MOTHER makes for some stressful horror as you struggle to keep your kids safe from sinister creatures. Their deaths are permanent if you fail, too.
Horror in games comes with a bit of a problem: you don’t really die. Well, that’s not a problem, I guess. But it DOES suck some of the tension out of playing a horror game to know that you can just respawn when you’re killed. You may be being chased by a murderous killer, but even if they catch you and rip your head off, you’ll pop back up with a new one in seconds. That doesn’t mean tension is impossible in the genre (far from it), but it does present an extra challenge to creating fear. Permanent death has been a neat way to solve this issue, as players know if they die, they have to start over. Very stressful, but gives that feeling of importance to dying.
MOTHER (which we tried out earlier this year) takes this is another direction, though, finding a kind of permanent death that bothered me worse than my own. While I don’t want to get killed, I found it much more frightening to keep other people from getting killed. ESPECIALLY children. This game tasks you with moving through your apartment and dealing with lethal creatures that are out to grab your kids. Now, instead of trying to keep yourself out of danger to survive, you have to throw yourself into trouble to save other people. It forces you to face the creatures the game is trying to scare you with, rushing into danger. And if you aren’t fast enough, your kids die forever.
It’s terrifying to run out into the hall when you know some colossal beast is out there waiting to end your life. Your mind recoils at the thought of doing it. But you do it because you know your helpless kids need you, and it really doesn’t take long before one of the creatures takes them out. A few inattentive seconds is all it takes. You can spend hours keeping them alive, only to have the game strike them down in moments. I lost one kid while I thought I had the game paused (the action stays live until you quit out), so you just never feel that they’re safe. I also felt differently as I had to protect children (and possibly because I have kids of my own, now), which drew out this greater fear in me than I’d felt in a horror game before. That desire to keep someone else alive was stronger and more frightening than feeling like I had to keep myself safe, making for some deeply intense scares.
MOTHER is an interesting foray into horror, using the fear of permanent death, and the desire to keep others safe, to get you to hurl yourself into a danger that terrifies you. Instead of taking steps to stay safe, you have to run towards what scares you, because the alternative is far more horrible than dying yourself. It creates a gut-churning fear, making for one of the most impressive horror games this year.
MOTHER is available now on itch.io and Steam.