Solo developer Smidge Games presents fans of scares, tycoon games and tower defence with Horror Tycoon, a clunky but strong game to review. The game has you build a haunted house with the aim of scaring your patrons to death, literally. Horror Tycoon is a passion project, and you can really tell. However, the game, whilst having a great premise and strong potential, still has some issues that might frustrate some players. For the most part, it comes down to the game being good, but there isn’t enough of it. With all that said, the game has improved a lot from the early access preview, and with such an attentive developer, it seems the game will keep getting better over time.
Horror Tycoon is available on Steam for $14.99
Story – Souls for Souls
The game opens with a visit to a lawyer. Your father has died, leaving to you all his possession and assets, as well as a dark family secret. For centuries your family has had a pact with the devil to collect souls for him in exchange for their success. Now you must now take up the mantel of the haunted house killer. Fail to fulfil your contract and you will be dragged to hell. Succeed without being arrested and you might just be able to pass on this diabolical contract to your children.
Now you must travel the country, setting up your twisted attraction to fulfil an increasing quota of souls. It’s a great set up for the game. Short, simple, and not intrusive which is ideal for a tycoon game. An additional cutscene before each level could be a nice touch but isn’t strictly necessary. It gives enough direction and stakes to the game without being the focus. All in all, I like the setting the story gives, but don’t play the game expecting much more than an opening cutscene.
Gameplay – Horror Tycoon and Tower Defence
Horror Tycoon has an interesting mix of gameplay to review, it’s part tycoon game, and part tower defence. The game follows a simple premise and set up. You start with an empty space with which to build a haunted maze filled with scares. As you level up you unlock new settings, whether that’s a haunted forest or dark abandoned factory.
You have 4 main things to build. First you have your walls, doors, and floors to create a pathway. Then you have the scare attractions, such as a clown that bursts out a closet, a spider nest or a snake filled hallway. Next you have the effects, such as lighting, dripping water, and airbursts. Lastly you have the general decorations which are just there for looks. All together this gives a nice amount of customisability to your house, although some more options would be welcome. Currently the options you have a really well designed, but a bit lacking in number as you often have to repeat scares, which in turn is less effective each time.
Tower Defence or Tycoon
So is the game more in the vain of a tycoon or tower defence game? At the moment it leans more towards tower defence. Once you have your house set up you can bring in a wave of guests. The guests work much like enemies would in a tower defence game. They have scare meter that fills up depending on how scary your house is, with your attractions raising their meter until, hopefully, they die of fright. It’s a solid gameplay loop. Each death gets you bones and teeth to unlock new scares and the more souls you collect, the higher your reputation. This is a double edged sword. More notoriety brings in harder to scare guests and even police attention.
The progression works nicely, with new levels giving you more time and waves so you can unlock the most expensive scare items. The best new addition since the preview, is the traps. There are now deadly attractions to skip the scare tactics and just kill the guests. This includes a fire trap, a closing spiked wall and a hole into the void in the floor. I can’t wait to see more of these added into the game as they are incredibly satisfying if you can unlock them.
This leads to the tycoon element. You need to spend souls to possess the clean up crew to remove bodies, and if you are caught by the police, you will need to bribe them or hire a lawyer to protect you. The tycoon element is a bit light at the moment, as there isn’t that much to do on the business side. Additions such as advertisement to bring in guests with specific phobias could be a strong element to add. There is a new sandbox mode which allows you to skip the leveling up aspect and gives the game a more tycoony playstyle. This mode lets you build to your hearts content, making complex mazes filled with as many scares and decorations you want.
There are some recurring technical issues that popped up while making this review of Horror Tycoon. Nothing was game breaking, and I suspect these will be ironed out with time but are worth addressing. The main one is the clean up crew seemed to constantly get caught on attractions and walls, preventing them from removing bodies, which in turn led the police figuring out what was going on.
There is also the issue with unlocking new levels. As you get kills you rank up. When you reach a certain level it should unlock the new maps, but these only seemed to unlock if I was on the exact right level. If I was a level over what was required I couldn’t access it, which was a shame. The other recurring issue was not being able to move scares after placing them, meaning you need to sell and re purchase them if you want to rearrange.
There are also minor issues that would improve the quality of life. The main ones being in wall placement. A snap to fit function and ability to place multiple walls at once would go a long way to preventing the repetitive act of going to the menu, selecting a wall, placing it, then having to go back to the menu. None of these issues ruin the game, but slow things down and can get in the way of the fun. As said, it’s a solo developer so these things take time. However, it does make the game feel a bit clunky and unfinished.
Graphics and Audio – For Your Viewing Terror
Watching a livestream by the developer I learned 2 things that made total sense. First that the creator had built haunted houses as a youngster. Second, that he absolutely loves lighting. Both come through clearly in Horror Tycoon, with look and sound of the game being a highlight of the review.
Of course, the effects and lighting are very well designed and can make your house look fantastic, in all its neon glory. The traps and attractions are extremely well designed, with tight animations and a clear eye for how to make something creepy and/or gross. The only thing to complain about visually is that there isn’t enough of it. More designs and traps would be great and add a lot of replayability. It’s clear that the game is a passion project, and this comes through in the visuals and audio.
Speaking of which, the audio is also great. Much like in the preview, the effort in this regard really stands out. From the prop sounds and jump scares, to the background audio of storms and cars, the audio sounds really nice. The music as well is fantastic, capturing a retro horror movie soundtrack vibe. Of course there’s a certain level of cheese and tackiness, but this totally makes sense for a haunted house attraction.
Horror Tycoon was played on Steam for review with a key provided by Gameparic.