of this game, I will say that the 3DS version wins out by controller configuration alone. The Steam port felt a little clunky and still retained the dual-screen interface. That’s not bad, but it was easy to confuse some of the controls and accidentally use up a few healing items needlessly. That’s never a good thing in a survival horror game.
The environments in Creeping Terror look good, if not a little dark in some places. Even with the flashlight on, any place outside of a building feels dim. Sometimes, this works and feels claustrophobic. Others, it feels like it may be a little bit of a design flaw. The characters models took a little time to grow on me, too, given how basic and “cartoony” they look at first. The whole visual presentation comes together, though, and by the end of the introduction, it was hard not to find it a charming and a little creepy.
The music harkens back to the 16-bit era, too, adding the appropriate stingers and driving drum tracks to the action when it’s necessary. The telltale noises that signal a pursuer incoming are possibly the best part of the sound design. Every time I heard one of those crop up, my adrenaline started pumping and brought about some of the best moments of the game. The soundtrack is serviceable with only one track during the final moments of the game really coming to mind as anything memorable.
All said and done, Creeping Terror is an average survival horror game that doesn’t stick around long enough to shine too brightly or dip into eye-rolling monotony. The story is just good enough to feel like a B-movie, the characters diversify just beyond blending into one another, and it delivers a few chills but won’t keep most people scared. Ringing in at about four hours, there is plenty to explore and learn about but the game’s locales are small enough that it won’t take hours of backtracking to find everything.
On the plus side, Creeping Terror doesn’t feel like a waste of time. If you’re a fan, you’ll appreciate the effort put into making a familiar feeling but unique horror title. If you’re looking to dip a toe into the genre pool, this could make for a good introduction for the uninitiated. It’s not going to overshadow any classics, but it’s kind of a shame that it fell so far under the radar given what a solid indie effort it turns out to be in the end. If any of this seems interesting to you, though, I’d suggest giving it a shot.