Red Bow by Stranga Games
Unlike genres like platformers and JRPGs, horror games don’t have much of a history in the 2D era. While there were a few founding games like Sweet Home and Clock Tower (both of which never left Japan), it ultimately wasn’t until the industry jump to 3D that the genre truly established itself.
It’s interesting then, that with the indie boom has come a surge of 8 and 16-bit spooky experiences like Lone Survivor and Home.
Red Bow is one such game, and what it has in ideas and aesthetic, it unfortunately lacks in execution.
In Dreams of Terror
Red Bow casts you as Roh, a little girl who routinely finds herself leaving her house to navigate strange, unsettling dreams. As you wander around its bizarre top-down 8-bit landscapes, you search for items to help you advance, and interact with the often horrific denizens of the dream world.
Where things get interesting is that you often have multiple ways to find the exit of each area, some of which require you to be benevolent, while others can be a bit more monstrous. This eventually culminates in one of several different endings, and with its bite-sized length of one to two hours, the game encourages you to find them all.
Red Bow bills itself as being “designed to play and feel as a modern top down Gameboy game,” and it absolutely nails that aesthetic. The simple 8-bit colors and sound effects took me right back to the late ’90s. It actually acted as a neat contrast to the game’s multiple creepy creature designs that felt straight out of Japanese horror games like Yume Nikki.
Where Red Bow stumbles, however, is in its gameplay. Many situations ultimately just come down to having to walk around and click on things until something triggers, which quickly becomes dull. It feels like the gameplay is just in service of advancing the story, and while there are great games that the same could be said about, here it just bogs the story down.
I also encountered numerous technical issues throughout Red Bow, from incredibly repetitive music that was way too loud to dialogue boxes that wouldn’t advance and required a full game reset. Also, the developer made the bizarre decision to include a massive number of achievements as “secrets.” While this isn’t inherently bad, having a colorful icon and a jokey title pop up every few minutes practically killed the game’s atmosphere. Oh, and the translation has numerous errors as well.
Dead but Dreaming
It’s unfortunate that Red Bow doesn’t reach the heights set by its forebears because the ideas and charm are there. Retro horror enthusiasts may get enough enjoyment out of it to warrant the $5 purchase, but ultimately there are just better games out there for around the same price.
Red Bow is available via the Nintendo Game Store, Sony PlayStation Store, Xbox Live, Steam and Itch.io
Watch the official trailer for Red Bow below: