Lovecraft meets virtual reality in Innsmouth no yakata
Although HP Lovecraft’s influence on horror gaming is immeasurable, from the seminal Alone in the Dark (1992) to the popular board game Arkham Horror, there aren’t all that many video games that are actually based on his works. Shadow of the Comet (1993) and its sequel Prisoner of Ice (1995) were marginally popular amongst point&click adventure enthusiasts, but thus far the most popular video game based on the Cthulhu mythos has been the Bethesda published cult hit Dark Corners of the Earth from 2005. Perhaps the most obscure Lovecraftian video game adaptation is Innsmouth no Yakata, a game released exclusively for the Virtual Boy only in Japan.
The game is a first person survival horror game somewhat akin to Xybots in its implementation, as it plays like a hybrid between an early FPS and a grid based dungeon crawler. Movement is grid based and you can only turn around in 90 degree increments, but aiming is free form. The level design is also reminiscent of dungeon crawlers and early first person shooters like Wolfenstein 3D, as the game takes place in long, identical looking hallways with no discernible landmarks. In other words, the game is very maze-like and confusing. Luckily, you can bring up a map by pressing the select button. However, this map only fills as you explore the levels. You can stumble upon special orbs that either fill out your map or tell you where the exit is. As you’re under a strict time limit, failing to find the exit in time means you have to start over.
The controls are simple and intuitive. Left D-pad moves, right D-pad aims. Right trigger button shoots and left reloads your weapon. So the control set up feels quite familiar to how modern console FPS games play. The game also features some rudimentary survival horror elements. You have a limited number of bullets, so you can’t kill all the enemies. And as you have to manually reload your weapon, you sometimes have to reload in the midst of a battle.
Audiovisually, the game is one of the system’s better offerings. The soundscape is very lacking, but the enemy designs and cutscenes are rather intricate, as is the password screen. Unfortunately the 3D effect is very paltry: the enemies limbs have a mild 3D effect to them when they try to claw your face off, and that’s it. Still, thanks to the first person perspective and FPS control scheme, it’s still one of the most immersive games on the system, which speaks volumes for how underutilized the VR concept was in majority of Virtual Boy games.
While the gameplay grows repetitive rather quickly, Innsmouth no Yakata comes recommended to collectors, if you can afford to splurge on this rarity. The password system makes it very import friendly, as passwords consist of four letter English words. The game also features a branching level structure and four different endings, so it has some replay value as well.
Developer: Be Top
Platforms: Virtual Boy
Release date: October 13, 1995 (Japan)