Monster Mania: World of Horror’s Rogues Gallery of Terror
Monster Mania is a weekly column celebrating the unique and varied monster designs in horror gaming.
World of Horror wears its pixelated influences on its analog era sleeve, plain as day. The game’s signature black and white MS paint art style heavily draws inspiration from the horrifying manga works of horror master Junji Ito. Disturbing renditions of evil, both humanoid and otherworldly, are the residents of the game’s world and are as uncomfortable to look at as they are demented in their construction. Where World of Horror differentiates itself from simple homage is developer Paweł Koźmiński (aka Panstasz) and co-writer Cassandra Khaw’s understanding of when and how to utilize those influences while understanding there is a spectrum to Lovecraftian dread and storytelling. And, sure, it helps to nail home the message of impending doom to the player when you stick a bunch of grotesque freaks in their face to fight.
Having left early access recently, I was finally ready to brave World of Horror’s deeply complex horror RPG mechanics that tested my resolve and sanity at times. The game makes the most distinctive of impressions from the get-go. To match the game’s 198Xs setting, the game is presented with the borders of the chonkiest of 20th-century computer monitors, acting as a window into this world’s pixelated horrors and ever-looming doom. The arbiter of evil of each new run is one of several old gods, monoliths of evil attempting to usher in the apocalypse. Naturally, the old god I ushered in on more than one occasion happened to be Cthac-Atorasu, aka the big fucking spider god.
Old gods serve as a massive reminder that there are forces too monumental for the player to defeat on their own. They serve as a smart contrast to the world’s smaller-statured monsters occupying the many investigation sites within World of Horror.
There are two tiers of experiencing the unique monster designs of World of Horror: Randomized events that stem from investigating an area for clues pertaining to an investigation and surprise combat encounters. While randomized events lack combat, these situations feature creepy or disturbing imagery and, quite often, feature the best examples of the game’s narrative dread. Usually, the player will be presented with situations that can harm their stats, stamina, or reason if they lack a specific perk or ability. Initially, these instances may seem “unfair” or artificially difficult, but over time, the player learns this is the overall attitude of the game’s world. It isn’t so much a matter of doom will befall the player but the severity of it.
In one instance, I investigated a corpse. I realized that it wasn’t covered in shadows but in hundreds of black spiders that bit me, a bite that would inevitably become infected and give me a permanent negative buff to my perception. In another instance, I failed a knowledge check to decipher strange writing I found scrawled on a classroom chalkboard. While the immediate ramifications didn’t result in a hit to my stats, my doom meter raised, and I was left with the ominous message, “You feel you’ve attracted the attention of something terrible.” What that something was was never revealed, but I certainly thought twice about dabbling in actions that could result in more unsettling moments such as this.
Now, combat encounters are an entirely different ballpark of horror. Monsters can range from simple oddities such as mask-wearing rioters, insane gore-covered students, ghouls with Joker scars, and mermaid-obsessed janitors that have been playing Frankenstein with slain students’ corpses. No, seriously. Variety is the key to World of Horror’s longevity, as the player may encounter similar monsters throughout extended playthroughs. But as these monsters grow tiresome, a new horror reveals itself, which speaks to the game world, seemingly resounding to the player’s progress. Monsters can be the revolving roster of rogue’s gallery creepies or monsters tied to a specific mystery being investigated, such as the janitor mentioned above.
These mystery-specific monsters can require additional steps, such as performing certain rituals or other prerequisites to defeating them. These serve as milestone tests of the player’s knowledge of gameplay fundamentals and strategies. And yet, truthfully, players should expect to fail repeatedly in World of Horror. While the game does offer numerous new difficulty modifiers that allow cowards, such as myself, to survive more than a few encounters with my head still attached to my shoulders, the game can be a beast. But that difficulty speaks to the nature of the game’s overall tone, which feels more apocalyptic and less cheeky than some of its main inspirations. This allows its monsters, with all of their excessive gruesomeness, to feel like the shock troopers at the frontlines of the player’s inevitable impending death.
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