Title: Mad Father
Release Date: November 5, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Horror Adventure
At a glance, one could dismiss it as one of the many story-driven pixel horror games occupying the indie scene. Still, Mad Father is a classic survival horror experience that hearkens to the bygone era of horror classics like Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark and even Resident Evil. Of course, Mad Father is a top-down 2D horror adventure which, whether intentionally or not, makes it a throwback to the oft-forgotten Capcom classic, Sweet Home. The latter was based on a Japanese film of the same name. Back when released for the Famicom in 1989, it almost accidentally created the blueprint for what would eventually become Resident Evil. As far as true origins go, Sweet Home is definitely when the genre truly began.
Where many indie developers have attempted to recapture the nostalgia of tank-control horror, Mad Father has the right idea of taking the very blueprint of Sweet Home and using it to create a genuinely terrifying experience with humble production values. The pixel graphics are relatively simple here, but where the visuals lack prowess, it is more than compensates with clever use of effects and filters to deliver scares convincingly.
From the simple yet spooky portraits to the generous use of crimson colors throughout its setting, Mad Father shows how you can still scare someone without relying on hyper-realistic 8K graphics, as long as the art is strong and the presentation is genuine. Originally a 2012 PC release, it now lands on Nintendo Switch as a substantial remake.
In Mad Father, you find yourself in a blood-soaked and doll-infested mansion as a young girl named Aya, who seems to belong to a loving family except her mother has long passed, and her once eccentric scientist of a father has transformed into a terrifyingly-mad scientist. Dr. Drevis is as unhinged as they come, there isn’t a grey area here in his morality in the slightest, and part of the adventure is Aya basically discovering how her dear Oto-san is a certified monster.
For Aya, her own home becomes a living hell, as the checkered past of Dr. Drevis starts to unravel, and she finds herself paying for his sins. The manifestation of the horror usually takes the form of the creepiest looking dolls imaginable. These puppets are sentient enough to send shivers and force Aya to fight for her life.
Mad Father is a staple survival horror experience with adventure elements. Although there is a strong focus on its mysterious storyline, there is genuine gameplay substance here, as Aya makes her way through the spooky setting by exploring different areas where danger is always just around the corner. Mad Father really nails the art of jump scares, as the various segments are designed to absolutely blindside a player.
These take the form of chase sequences (sans the groovy ’60s tunes of Scooby-Doo) or, worse, in the form of absolute nerve-wracking quick time events. This is a challenging game, no doubt, and so frequent saves are essential, but at the same time, the checkpoint system is convenient enough to allow repeat attempts of challenging segments. The core mechanics are functional, and although not nearly as dated as 3D tank controls, things can feel a tad cumbersome at times.
Beyond the gruesome action, the structure and pace of Mad Father is largely dictated by its sound puzzle design, which fits within the context of both the gameplay and story. These puzzles are immersive because they force you to really explore each location, and putting all the obscure pieces together to come up with a solution is genuinely satisfying. Granted, some of the puzzles can get a bit obscure and vague, and progression can feel confusing at times, but the game has a handy mission system where objectives are laid out to provide a sense of direction.
The greatest strength in the presentation of Mad Father is in its sound design. If the visuals don’t alarm you, then the sound effects will surely make your skin crawl. Each sound effect is very authentic; whether it is the knocking of a door or the creek of a spooky doll, the design here is solid and creates an intense atmosphere. This is one of those games you definitely want to play in handheld mode with headphones on.
As great as the remake effort is, there are still a few nagging issues. Occasionally you will encounter bugs that will force you to restart the game, and while these bugs hardly make it unplayable, they still occur often enough. It’s worth frequently saving for this reason. Despite the improvements made in the remake, this is still very much an indie budget effort.
Mad Father is a legitimate survival horror experience that takes after the seminal Sweet Home. The storyline is genuinely intriguing and disturbing, with a captivating narrative complemented by authentic gameplay systems that create a true survival horror challenge. Despite simple pixel graphics, Mad Father manages to use its excellent sound design to create a horrifying atmosphere. It may lack 8K powered zombies, but there are plenty of scares here for even the most seasoned horror game fans.
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