What a sorrowful world.

I enjoy when video games don’t behave the way you expect. It doesn’t happen often in this algorithm-driven world of entertainment, and that’s why it’s refreshing to occasionally play a unique game like World of Horror, even if it’s not successful at everything it attempts.

One glance at the screenshots and you’ll know this horror game from Ysbryd Games is forgoing trends for atmosphere. Unlike most retro titles, World of Horror doesn’t take its visual queues from the NES or SNES eras, but the 1-bit Mac SE era. You can play around with the visual presentation—such as going with green and black, adding a couple additional colors, etc.

I preferred the black and white. It works surprisingly well, creating the kind of spooky atmosphere you might find when stumbling upon a ’50s horror flick on Movies!

That said, the scares in World of Horror are certainly not the ones you get from Vincent Price. The visuals are directly inspired by modern Japanese horror movies and the mangas of Junji Ito. The stories are Lovecraftian. The M rating for blood and gore, violence, suggestive themes, and language is very much earned. Although the bulk of the game involves static images and uses sudden audio queues for its jump scares, the visuals can be disturbing—especially during some of the animated cutscenes.

In World of Horror’s main gameplay mode—Extracurricular Activities—the action and story are tied tog​​ether mostly by the city in which it takes place: Shiokawa, Japan. A lot of weird and terrifying events have been happening there, and the player will take control of numerous young residents to figure out what’s going on.

Each rogue-like run gives the player five randomly selected mysteries to solve. There are multiple endings for each, and the ending you reach dictates how the others will come together. Some elements of each mystery cannot be opened without having completed others, so replaying them in a different order creates unique experiences as you push towards the conclusion at the lighthouse. That said, a full run-through can generally be completed in an hour or two, so the overall life of World of Horror is still somewhat short.

Once you have a mystery, the game provides basic hints of where to investigate. For the most part, each location will present you with a decision to make. Investigate the creepy doll? Talk to the creepy dude? Enter the room with the creepy woman? Your answer will affect various things, such as hurting your stats or rewarding you with an item. There were numerous times, however, when the story told me to investigate a specific area, then didn’t update after I’d done so. Like old adventure games of the past, it’s often unclear what you need to do or what you may have missed to move things along.

Combat plays a relatively large role in what’s going on in town. You’ll encounter numerous monstrosities, mostly from Japanese lore and urban legends. When this happens, you’ll be tasked with lining up a string of actions. Attack, buff your attacks, heal, use magic, defend, etc. More powerful attacks take up more action points, but you still may want to buff your accuracy, for example, before unleashing them.

The battles require you to have a decent knowledge of turn-based combat, as the game doesn’t clearly define useful strategies. They also require you to have the right weapons, and that won’t always be the case. If you don’t equip what you have or don’t discover what you need, you may find yourself simply punching and kicking an evil specter, and that’s just not the way to go. You’ll sometimes need to rely on rituals to win, and, too often, learning the sequence to properly perform them is just trial and error. As such, combat can become aggravating.

Throughout it all, you have to manage your doom meter. This is affected by your choices in combat, the story decisions you make, how the town itself is doing, etc. Casting spells during battles may help you win, but because they raise your doom level, you can’t rely on them. If the doom meter reaches 100%, it’s game over. Yet another way to die.

Unfortunately, this is where the 1-bit graphics show their limitations. The interface for all of this is somewhat brutal; a mess of ugly text and cryptic icons. The game doesn’t even explain what some of it is for, and I’m not sure I ever figured out everything I was looking at. The combat and inventory icons do become second nature after a while, but expect a lot of arbitrary clicking early on.

It’s clear (speaking of clicking), that the game was designed with a mouse in mind. It’s easy to move the cursor with the L-stick to select what you want, and the developers do provide some interface enhancements, but playing this on a Mac or Windows PC would be preferable to a console controller.

Another issue is that if you’re not into the story or horror elements, you’ll likely be put off by the repetition. The gameplay loop starts to feel redundant fairly quickly, and the various story elements really don’t differ much despite the unique enemies you’ll face. Catching all the references adds a bit of fun, and digging into a new story can be thrilling, but the actual gameplay elements that comprise World of Horror are too basic for prolonged sessions.

Of course, that’s why those sessions are so short, and why World of Horror is a logical choice for your Halloween (or just fright night) activities. You can quickly play a round, get scared, then put it away until you’re ready to go again. Does that make it worth the $20 asking price? I’m not sure. But the unique look and feel make it a decent break from the norm, and the Nintendo Switch could use more games like that.