Creepy Tale is certainly creepy. Thumbs up, Deqaf Studio, you aimed for that target and well and truly hit it. We played with tension in the fingers and thumbs, and there were plenty of moments that will sit in a grotty cupboard at the back of our subconscious. Thanks for that.
Creepy Tale is a graphic adventure that removes all of the usual complexities of a console point-and-click game, so that it can focus on its creeping dread. You control a young boy with the analogue stick, moving him left and right on a 2D plane, and you interact with the X button (plus A to jump). Sometimes you will pick up items, and they will get stashed in an on-screen inventory, where they will be automatically used when they’re needed. Press X by a locked door while holding a key, and the door will open, for example.
It’s a simple approach to a graphic adventure that is very console-centric. You don’t need to navigate a menu of verbs or painstakingly combine items together. Playing Creepy Tale becomes a simple process of moving to a point of interest and pressing X to see what happens.
As an approach, it gives just as much as it takes away. Often, in graphic novels, you know how to solve a puzzle, but you don’t know how to solve it. You might have a lit match, and you’re in front of a fire, but you pull out your hair trying to work out how the game wants you to do it. Which action or verb will start the frigging thing? With the simple ‘X’ button approach, it’s quick and simple, and these problems don’t occur. But it can make Creepy Tale a simple, benign thing. We found ourselves moving inch by inch through busy rooms, pressing X and looking for a reaction. It can scupper the immersion somewhat.
Still, it means that the story and art have a chance to shine, and shine they do. Creepy Tale flourishes in both areas. In terms of story, it’s simple enough: you and your brother are out gathering mushrooms when he is kidnapped by hulking, hairy monsters. Not to be deterred, you chase after them. What makes Creepy Tale successful in its story is the otherness, the sense of strangeness that pervades it. Part of that comes from the Slavic fairy-tales that it draws on, which – as a Brit – feel like a breath of fresh (putrid) air. But mostly it’s because Creepy Tale isn’t afraid to pull out some fingernails. It’s a mean, terrifying world which will kill you constantly, and you can barely take a step without something eating you. It has the same ‘child in peril’ mood that suffused Limbo.
We liked the art plenty too. It feels like a cursed popup book, with characters animated as if they’ve got metal pins in their joints. The creatures are all matted hair and long, sharp fingers, and they will scuttle and loom menacingly. It’s a cracking cast for a game, and we liked it a lot.
The rest of Creepy Tale, however, is more unrefined, and most of that comes from the puzzles. While they’re simple to interact with, they can feel like a trap-filled room. You can see the glittering trophy, and you might even know how to get there, but there are countless wrong steps on the way. In one sequence, you have to distract a killer librarian (aren’t they all?). You have a rope and a bell, and he will rush to wherever the bell is rung. We hid behind a potted plant, as tall as our character, but he saw us and killed us. We hid behind some boxes, barely up to our knees, and he couldn’t see us. We dangled a fish from a rope to distract him, but he ate it and killed us. But once we dangled the fish just out of his reach, he remained distracted for long enough for us to walk past. Anticipating what Deqaf Studio considers to be the correct solution is hard enough, but having a Sword of Damocles hanging over your head, with death as a punishment, makes it all the more infuriating.
The more involved puzzles are a bit soggy, too. There’s no fun to be found in a trial-and-error puzzle, but that’s all that a couple of latter game puzzles are. You’ve got to keep persisting until you get it right, and we just don’t think it qualifies as good. The less said about one stealth sequence, where the rules seem to shift as you progress, the better.
The punishment for failure is rarely harsh, but it often feels like you’re exploring a maze, and every wrong turn gets greeted with a dagger to the ribs. Your curiosity is punished, and it can all get a bit Dragon’s Lair. The world is too random for these spontaneous acts of failure and death.
When Creepy Tale is only two hours long, it means that an extremely high proportion is spent in a state of mumbling and growling. Yet, away from these black spots of frustration, Creepy Tale can be astonishingly atmospheric and tense, and we wish it remained that way for longer. A sequel is due imminently on Xbox, so perhaps it will.
Creepy Tale is effective, there is no doubting that. It is as insidious as they come, and that comes from its art, world and characters. We’re eager to play its sequel, in the hope that it expands on them more. But Creepy Tale fumbles whenever it asks you to do anything. Too often, it resorts to puzzles that are clumsy and illogical, with a parade of deaths as the punishment.
Creepy Tale is the rare game that is improved with a walkthrough. But it’s a stretch to call that a recommendation.
You can buy Creepy Tale from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S