Playing Yomawari: The Nightmare Collection, a collection of all the games from Nippon Ichi Software’s Japanese-flavored and disarmingly cute overhead horror show on Switch, an interesting memory flooded back into my brain. Two games are available for the unsuspecting: Yomawari: Night Alone and the double-dose of Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, both billed as “horror” and rated M for mature audiences – despite its disarming cuteness. The game says it’s scary and, yes, it has its moments. It certainly has atmosphere. But even knowing this I wasn’t prepared to dive into a world not unlike the NES classic Fester’s Quest.
What, you never heard of The Addam’s Family’s greatest videogame adaptation? Not unlike the Yomawari collection, it also featured a top-down perspective and odd mix of “horror” comedy, from the makers of Blaster Master, no less. And it was pretty great, too!
Yomawari: Night Alone, released in 2015, took me a little over 7 hours to reach its conclusion (but that’s taking into account the many times I was lost). Our main protagonist takes her dog out for a walk. That’s when things begin to go terribly, horribly wrong and you find yourself reporting back to your older sister to help you find your lost pooch. It’s only after she leaves you alone that you realize you’ve been alone far too long, and set out to find both your dog and your sister. This is when you head out into the world and are faced with challenges.
The game opens up and you’re now presented with a neighborhood to explore and investigate. That’s when I started getting heavy Fester Quest vibes as the sense of exploration is completely devoid of direction – I mostly felt as if I were just wandering around. There’s nothing really bad about this approach, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything feels aimless and heading from point to point is more a chore than anything.
For starters, movement is far too slow considering how much backtracking and exploring there is to do. Since you’re given a blank map and the intention of filling it in, you never know which direction will result in anything worthwhile so when you find yourself up against a dead-end you have no choice but to circle back and search of a different route. when I found myself heading in the wrong direction, it felt painful to have to go all the way back. Simply running away helps the cause, but doing so drains the the stamina meter far too fast.
Yomawari is paced as most survival-horror games typically are, but here scares aren’t anywhere near effective and mostly just seem like inane obstacles that you just need to run past. I’m sure it was the developers intention to make them creepy, but enemies end up being too goofy to really take seriously. I found myself darting past most of them largely because they didn’t have an impact on me -literally – if I didn’t just run directly into one causing instant death.
Traveling is certainly negated with the ability to fast-travel between little shrines found around the city which also double as a sort of quicksaves, but even those require gold to use so it just seems to be another way to extend the game and add an archaic Resident Evil-style Ink Ribbon mechanic to the game. If you happen to pass after touching one, you jump back to the last one you saved at which helps cut out on a ton, but not enough, of time.
Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, released in 2017, is technically a sequel, yet feels nearly identical to the first game with some added tweaks. The premise is also similar: schoolgirls Yui and Haru explore a similarly dark town while escaping unthreatening enemies like in the first title. Seeing as the game still adheres to the same rules as its predecessor, I can only recommend playing it after finishing the first game since it’s readily available, despite its lack of innovation.
Overall, Yomawari: The Nightmare Collection didn’t really work for me, though I can see slivers of an effective experience that could for others. Maybe the awkward blend of super-cute Japanese artwork with shockingly unshocking creature design made it difficult for me to become affected by the strange atmosphere or repetitive gameplay. I spent far more time annoyed and being lost in its top-down world than having fun. It feels and plays like a child’s first horror game, an odd pairing of phrases that’s a lot more innocent than it sounds (it’s certainly no Resident Evil). But for me, it was ineffective in all accounts and I found myself wishing it were more.