Capcom's Horror Hotel
With the nights drawing in and those long, dark and cold winter nights now upon us it's time to break out all those horror type games that just don't feel right being played in the spring and summer. The fact that as this is being typed it's almost Halloween also brings with it an added layer of feeling very spooky.
So a challenge was set...
To find a game to focus on for RGG's annual celebration of the time of year when it just feels cool to get a little bit darker in tone. With Resident Evil and Silent Hill the obvious go to examples Megatron's_Fury did his familiar side step to take a look at something that fits the bill, but in a more surreal and interesting way. Let's check-In...
A room with a view... Into the mind!
There's several reasons why people play videogames. The original generation of arcade gamers around the 1970's and 1980's flocked in their hundreds of thousands to neon lit halls to play stuff like Space Invaders or Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Missile Command because it was something completely new. No other generation had experienced such a new form of entertainment that was a mixture of the sights and sounds of music concerts and the cinema but actually interactive. A medium of entertainment where they were in total charge of the outcome. For the price of a quarter or in my case 10p.
Spring forward to the 1990's and with the 16-bit home consoles building on the back of the work done by the 8-Bit machines and home micro computers and people played videogames because ever so slowly everyone was. The cultural explosion of the hobby into mainstream pop culture thanks to the home console that was the Playstation and the portable Nintendo Game Boy took a technology surge and entertainment form and fused it into an almost living and breathing consciousness. The 1990's was the decade where kids were starting to grow up with videogames as their earliest memory making moments instead of the decades before where action figures or dolls or board games were the norm.
From the 00's onwards and especially when online gaming really started to take off and thanks to consoles such as the Wii, Xbox 360 and the PC format, different generations fused together, not just in appreciation and love of the subject matter but to create a communal sense of belonging. In just over three decades videogames went from "A new thing" to "A hobby for nerds" to "An everyday part of life". It's a fascinating journey of invention, growth, acceptance and culture and as I said at the start people all across the world have taken to videogames for several reasons over the course of a number of years and transcending generations.
There is however one reason that unites us all, well a couple actually. The first reason being that videogames are tremendous fun, a second reason is that they allow you to do things you just can't replicate in real life or in any other form of entertainment. A third reason, and one of the most vitally important, is that videogames offer an escape to normality.
With that point in mind it's quite strange that there are not that many mainstream games out there, especially pre PC Indie scene explosion, that tackle this subject. There's literally hundreds, if not thousands of games where your on screen character has to escape something or someone but almost none from the retro era that tackle escaping yourself. With Mental Health issues now at the forefront of both medical professionals and the public's consciousness and with it being the time of the year when people start to go Horror game crazy with Halloween just around the corner what better time to focus on a videogame that about 200 people know about and about 8 people reading this have ever played. A game that fits Halloween, Mental Health and escapism elements perfectly. Does one exist? Oh yes! Now sit back and let Megatron lay down some lyrical beats for you to memory dance your way through. It's time for the show to start, A Horror show... Capcom style!
Released in 2003 by Capcom and developed by Capcom Studio 3, Gregory Horror Show is a videogame for the Playstation 2 console. Based on a 1999 - 2003 3D CGI Anime series created by Naomi Iwata it was released in both Japan and Europe. Considering how popular Anime and Manga are in North America the first interesting point about this game is how one of the world's largest market's never got it. The premise of the story is that one night you get lost in some foggy woods and come across a hotel. It's a vague premise to indicate that you don't really know how you got there in the first place which sits in the background as the underlying tone of the experience itself. Upon entering the hotel you are greeted by a mouse called Gregory who first asks you your name and gender then sets you up with a room to stay in.
Upon entering your room and taking to bed you fall asleep and meet Death, who appears to you and informs you that you have in fact been trapped inside this hotel and offers you a deal. The details of his offer are that If you can collect 12 lost souls from other guests and bring them to him in your sleep he will help you escape. Shortly after this proposal is made you awake to screaming noises from the room next door. Leaving your room to investigate you peep through the doors keyhole to discover a figure sitting in a corner of dark room who asks you to get a key from behind the sign in desk and free him from his captivity.
A short trip to the main entrance and some patience until Gregory wanders off to check on things rewards you with the key in question. After returning to the room where the screams emanated from you are then introduced to Neko Zombie who informs you that he has been a prisoner of the hotel and Gregory for a long time. Neko, who is a cat, with Neko meaning cat therefore describing the character literally as Cat Zombie, then proceeds to give the player a tutorial of the games controls and how to complete tasks. After this has ended this strange yet friendly cat gives you his soul as a reward and to help you escape which he very much wishes you to achieve.
