For any reader fortunate enough to not know me, I’m one of those pesky “Zoomers” you see causing trouble in the news regularly. You know… the sleep-deprived generation of humans who manage to have an existential crisis every week (me included). Since I belong to this so-called “Generation Z”, I managed to miss the “golden age” of Survival-Horror in the gaming industry, a time when titans such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill introduced themselves to terrify the world with their manual saves and disturbing lack of polygons.
By the time I was old enough to have an interest in horror, all of these classic horror franchises had either died out or faced massive graphical improvements in their latest instalments. I stupidly gave my old consoles away and so my ability to experience the PSX era of horror games had been lost. Thankfully at my current age of 21, I’ve had time to invest in having the ability to experience these old games for the first time. I was shocked by how well they held up when I played them.
The original Silent Hill was so scary that I often found myself holding my controller up to block my view from the disgusting horrors trying to kill me. However, I noticed from my time playing these old games that what scared me the most wasn’t the story or gameplay, but the graphics instead. Witnessing these titles attempting to emulate the real world with a lack of pixels and polygons gave off an incredibly strange and uncanny feeling.
Fortunately for me, it turned out that I wasn’t crazy, as many others found themselves stuck with this same feeling. In fact, that feeling was so strong that it caused a huge revolution recently within the indie-horror industry. Developers are now tailoring their games to look like something you would expect to see on the original PlayStation. This niche of a genre doesn’t have a name, but most people refer to it as “PSX-Style”. This genre marked the birth of something new and hauntingly sinister.
Puppet Combo is a name that has become synonymous with this new PSX era and if you’re familiar with the name, you’ll know exactly where I’m going with this. In 2015, at the time being unaware of this new PSX phase, I heard about a game called Power Drill Massacre that had just been released. Due to my ignorance and stupidity, I purchased the game instantly after seeing a few images that I thought looked “pretty cool”.
Picture me an hour later, almost in tears, crumpled up on the floor after being sent flying by the ear-piercing screech of the power drill-wielding killer catching me. I got up, deleted the game, and swore to myself to never touch it again and to this day I’ve stuck to that promise. I’m seriously not kidding when I say I’ve never played a game so evil and unfair, using its PSX graphical style to create an atmosphere so dark and disgusting that you’ll want to take a shower after playing it.
I find myself having nothing but massive respect and admiration towards Benedetto Cocuzza, the man behind Puppet Combo, who is solely responsible for nearly scaring me and many others into a coma. Cocuzza has become an infamous leader of this new wave of PSX-style horror with his vast library of titles. Games such as Nun Massacre and Feed Me Billy sound horrific just by their names alone, being inspired by the old VHS era of 80s slasher horror films. In an interview with Bloody Disgusting in 2020, Cocuzza explained what prompted him to make PSX styled horror:
“Thinking back to it, my desire was really just to see what a slasher film would look and play like if it were a game. There had been video games like Alone in The Dark and Resident Evil at the time, but nothing quite like the realistic horror of Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So that’s what spurred me on to begin learning how to make games.”
Benedetto Cocuzza (Bloody Digusting, 2020)
In 2016, following my trauma of deciding to touch a Puppet Combo game, I played a game by the name of Anatomy. Developed by Kitty Horrorshow, Anatomy is a game where the player must explore a house full of tapes that slowly reveal a dark and sinister plot. Whilst it had a similar graphical style to a Puppet Combo game, it wasn’t focused on ear-piercingly loud and vicious jump scares.
Instead, it was a game that focused on easing the player into an environment that increasingly became more unnerving as time went on. It wasn’t so much the experience of playing it that made it memorable but rather the feeling I felt after I had finished it. It managed to get under my skin so badly that I actually remember being unable to sleep after playing it as it was the only thing that occupied my mind. It’s actually a game that I’ve been planning on writing about so I can’t say too much, but it’s another brilliant example of what makes retro horror so damn creepy.
In February 2020, a mysterious collection of games was released for free on Itch.io under the name of Haunted PS1 Demo Disc. It featured a collection of 17 short demos for retro-styled horror games. This “Demo Disc” highlighted a collection of indie developers who were all a part of the PSX scene within the industry, showing off their passion for the genre. The Haunted PS1 collection returned in March of this year with 25 brand new demos again coming from various developers. Haunted PS1 has become a platform for PSX developers to showcase their talents to the industry and it has been a huge success, encouraging an increasing number of players to dip their feet into the retro-styled horror landscape. I wouldn’t be surprised if they became a publisher for these types of games in the near future.
In a world where technological advancements happen almost every week and games nowadays are starting to look eerily real, it prompts me to question why exactly we seem to be going back to a retro style of gaming, at least within the indie industry. I believe that the answer to my question varies greatly between players. For people who grew up playing classic horror franchises, there’s an obvious nostalgia for that style and so this new wave of retro gaming has prompted them to dive back in. And for those like me who didn’t get the chance to experience retro horror back when it was popular, it’s the idea of playing something that appears ancient, an uncanny sensation that spawns from seeing lifelike images get twisted and distorted by a small number of polygons.
I’m somewhat concerned that the Triple-A game industry may one day pick up on this new interest in retro horror as they’ll end up draining the fun out of it with their fancy budgets and monetary tactics. PSX is the perfect style for indie developers as it’s easy and cheap to make and there are great platforms such as the Haunted PS1 Demo Disc for them to gain attention towards their efforts. It’s a really exciting time for indie horror and I can’t wait to see what developers such as Puppet Combo have in store for us next. I’m cautious for the future as it could fall into the wrong hands, but for now, it’s here to stay, both to terrify a new generation and remind an older generation of a style they deeply miss.
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