Gameboy Horror Is Becoming a Big Deal

The Nintendo Gameboy was released in America on July 31st, 1989. It was an immediate hit. The ability for the masses to play games on the go was almost unheard of at the time, and the Gameboy would let you do just that, at a mind-melting resolution of 160 x 144. It brought us our first Pokemon game, Tetris on the go, and in a pinch, it was heavy enough to be used as a home defense weapon. It would be a fun foray into weird accessories including a camera and a printer. It was so popular that Nintendo didn’t officially stop making the original until 2003.

There were 1046 games released on the Gameboy, with less than 50 of those being explicitly horror. It’s understandable, seeing as how the Gameboy was mainly marketed to younger children. In the years since the Gameboy was discontinued, horror game devs have stepped up to rectify the Gameboy horror situation, with some even releasing their games on actual Gameboy cartridges. I recently talked to Izma (Deadeus), Scottie Supple (The Third Shift, Fishing Vacation), Elias Mote (The Shadow People), Retro Session (Unannounced GB project), and Ivan Zanotti/MyMadnessWorks (IMSCARED, FIREWORK). I’ve edited these responses for the best representative sample from all developers and for length and clarity.

JH: What is the appeal of gameboy horror vs. something like PS1 horror? 

Ivan Zanotti: They both share a common factor and that is giving the player’s imagination the power to gallop. Aside from that, I think that Gameboy horror hasn’t been done so much and there’s a lot of potential waiting to be discovered. With PS1 aesthetics comes a great focus on spatiality and sense of location; Gameboy horror has to rely on something different and fairly unknown, though, and that’s where the appeal kicks in.

JH: When did you realize that the gameboy aesthetic could be used for effective horror? 

Retro Session: My first interest in pixel art, lo-fi horror stemmed from Airdorf’s FAITH, the art style just simply blew me away. What made me fully switch to gameboy horror, was after playing Ben Jelter’s “Opossum Country“. After playing it, I was astonished this was put together in less than two weeks. But this was where I had found GBStudio. It’s an incredibly user friendly platform to create homebrew gameboy games, which is constantly being updated. I strongly recommend using it for people interested in creating gameboy games or just people who want to start learning gamedev.

JH: Have you considered releasing on a physical Gameboy cartridge or, if you’ve already released on a cartridge, what difficulties are there in that process?

Izma: i actually have just done a physical release and it seemed to be quite successful! We did it on a Pre-Order basis where we only made as many as were ordered and no more which kind of made it difficult after it garnered a bit of buzz and people started to chase it after the pre-order had ended!
Releasing a physical game however has been a dream come true, I still can’t believe I have a physical copy of my work I can hold. I am incredibly grateful to the publisher, Spacebot, as he let me go crazy with it and hammer it into exactly what I wanted it to be. I was quite fussy with the Manual and Box art haha! 
With Spacebot on board I actually had very few issues or difficulties at all but the whole process in general is a very uphill endeavour to make it all as good as it can be as it felt like there were a million little things to get right with each bit. Then on top of all of that there is the aspect of the game having to be immaculate when you release it on physical media that can’t be patched and that was phenomenally stressful. It all worked out in the end though.

JH: What Gameboy game stuck with you the most? 

Scottie Supple: My first gameboy game was Links Awakening, that is such a damn fine game. One of the best on the system! Besides that, I pretty much lived and breathed Nintendo growing up so I’ve played all the classics. But Links Awakening is the one that I always come back to from time to time.

JH: What’s next for you? 

Ivan Zanotti: I was working on a Gameboy-style project two years ago, but I had to put it on hiatus to work with Revolab on the bigger “Mirror Layers“. I really cannot wait to get back on that one though, in order to make a big mysterious journey where the player can let their fantasy burst out (and have fun being scared).

Retro Session: I’ve currently got my unannounced gameboy project in the works, as well as a game with a 1-bit, black and white palette, also unannounced. All I’m going to say is keep an eye on HPS1 😉 [note: HPS1 being of course HauntedPS1]

Izma: I feel like I get asked this alot and I always give a different answer! haha
I have alot of plans but always find it difficult to snap onto one specific one, like a dog trying to play with all its toys at once haha! However I have recently settled into what i’m pretty confident will be the next game from me and although I haven’t officially announced it or shown it off yet it will be another Gameboy game. This time it will be a more action oriented game but keep the story, multipath interaction and art style from Deadeus. Im very excited to continue working on it and will talk about it a bit more when I have a more robust version of it all.

Scottie Supple: Right now I’m trying my best to knock out The Third Shift when I can. There’s a few other projects in the works that I don’t want to talk about yet, as well as a few collaborations I’m looking forward to, but for now TTS is the main priority. Here’s hoping we can release it this year!

Elias Mote: That’s a good question. Probably a short break for the immediate future. I usually work on a different genre of game after I finish a horror game so I don’t get writer’s block or burnt out. I’m currently helping a friend with a tiny platformer game for an animated fantasy series he’s making for Youtube, and I’m also planning to expand on a magical girl shmup that I made as a quick demo for Global Game Jam 2021. In terms of future horror games, I’ve toyed with the idea of remaking an older game of mine, Story of the Mirror, into a low-poly 3d Unity game in VR. I’ve been working with 2d games for a while, and I’d like to try expanding to 3d at some point. I don’t have plans for another Gameboy-style horror game at the moment, but if the right idea or project came along, I could see myself working on a new one.

I’d like to thank all of these amazing devs for their time. Be sure to check them out here:

Ivan Zanotti

Retro Session


Scottie Supple

Elias Mote

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