A Vertical Slice of Jordan King
In 2020 I first came across games from Jordan King (Black Eyed Priest Games). They were low-res, zany, violent, and an absolute joy. With his next project, Blood Wash, being his most ambitious yet, I figured it was time to talk about King. The Grindhouse Games Collection Vol 1 was the first of King’s work that I played. Encapsulating three separate experiences: Peepaw, Shotgun, and Witching Hour at Hell House, the collection had me hooked from moment one. I started out with Shotgun, a side-scrolling Hotline Miami-like starring a very angry armored protagonist wielding, you guessed it, a shotgun. A game of memory more than anything, Shotgun has you shooting first and asking questions later. You’ll move through a drug den, dodging explosions and gunshots. You’ll find some helpful pickups along the way, but the only thing that will really help you is being faster than your assailants. If you’re not firing as soon as you see danger, you’re dead. it’s a short but entertaining experience.
Next up I moved onto Witching Hour At Hell House. A departure from the frantic gunplay of Shotgun, you start in a bedroom. From there you can inspect your environment and do some light puzzling. As you solve puzzles the house becomes more…active. An excellent sound mix and a sense of dread add up to a super fun haunted house game. I was being chased by a haunted doll that killed me more than once before I realized I could neutralize it with something found in the room I was standing in. This is the best part of King’s games. He makes puzzles and interactions satisfying and logical. He’s got a knack for creepy imagery and is more than pleased to put it first and foremost in his games. Playing through Witching Hour At Hell House was a great time.
The last game of the collection; Peepaw, has the funniest name in the collection. Your beloved Peepaw has been possessed from goofin’ with a Ouija board and it’s up to you to help. Bringing some of the puzzle elements from Witching Hour At Hell House and adding some spooky hide and seek style gameplay, Peepaw is classic King. The almost MS-Paint art design, while being simple, is utilized by King to create some truly unsettling imagery. All of his forays into 2D have had a strong body horror bent that as a horror fan you can’t help but appreciate. The game also takes place in complete darkness, affording the player only a small cone of light with which to navigate. After finishing The Grindhouse Games Collection Vol. 1, I decided to see how Jordan King handled a 3D world.
Enter Police Force; A 3D, first-person game. You answer a domestic disturbance call to a creepy old house. The owner of the house is said to be inside, armed, and dangerous. You move through the house as a police officer, checking for evidence and searching for the daughter of the homeowner. Along the way you’ll find evidence of something a bit more than a domestic going on. An interesting mechanic is that your character’s gun cannot be drawn if you want to inspect anything. In a world of first-person horror where your gun is always front and center, it adds a level of dread to know that your weapon is a whole key press away. By doing this, King messes with your expectation for horror games. You want to find out more, but you have to put away the only thing keeping you safe. It’s a dilemma presented wonderfully in Police Force. Also with the power out in the house, you would be wise to do what I did, and clear the corners of rooms you’re entering. Did it stop me from getting jumpscared? No. Did it make me feel like a tacticool operator? Absolutely. Currently only one case is available, with more on the way.
Later, King would begin releasing his games in collaboration with prolific indie dev Puppet Combo, beginning with Tonight It Follows. Tonight It Follows goes back to the sidescrolling likes of something like Shotgun, with the player entering a spooky graveyard at night, and trying to navigate their way out while defending themselves with a length of pipe. Like most of King’s games it’s easy on the story to better showcase the violence and the monsters. This game has monsters in droves; various ghouls and miscreations will try and attack you as you move through the cemetery, and unlike a lot of modern hide and seek horror, you’re able to use your length of pipe to show them that you’re not interested in being hunted. In letting you brutalize your pursuers, king flips horror tropes on their head. You’re not trapped in the cemetery with them, they’re trapped in with you. As you move through the cemetery and complete some small puzzles, you’re pushed forward to a satisfying albeit dark ending. This game has the most extreme imagery of any of King’s work, which is most likely a side effect of not having the constraints of a mainstream release to somewhere like Steam.
King’s next release, Skifreak, is a delightful riff on the beloved Skifree. It starts similarly enough to Skifree, with your character cruising down the slopes. After some time, as any Skifree player will let you know, a large yeti-like monster appears and eats the player. In Skifree that was the end of the game. In Skifreak, you then take on the role of the hardnosed sheriff hellbent on finding what’s killing skiers. In a reference to Jaws, the sheriff wants the mayor to close the slopes, with the mayor refusing because it would hurt tourist season. After this you can select one of three characters. The endings are different based on which characters live and which characters die. The only way to guarantee they live, is to learn to ski like you’re in an 80’s comedy. This game pulls away from King’s previous sidescrolling output and brings in a top-down view of the proceedings. The skiing is responsive and just downright fun. The multiple characters with different endings encourages the player to replay until they’ve gotten the “good ending” for each one. I personally played through twice, and had a blast both times. I did not get the complete “good” ending though. I guess I’ll try again.
In The Summoning, you play as a security guard tasked with watching a house for 3 nights. Instantly evocative of horror movies of the 70’s and 80’s, The Summoning is a classic haunted house story. Your job is simple: check the cameras when the old grandfather clock on the first floor tolls, and patrol the house when it tolls again. In doing so you’ll start to discover the history of the house, and it’s not-so-nice previous (and seemingly now permanent) residents. Presented from the top-down, this is King’s most well developed game to date. The story is cohesive with some characters having full voice acting. The gore and scares are spaced out between story bits, but definitely still on display. It does a great job of setting up it’s scares, making most of them feel earned. The soundtrack is great as always, instantly bringing to mind the melodic thrum of 70’s exploitation flicks. All in all it shows an evolution of the developer, with a bigger scope and more story to tell. As the nights wear on, you begin wondering if the house is actually haunted, or is the stress and isolation of the old house driving the main character insane? The ambiguity is pervasive throughout the game, with the only clear answer coming at the end of the three nights.
Since 2018, Jordan King has released 9 games or playable teasers to Itch.io. This is of course not counting his non-itch releases. The Summoning is, I think, indicative of the quality of Black Eyed Priest Games on the whole. You get a mix of violence, dread, fear, and creeping madness. This is a good introduction to Jordan King’s strange world. When speaking with King about this piece, he wanted me to make sure that I mention that he is not an island. He is often helped by coder Henry Hoare (Bloodwash) and brother Matthew King (The Summoning) If any of this interests you, then be on the lookout for Bloodwash, which is releasing through Puppetcombo’s release arm, Torture Star Video. Where King goes next is anyone’s guess, but with his prolific output, I’m sure we’ll know soon.