I have a list of horror games that I want to play (and write about), as any good horror gamer should. Right at the top of this list was Masochisia, so I leapt at the chance of reviewing it for IGM. At a glance, I was captured by the style of Jon Oldblood’s psychological horror, but after looking a little deeper, I saw that the game had so much more to offer than just its unique visuals.
Masochisia is about a boy (or rather, young adult) known as Hamilton, who experiences hallucinations of both the visual and auditory kind. It is through these hallucinations that he realizes he will one day become a psychopath. Whether he is able to use this knowledge to change, however, is a different thing entirely. A gruesome thing, in fact, reminiscent of the graphic horrors of Neverending Nightmares and Fran Bow, which featured similar focuses on mental illnesses and abuse. Fair warning: Further down the page, Hamilton's mother is going to drop the C-bomb in one of Masochisia's images. Apologies if this offends you in any way, but if it does, this game is probably not for you... offensive language is the least of Hamilton's worries.
This journey into the depravities of the mind is taken by scrolling horizontally through a world that immediately sets the tone. Approximately 30 seconds into the game, I clicked to open a door, and on the other side of that door I was shown a vision that had me jumping back from the screen in horror. Consider me officially on edge. Masochisia doesn't create fear using jump-scares often, though it does use them well when the time calls for it. Rather, the game creates constant tension through its 2D environments, featuring portraits with the eyes scratched out, bloody handprints and scribbles, and impressively jarring sound effects each time an interaction is made.
Adding to this tension is the fact that you can only see parts of each scene you click into, and anything could be hiding just outside your field of vision. Only by navigating slowly across the screen will you find out whether someone, or something, has joined you in the area. And, no matter who they may be, I can guarantee that each will be as distinctive as the last, with their own strange style, creepy conversations, and obscene objective for Hamilton to carry out.
Fortunately, these objectives, normally quite cryptic but easily understood and solved, keep the narrative moving quite smoothly. I was slightly worried that I would become frustrated with Masochisia’s puzzles, for no reason other than the fact that I am impatient and simple, but they are used as a method of moving the narrative forward, which is the key focus of the game. In doing so, you get to follow Hamilton on his journey to becoming the mentally unstable murderer that we all know and…well, just know. It is a tale that probably won’t be for everyone, as it looks into the reasoning behind the psyche of a killer, with a foot set firmly in the disturbing realities of strict, religious parents, domestic abuse, and an inability to change the fate that others seem to have set for you.
Actually, this leads into one of my problems with an otherwise strong experience. There isn’t all that much choice, or at least my choices didn’t feel that open. For example, I tried to keep Hamilton as "sane" as I possibly could, denying my love of hurting others and questioning rather than giving in wherever possible. However, at certain points it seemed that the less slice-and-dice passionate options were greyed out, and I had to agree to act out the gruesome desires of whomever I was conversing with. Having said that, I’m aware that this may actually be a sign that mental illnesses are not simply a "choice," in which case the game makes strong cases for both sides of the nature-vs-nurture debate.
Another downside I experienced may have come from the genre itself, rather than being specific to Masochisia. I found that I had to do a lot of backtracking, and no matter how nice the backgrounds look, and how great things sound, I felt like I just couldn’t scroll fast enough through these areas. As I said, this could be a personal critique that won’t apply to everyone. If point-and-click is your go-to gaming genre, you’ll probably be used to it, but personally, I knew where I needed to be, and I just wanted to be there already.
Nevertheless, Masochisia is a beautifully twisted point-and-click adventure into the psyche of a very disturbed young man, and it creates its atmosphere using a mixture of things you don’t see, and things you wished you had never seen. Though I sometimes felt a little impatient scrolling through environments that I’d scrolled through before, and there isn’t quite as much choice as I first thought, Oldblood’s game cuts its way into the mind-bending group of horrors I’ve enjoyed recently. If you’re in the mood to follow a character’s journey into homicidal madness, Masochisia could be the game for you, and you can find it for $7.99 USD on Steam, or get in touch with the Oldblood on Twitter. Just make sure you're ready to explore some unsettling themes and visuals, before you follow Hamilton into the darkness.