Horns of Fear (Old School Horror Puzzle Freak Out)

 

Boy do I ever remember games like this. When my family finally got a legit computer in the early 1990s, the first game I played on it was The 7th Guest, which you likely know. I won't even bother linking it because you're a total provincial if you don't know about it. Suffice to say, if the title of this article isn't a giveaway, it concerns horror and puzzles. So I was raised on these types of games, by proxy. For any title taking the horror puzzler approach it needs three things: a good story, puzzles that verge on complex but not "where's the gamefaq" complex, and tricks to mess with your mind so you keep playing it. That brings us to this one, Horns of Fear.

  

Created and published by the indie company PixoalaHorns of Fear functions like many of the grotesque puzzlers of old, which to some of you may seem really old. I'm talking about the 1990s okay, and for me that feels like last week or something. The basic plot here is you take control of Jim Sonrimor, a journalist fascinated by the supernatural, who receives a call from a family requesting his assistance at their mansion (the first room of which is above). As you'd expect, and I can't delve too far into the story without spoiling your day, from the beginning when you see suspicious pills in Jim's apartment after learning his marriage is broken, the player is expecting things are the cliche "not what they seem." Ooooo so scray [sic].

  

Horns of Fear does it more artfully, however. The expected Satanism angle is hidden under the surface, only briefly mentioned. It opts instead for references to classical antiquity, so that the "horns" refer to the Minotaur, a cult never fully explained, taxidermy animals present in the game, and even the mouse pointer you're using right now because this game knows how to break that fourth wall yo. Plus it's got some cool gore that was programmed using clay models (see above) and a brooding, filthy mood delicately touched with eerie, incidental music. The strong points here are, first off, the story, which takes various twists and will mess with you in the real world, trust me. There was one moment that really got me, and I had to give a "good job sir" nod, but revealing the trick would ruin it. Second, navigation takes just enough work to be enjoyable, with only one of the puzzles taxing your brain until you bend and look up the damn solution. Third, Pixoala has taken some definite risks here, with bizarre, otherworldly acid-trip scenes that show a good sense of color and space, flashbacks, and uncertainty. Scope the weird shot below taken near the end of the game, and then the gameplay video that follows.

 

 

The thing is you could put Horns of Fear  on a shelf in Funcoland in 1995 and no one would notice any difference. That works to its advantage, but also to its disadvantage, for at times the design comes off as far too quirky to take seriously today with stitches loose at the corners. Jim, for example, looks young in close-up, but when you control him around the grounds he looks like "some old guy" as my kid said and honestly I wanted to punch him in the face for that stupid walk. Further, during play, outside of the puzzles and story you have these moments that just strike one as uh...what? The best example is the disembodied final boss head mouse click battle. I don't even know how to explain it outside of that nonsense. It contains one puzzle element, and then you attack with your pointer wondering why can't we go back to the story already please stop. Moments like this don't hide that Horns of Fear is low-exposure indie, and this can at times ruin the mood. But fans of this type of game are sure to enjoy it, and to get the perfect ending you have to beat it without dying and some of the puzzles reset so you can think again. It takes some risks, but as a whole is standard for this genre. Pixoala is currently working on what seems to be a cyberpunk thriller with a much better presentation, but I can only judge on the few images currently available and a short video. Horns of Fear at times plays like a horror convention stereotype, but these moments are brief and easy to ignore. For the most part, it's decaying, dirty-house-is-sticky atmosphere provides plenty of mystery for experienced players and gives you at least two hours of WTFFFF to chew upon like the guy missing his teeth in the mansion.

 

Horns of Fear Official Facebook

Written by Stanley Stepanic

Horns of Fear
Pixoala (developer and publisher)
3.8 / 5