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Losing Your Mind at Lunchtime: The Convenient Compulsions of World of Horror

Depending on when you’re reading this, we’re long past Halloween and far from any season that evokes horror—except maybe the end of the holidays. But in the aggressively macabre World of Horror, it’s always that time. Time to be shocked, time to be spooked, time to be saviors of a world about to end thanks to eldritch forces beyond our comprehension.

But in manageable, bite-sized adventures that are perfect for coffee breaks or lunch hours! Who says you need to commit four hours to combating a Junji Ito-style cosmic horror when you may very well be done in four minutes?

Tick tock, tick tock

Most horror games that directly utilize or are inspired by Lovecraftian material tend to lean on the idea of breaking your sanity, both in-game and in terms of your real-life schedule. While I’m admittedly a fanboy for Fantasy Flight Games’ Arkham Horror Files franchise, I’m very much not a fan of the time and effort required to just set up one of its games, never mind the actual hours of gameplay involved.

Thankfully, World of Horror upends that expectation by streamlining the experience into a minimalist interface. The art style, the mechanics, the user experience: they all deliver an Arkham Horror-esque experience at an almost manic pace, daring you to catch up and get with the program. There’s no hours-long sorting or setup here. Every action and every outcome click through almost instantaneously, with only the barest flair for dramatic effect and the slightest of pauses for horrific emphasis. It’s a speed runner’s dream—or nightmare, depending on how you feel about very swingy gameplay variance.

Against All Odds

Another hallmark of Lovecraftian narratives is the idea of wrestling against powers and situations beyond the abilities of us poor mortals. Any veteran of this genre’s games can attest to how, even with the best preparation or the smartest choices, random draws and dice rolls can simply lead to Some Bull****™. Despite your efforts, these games just throw you situations or enemies that you have no solution for, crippling or ending your game outright.

World of Horror suffers from the same issue, but to its credit, you don’t have to suffer long. If you’re cornered by a ghost that you can’t even hurt or a situation that just steamrolls you, the game makes quick enough work of you that you can start over right away. Alternatively, you can just quit the current run and start over, no questions asked. It’s a refreshing change from staring bleakly at a table full of cardboard components, wondering where it all went wrong and dreading the maybe-half-hour task of rearranging everything just to have another go.

When you absolutely must have your one-more-turn eldritch fix, World of Horror’s got you like no other roguelike cosmic horror game.

Every Little Bit Counts

The game’s minimalism fully extends into its retro-gaming 1-bit (or 2-bit, if you’re feeling fancy) presentation, which blends perfectly with the Junji Ito-esque manga vibe that it wears on all its disturbing, tentacled sleeves. This is not an experience you go into expecting glam and polish. It’s gritty, cluttered, cramped, and arguably painful to look at, much more engage with.

But past a certain point, the cognitive dissonance of playing a monochrome-shaded game on a screen capable of vastly superior visuals melts away. The dinky sound effects and tinny synth music become welcome, appropriate accompaniment to your menu-driven terror sojourn. Provided you didn’t flinch and flee after your first forays into World of Horror, it becomes very easy to stick with and replay again and again.

Being a roguelike, World of Horror does reward repeated runs, as you unlock more and more of the backstory surrounding the game’s setting of Shiokawa—basically Japanese Massachusetts, for you Arkham fans—and the shared context of the various protagonists you can play as. They all appear to be batchmates from the same 1980s-ish university class, and without wandering into spoiler territory it’s fair to say there’s definitely… shared history.

As you take on different sub-mysteries to take down an Old God, you can unlock different outcomes based on your choices and encounters, and sometimes losing can be more rewarding, lore-wise, than simply getting the “best” solution. Some more ideal outcomes are even only available after failing miserably and discovering darker aspects to some mysteries.

Perhaps next run, instead of just being consumed by the darkness because you didn’t have an effing flashlight, the randomly stocked town store will have one available for you. Maybe next campaign, you’ll find that one spell to turn the tide against a sleeping sickness claiming the town and get one step closer to a showdown with off-brand Atlach-Nacha.

Or perhaps your intrepid, nicotine-addicted alter-ego will go splat once again, because you didn’t bother to use a faster weapon. Perhaps his athletic friend, the swimmer, would stand a better chance….

As a final aside: there are so many little quirks and nuances that also make World of Horror very special, especially for horror fans. I won’t spoil them, as even just hinting at them can detract from their impact, but I can wholeheartedly recommend that you get this game just so you can discover them as they happen. They’re worth the price of admission.

World of Horror is presently available on Steam and other digital storefronts.