Remember kids: When parents say to be home by a certain time, they MEAN it.
It sounds like a good setup from the golden days of gaming: a young girl’s dog goes missing, and after her sister goes out to look and doesn’t come home, the little girl summons all of her courage and steps out the back door to search for them both. She ventures out into the dark nighttime world, with everything just a little bit scarier than it is during the daylight. And this is where the “golden days of gaming” falls to the wayside, because this little girl has no special powers, no superhuman capabilities. She can only throw objects for distractions, hide around bushes, and carry a flashlight… which highlights the demons in her way.
Yup, there be demons out here. And creepy demons too, with odd body shapes and long shadows and twitching, creepy faces that are designed to haunt a person’s dreams. Some of them appear to only display show themselves when the flashlight is on them, which can lead to some frustrating and eerie deaths… which, since you can’t attack or directly defend, is often. In the first five minutes or so of my demo I died four times. When you’re chased in close quarters, that takes some strategizing to maneuver around. That's Yomawari: Night Alone for ya.
With the almost child-like (though dark) world, it’s enough to think you’re back in the age where imagining the worst possibilities of the world at night is a reminder of how important nightlights were to some of us. Mix that feeling with beautiful, smooth, and low-key animation, it reminds me more than a little of a suburban Japanese Silent Hill-type survival-horror, where you’re likely to be surprised around every corner if you’re not careful (or just damned unlucky) without much to defend yourself. The little girl moves smoothly, and everything that can be interacted with in the environment seems to be laid out clearly for investigation and exploration around town, like factories and schools and graveyards, but the real highlight is the monsters.
From the difficulty of that first stage, I only saw a few of them in action, but from the word “go” seeing a blob of sketch-like faces silently screaming as they waft in your general direction, taking up the entire walkway and forcing forward movement away from that initial safe zone, it’s easy to constantly feel the need to scramble or even turn back… until you realize just what you’ve been able to escape, so you double back forward. And if you bounce too much or delay too long, the screen will be streaked with the blood of a ghostly, likely-grisly crime scene. I don’t know if I can, in good conscience, call this “horror,” but it’s definitely eerie and built with the capacity for—and this is the clinical term—heebie-jeebies.
There’s a lot we still don’t really know about this game, which leaves the shroud of mystery on for a while longer. That can only build the suspense. I’m not much for horror or thrillers, but if it’s interesting enough, I’m easily coaxed in, and the charm and eerie presentation of Yomawari has my full attention. It should be released at some point late in 2016, so plenty of time to find the right nightlight for my room and freak out about that shadow in the window. Again.