From this point on you then set about exploring the hotel which in itself is low lit and very creepy. Your goal is to locate other guests and observe them from distance, mostly through door keyholes, and listen to them explain why they are troubled or sad/scared. With this knowledge you need to either create a situation for them to panic or succumb to losing their soul (which is represented by a bottle). It is then your job to collect this bottled soul and then proceed back to your room to present it to Death. Whilst this may on the surface seem quite simple it is in fact in reality quite difficult. Upon collecting the soul from the guest they will then set about actively looking for you in the hotel itself which is a total change of pace and often quite scary.
At this point stealth takes center stage as the primary means to avoid the guests, who are all able to move faster than you. At the start of the game wandering the hotel is largely safe, with the exception of a crazy nurse called Catherine who will always chase you if you come into her vision. As you proceed to move deeper into the game however and collect more souls it becomes far harder to safely navigate the hotel with a growing number of enemies to avoid. Should you be caught by one of the guests you will then be subjected to a form of torture, called a Horror Show. After this short animation has concluded (different for every single guest) you will be left with some form of handicap ailment that will require you to either find an object to get rid of it's effects or go to sleep and be revived gully by Death himself. Strategy is important here as it's possible to lose a collected soul if caught by a guest before going to bed and handing it over to Death. This results in a two tier punishment as you now have to re-collect the soul and often do this will a handicap of an ailment.
Over the course of 5 nights different guests will arrive and the central story of the game is revealed in very cool animated cut sequences. As the game approaches the 5th night more areas of the Hotel will open up allowing for more exploration and for more routes to use to both capture souls and safely escape. It's almost like a game of 'Hide & Seek' mixed with 'Tag' and you never feel truly relaxed or safe. When being chased simply running through a door into another room won't be enough. In order to escape a guest you must run and evade until the character chasing you stumbles and falls allowing you to move completely out of their sight. It's a system similar to Clock Tower 3 which is another of Capcom's astoundingly good horror games for the PS2 but thanks to the story and the graphics Gregory Horror Show truly stands apart from every other horror game out there.
As well as numerous characters inhabiting the corridors and the rooms there are large number of objects to collect. Some of these are comics that tell fascinating stories and other items can be used to heal yourself from ailments or to use as currency at the hotel's gift shop. Exploration and collection becomes vitally important early on as the gift shop holds many items needed in order to panic the other guests so you can then collect souls. It also must be said that here there are some lovely little nods to classic Capcom survival horror games such as Resident Evil with a look and feel emanating through the menus. For those who are no stranger to herbs being used as healing items then get ready for a nice touch of internal Capcom nostalgia.
At key intervals, namely as the player goes to bed in order to hand over souls to Death cut scenes unravel more of the complex story that starts off quite cryptic but eventually makes complete sense. With little twists and turns here and there it's the ending that is perhaps Gregory Horror Show's real triumph. Although people familiar to the game itself and for many playing it upon reaching the end it's by that point crystal clear but all the same it's superbly crafted. Without completely spoiling the details the escape metaphor sewn into the fabric of the game through open dialog and clear direction is given a truly remarkable double meaning. For people who love games to have deep human interest purpose and tone this is one of the greatest examples of outstanding game writing. A post credit sequence will also lead to more approval.
From just glancing over screenshots Gregory Horror Show looks like a kids game based on a 1990's cartoon, from a casual glance of play it could easily come across that plus a bit of a stealth game on top. Spend time in Capcom's hotel however and you will understand it's all of this and more... so much more. With such a small following for the anime and the fact that North America never saw this game released there it's no wonder it's now such a hidden gem for the PS2. To take a look at the Japanese game box you can tell the one thing this game lacked was good boxed product artwork. The European version is way more interesting with it's art theme however until you play the game you simply won't have a clue what it represents. As someone who worked in games retail when this was released I can assure you that it was a monumental task to sell copies. Only kids would pick it up who then were promptly told that this wasn't the right fit... even if it does look like Spongebob Squarepants from the box.
Gregory Horror Show is a prime example however of never judging a book by it's cover, or in this case, videogame. A truly brilliant game with huge depth, numerous hidden meanings and television quality presentation it's a must for anyone who likes original experiences. It confused the reviewers of the time, it baffled consumers and it sold terribly which may seem like a recipe for disaster. When looking from a sales point of view that's completely true but it also has awesomeness sewn into every single inch of it's being. If anyone here ever wanted to have more interactivity with a cartoon, or something that looks like one, this is the game to get lost in.
So, why do people play videogames? Well they play them for fun, to have direct control over an experience outside the confines of the real world. They also, as mentioned at the start, play games to escape. Life, relationships, your boss, your family, friends, rules and law, it's always good to get away from it all. Sometimes however don't you wonder what it might be like to play hide & seek from yourself? If the answer is yes then go and give this a try, you might have just found that game that makes sense of it all... Makes sense of yourself.
Plus you know... there's a mouse on the box cover, jus sayin' :)