Four Games That Hide Their Horror

It's October, which means that the spooks are out in full force. During the scariest time of the year, it's best to be on your toes at all times, as with Halloween spirits running high, you never know when your friend might get the urge to trick you into playing a cute game that isn't all that it seems. Luckily, much to the relief of concerned UK soccer mums, I gain much enjoyment in seeking out these hidden spooks so the masses are aware of their existence. So, without further adieu, here's some games that subvert themselves for scares. Spoiler alert in advance.  

Confess My Love (PC)

Remember that one crush you had back in high school that consumed so much of your head space but never actually turned into an actual relationship because, A: you didn't have the courage to ask them on a date or B: they just didn't like you back in that way? Well someone made a game out of it, kind of.
Available to download free through Steam for Windows only, Confess My Love drops you into a cute little anime classroom with the aim of confessing to Liza, the girl sat in the front row, by the time the timer in the corner reaches five. Simply walking up to her and trying to ask her out doesn't work and the player is given an ending screen. This ending screen is - get this - one of twenty possible endings. As you encounter each new ending, they appear on the noticeboard in the classroom. The problem with having so many endings is that like other games with multiple endings, many of them (including the true ending) are incredibly cryptic and near impossible to achieve without a guide. In order to access the "mutated room" - the point at which the game gets truly spooky - you have to perform a number of actions, actions that you wouldn't think to do unless a guide told you so. Get cake from the desk. Get a cup from a classmate. Collect four puzzle pieces. It goes on and on, and you have to do all eight different actions in the right order before confessing to Liza while the clock shows three. But here's the biggest kicker, after messing around doing all this, it doesn't always work. There's a 1/3 chance of the mutated room appearing. Imagine you just so happened to try all the steps without consulting a guide first, and after all that nothing happened? Why would anyone feel the need to repeat them when they failed the first time? Madness. Anyway, it turns out that the main character is actually in purgatory and his last wish is for Liza to know his feelings. It's a cool twist, and the repetition of having to accomplish all the endings does have an effective way of alienating the player into a sense of unease. The idea of hiding something terrifying behind the cutesy (and relatable) premise of a guy trying to confess his love to his crush is great, but walling off the true scares behind such cryptic puzzles is where this game's potential to be scary sadly falls short.

Irisu Syndrome (PC)

Irisu Syndrome is a freeware puzzle game created by wtetsu. Links to download it, along with an english translation patch can be found here. The gameplay involves matching falling shapes, and while it sounds like a Tetris-like affair, Irisu Syndrome is different in that it utilises a specific physics engine. Players can shoot bigger, coloured shapes with white or grey squares to make them move, with the colours of the squares effecting the movement speed of the bigger shapes they hit. The aim is to stay alive as long as possible. A life bar constantly drains at the bottom of the screen, and matching more of the same colour shape will fill it back up, while failing to do so will take away large amounts of health. When the life bar reaches zero, the game will end.
The game features very beautiful, but incredibly sombre music, and overall seems fairly harmless. Just keep trying to get the high score, you know how these puzzle games go. However, the more the game is played, the more is revealed about a dark plot involving Irisu, the titular bunny-ear hatted character. Every time a game ends, players can access the "album" section in the main menu, and are able to view one of five pictures, along with some story that details three university students on a camping trip. As each picture is added to the album, new text files will be added to the game's folder, and players can read them to find out more about a sinister plot, one hinting that Irisu has some particularly psychotic plans to "erase" the three students.
The game has two endings once you play it through five times and collect all the pictures. The bad ending is achieved if the player scores under 20,000 points in the first five games. An excerpt from a news story is shown, saying that the three students have gone missing and one of their bodies has been found, only identifiable through his teeth. If the player scores 20,000 points at least one time however, they will receive the good ending, where it'll seem as if Irisu tries to kill one of the university students (Ageha), but upon re-opening the game, you will find that the "sinister plot" and the students going missing was actually just an elaborate plan to surprise Ageha for her birthday. Well, I guess Irisu is a good egg after all.

Dreaming Mary (PC/Mac)

Developed by first-time game maker Accha, and available to download here, Dreaming Mary might look like it came straight from the girl's toy aisle, but lurking beneath its pink fluffy exterior is something incredibly sinister. The way it reveals itself is similar to Confess My Love, with multiple failed endings hinting towards the existence of a true ending, however, unlike that game, Dreaming Mary utilises a much more logical form of trial and error, and provides you with hints to help you progress deeper into the story. The fact that something not quite right is going on makes itself apparent on the first play through, meaning your want to progress will be fuelled by your desire to find out what the game is not showing you, and oh boy, Dreaming Mary gets terrifying. 
Mary wakes up in a lovely pink fairy tale castle, and pays visits to a cast of cute animals. These include Bunnhilda, Foxanne and Penn Guindel... Oh, and there's also Boaris. It soon becomes apparent that three of the four animals are trying to mislead you, and Pen Guinndel is the only one you can trust. Most first time players will be lead "deeper into the dream" by Boaris after following the steps of the bad animals, because why wouldn't you? This leads to some creepy nightmare faces from them (except Penn Guindel) and a bad ending. Through trial and error, and some advice from Penn Guindel, players will discover the darker side of the dream, and will have to see a few more bad endings before things start to become clear. An absolutely terrifying pursuer shows up eventually too, who, upon catching the player will trigger the game's most disturbing ending.
It turns out that Mary is a girl called Mari who is kept inside her room all day by her father and spends her days sleeping to pass the time. Boaris represents her father in the dream, while Pen Guinndel represents her kind uncle. Of course I'm leaving out the darker details, but I think it's best that you discover them for yourself by playing the game. Dreaming Mary is disturbing, but is subtle in how it deals out its darker themes, with most of the creepiness existing in the mind of the player as they try to add up the extent of what's going on. 

Doki Doki Literature Club (PC/Mac/Linux)

Where Doki Doki Literature Club succeeds above all others in its subversion of expectations is linearity. Unlike some of the above games that require the player to solve puzzles, or meet conditions unknown to them, Doki Doki Literature Club's only requirement for revealing its true nature is patience on the player's behalf. It can feel quite slow paced trying to get through its generic visual novel setting at first, but once you've encountered that scene, you're in for a hell of a ride. I've written about it extensively in a separate article, so if you want to know more about it, just click here. To play it, you just need to download it for free from its official website or Steam
Without a shadow of a doubt, Doki Doki Literature Club is one of the most terrifying interactive experiences you will ever play, unless they bring out that weird VR head implant thingy from Black Mirror. It absolutely scared the shit out of me, and I never get scared of horror games or movies, so count that as you being heavily cautioned.

Do you know any more games that hide away their inner horror behind a cute, harmless exterior? I'm always looking for new horror games like that, so if there's any I should know about, be sure to let me know via the official Alt:Mag Facebook or Twitter pages, or by leaving a comment below!

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