I’m still in a horror-appreciation mode, so when I saw a free Japanese adventure game about a haunted house with monsters running rampant and a large basement filled with dread, I couldn’t say no. Haunted mansions are a really potent concept to me. It may be just nostalgia for gaming classics of first Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil but this idea just speaks to me. I imagine it was born many gothic years ago out of the suffocating loneliness of living in a house alone, and a fear of the dark. In gaming, though, there is also the promise of exploration – visiting different rooms which all have their own identities and sometimes riddles and dead bodies stuffed in the closets. In my book, that’s fun.
Mad Father has more to offer, though. It’s hard to ignore its story which is partly over the top silly, and partly dark and gruesome. You play a seven-year-old girl called Aya living in a house with a slightly unhinged father. The guy is performing some unethical experiments on living beings in the basement. Also, he has occasional sexual intercourse with his assistant. Understandably, the mother didn’t like it, but she died so her opinion doesn’t count. Besides, the father really loves and cares for Aya. And for it, the girl loves him back. Then, one night, the monsters come, take over the mansion and go after the father. She can’t let that happen and decides to try and save the bastard.
In other words the game is built around a proper and well-thought-out horror concept. You are a defenseless girl, you cannot kill anyone throughout the game. But you, yourself can and will die. Unfortunately, the author sometimes strays off the adventure path and there are a couple quick time events placed around the game. After being caught by a monster springing out of nowhere, you need to “tap Z” like crazy in order to escape. It’s a working, and arguably even effective, game mechanic. But it’s as cheap as these jump scares.
And, unfortunately the whole game is quite shallow. It has many great elements that don’t work together to create something special. The plot is well-constructed but could actually be a perfect vehicle for a a number of interesting metaphors as it juggles parental love, conflicted parents, selflessness and egotism. But it isn’t. It concentrates on fun instead, and fun it is, but I was a bit disappointed by the waste of potential in terms of story.
Visually the game looks and also plays like a Japanese RPG – the view is top-down, the graphics are pixellated and the characters can’t move diagonally. Though, as mentioned earlier you don’t fight and instead interact with objects and items while also occasionally dying. Fortunately, the save points are always placed in appropriate places so deaths don’t pose much of a problem. Also, the game is about three hours long, thus it doesn’t take much time to finish. The puzzles are usually self explanatory and the game knows what it wants from you, and sometimes even offers sound cues to steer you, so it’s not simplistic, but not too difficult either.
During dialogs the game displays characters’ portraits drawn in a characteristic manga style – it fits pretty well, because the protagonist is a little girl. It works for the father too as he is drawn in such a way as to never show his eyes – emphasizing that he is a character with a lot to hide. And the mother totally has a squint-eye and I spend the whole game wondering if that was an intentional choice made in the name of realism, or just a lack of skill.
All in all, Mad Father has a lot of interesting ideas in it and it’s completely free. You can spend a couple of hours a lot worse. Despite the gruesome imagery that it produces, the game is actually very fun and succeeds at creating an atmospheric little adventure with psychos and monsters abound. Plus, yeah, it will make you jump.
[Here’s the link for the game with the translation and various tips]