The SNES is an endless ocean of quality, but it is only after you leave the shoreline of North American releases that you begin to see just how truly deep and terrifying this ocean can be. So it was with Clock Tower, the first SNES game outside of North America that truly captured my attention. As an avid horror fan, I always wanted a game that simulated the feeling of a psychopath after you in a desperate game of hide and seek. It was not until three years ago that I discovered that they had made my dream game a reality. But there were two problems:
- The game never came to America for incredibly obvious reasons.
- The game required knowledge of the Japanese language in order to enjoy it.
It seemed like I would never get a chance to play the original Clock Tower on my Super Nintendo…
A much wiser SNES fanatic had discovered one of the retro gaming community’s most coveted secrets. Two Septembers ago my package arrived and inside was a North American translated version of the Clock Tower cartridge!!! So is it as amazing as I had hoped?
It Happened In September…
With these iconic words, the adventure begins. You play as a young orphan named Jennifer, who has been adopted by the wealthy Mr. Barrows. Jennifer is taken by Mrs. Barrow to Clock Tower, the sprawling family mansion. Right off the bat things get creepy, and it is up to you to explore the mansion grounds and unravel the mystery of the Barrows family. Since there is no other equivalent on the SNES that I can compare it to, I will just say that this game resembles Maniac Mansion on the NES with one major exception: There is an evil psychopath with a giant pair of scissors out to kill you and your friends!
It is the perfect setting for a deadly game of cat and mouse. As a young girl you have no means to defeat the killer, so the only way to survive is to avoid, trick, and hide from him until you acquire the means to escape the mansion. While doing this keep two things in mind:
Firstly, many of the items are triggered completely at random. That means that it is entirely possible to find a car key in a box that will allow you drive a car you found out of the mansion without ever seeing most of the game! The next time you play, the same box could hold a West Wing Key, or nothing at all!
Secondly, each area of the mansion has random triggers that can guarantee an appearance by the killer, and once he is chasing you, your past explorations can come back to help or bite you as you attempt to hide or flee. As an example, hiding under a bed, you may think you are safe. The problem is that there is a parrot in the room. If the killer comes in looking for you, this parrot will tell on you, resulting in the killer finding you! The only way to make that a safe hiding spot is to kill the bird-something you may or may not have done prior to the chase sequence! The killer also acts differently depending on if he has seen where you have hidden or not. Running into a closet may work-unless he saw you enter, in which case your game is probably over!
And what of your friends? The main rule to remember is ‘if you didn’t see it, it never happened.’ That means they are alive until you see them die. And whether or not this will happen all depends on where you look and where you go. All of these things open up a wellspring of tension and spontaneity that most games cannot ever hope to imitate. You never know what you will find, where the killer will appear, or who will die, and it makes this game one of the scariest I have ever played to this day!
As for game mechanics, they really couldn’t be any simpler. Jennifer walks in whatever direction you click, with the shoulder buttons making her run. You have a button that makes you move/interact, a button that cancels these actions, a button that lets you use items you have found, and a button to get you out of sticky situations, like when the killer has you cornered. Instead of a health meter you have a fear indicator, another great idea. You start with the color blue, indicating that Jennifer is in full control of her emotions. As she encounters various scares this color will eventually turn to dark red, indicating panic. This is important because the darker the fear indicator is, the more chances Jennifer will make a mistake, like tripping. And if you get caught while on red…DEAD END!
Visually, the game is pretty solid considering this came out in 1995. Characters and environments are large and well detailed. The Barrows Mansion is a terrifying and atmospheric place to explore. Each room and hallway has its own distinct personality, and adds to the overall story of the Barrows’ and their mansion. You will have a ball uncovering every detail of this grisly story, and tracking down one of the games nine distinct endings. The music is only used during scares and chases. This really helps to reinforce what the game is all about. The sound effects are among the best on the system. Everything from Jennifer’s pounding footsteps to the sound of the killer’s scissors aid in making this a tour de force of horror.
Many gamers accuse this game of being slow, but if you are trying to run through it, you’re missing the point. This is the perfect game to play on a cold October day, lights off, blanket wrapped around you as the day fades into twilight. It is in these moments that Clock Tower brings you back to the most vulnerable days of your youth, where monsters lurk around every corner, and ghost stories come to life. To me, it is the game equivalent of all the horror movies we would watch in the lead up to Halloween. Even now it serves to supplement them perfectly. For any and all that love a good scary story, do not miss out on Clock Tower. It is a scare worth having!
5 Out Of 5 Stars
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