I never really understood the appeal of pixel-art horror. Despite hearing rave reviews, it’s hard to imagine how the genre’s charming retro aesthetics could lend themselves to horror.
As a brand-new convert to the pixel-art horror following, I can tell you that my apprehensions towards this sub-genre were ill-placed. The game that showed me the light? Baroque Decay’s new surreal horror-satire Yuppie Psycho.
I went into Yuppie Psycho wanting something a little bit different, and I got my wish. This weird, wonderful and utterly mind-bending horror is a breath of fresh air. From top to bottom it oozes personality, whether that’s in the pitch-black comedy that permeates its dialogue or the haunting surrealism that inspires its terrific level design. There are a few bumps along the way – and not of the spooky variety – but Yuppie Psycho is a nightmarish odyssey that frequently scares and consistently surprises.
The game begins with our protagonist, Brian Pasternack, securing a mysterious job offer from a corporation called Sintracorp (which totally doesn’t ring the ‘evil corporation hell bent on world domination’ alarm bells). Being from a poor family, Brian takes on the mysterious position with the promise of earning thousands, becoming an employee of the company’s illustrious 5th floor.
However, it doesn’t take long for Brian to notice that things aren’t quite right within the eerie halls of Sintracorp. The story only gets weirder from here, and ultimately, it’s what makes Yuppie Psycho such an engaging experience.
From start to finish, it establishes an unpredictable narrative that, despite falling apart right at the end, is abundant with memorable moments. This is due to some amazing character work and writing. From the 5th floor’s bizarre yet menacing manager – who dresses as a frog while committing despicable – acts to the crazy general who patrols the building on literal horseback – he frequently talks to his noble steed who he believes is his dead father, because of course he does – a weird, wacky and ominous personality infuses near all of the game’s eight hours. The characters and world somehow manage to shift between comedically bizarre and surreally terrifying within seconds, and it’s this exceptional handling of tone that makes the story work so well.
This tone is all dependent on the strength of the scares, however, and luckily Yuppie Psycho is no slouch in that department. While the horrors of the office environment might not be so difficult to imagine for some, Sintracorp isn’t just home to Betty from upstairs who bangs on about her kids all shift. Sintracorp is also home to actual monsters. During your travels through your sinister work environment, you’ll encounter giant mutant spiders, zombie business moguls and, most hauntingly, an undying hybrid between a large industrial printer and four colossal human hands.
Like something from a John Carpenter movie, these monsters are grotesquely unnerving, from how they look and move to the noises they make as they stalk you around the map. The locations they reside in aren’t exactly paradise either. The decaying bodies of fellow work colleagues are a frequent sight as you navigate the building, while messages written in blood and other substances are common occurrences. Every nook and cranny feels rich in atmosphere, constantly making you fear what’s around the next corner.
But how does the game function? In truth, it’s hard to define exactly what Yuppie Psycho is. If I had to put a label on it, I’d say it’s a puzzle game, making you explore the building and find solutions to problems that emerge as you navigate the campaign. Finding these solutions means ascending and descending different levels of Sintracorp frequently via elevator, while each floor has a different theme, unique items to obtain and central obstacles to overcome.
One floor, for example, is laid out like a large scale forest with fireflies that attack when you’re not hiding in bushes, while another is made up of office cubicles you have to dip in and out of to avoid patrolling enemies. Understanding these floors becomes your key to progression, and what the game does well is naturally unravelling them as you progress throughout the story.
While solving these puzzles is the narrative’s crux, there’s a lot of secrets to be found through exhaustive exploration. Some of the creepiest and funniest moments come from experimenting with items you’ve found lying around. Some provide deeper insights into the morbid world while others better flesh out supporting characters. These quickly became personal highlights, especially as they reveal key elements of the often-mysterious story and feel rewarding to seek out.
These puzzles can also be some of the most frustrating trials, however. A lot of the links between problems and solutions ask you to make incredible leaps of logic, which can become something of an issue. One, for example, asks you to sedate an animal to receive an item of jewellery it’s carrying. Spending a good while trying to find a solution in the local area, I eventually found a rather innocuous NPC hidden away in a completely separate area of the game who randomly gives you a bottle of sleeping pills. While hard problem solving is one of the game’s strongest suits, it can occasionally descend into lengthy trial and error.
Then there are the game’s boss segments, which are more monotonous than they are scary. The majority of these showdowns force you to pull off tedious acts with incredible speed, or manage multiple different tasks without giving you much idea of what you’re meant to be doing.
This became especially maddening during one of the more frustrating boss encounters. Stuck in a canteen, this battle forces you to keep your flashlight on a monster that can appear anywhere it wants without warning, while also having to distract two other enemies and gradually open an escape route. The lack of guidance and unfair nature of the fight is one of the unwelcome difficulty spikes the game thrusts upon you.
These are only made more annoying by the save system. Saving in Yuppie Psycho requires finding an item known as Witch Paper and bringing it to printers scattered around the building. The idea works in theory, but seen as save spots are less common than they should be, you’ll often find yourself dying to something petty and losing lots of progress. With enemies hitting hard and health items being few and far between, this does become an issue during the later hours. [Resident Evil 2 typewriters, anyone? – outmoded save system Ed.]
Overall, Yuppie Psycho is one of the most pleasant gaming surprises I’ve had in quite some time. It’s a deeply frightening experience with some hilarious pitch-black comedy that, while struggling in a few areas, is hard to stop thinking about even hours after you stop playing.
Whether you’re a pixel-art horror regular or a sceptical naysayer like myself, I implore you to take a trip through Sintracorp’s eerie hallways.