Innsmouth no Yakata (The Mansion of Innsmouth)
Developer: Be Top
Platform(s): Virtual Boy
Release Date: 13th October 1995 (Japan exclusive)
If you ask me, there are some things you shouldn’t do that come down to common sense. Going into a mist-covered, decrepit mansion filled with disturbing human-amphibian hybrids is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about and of course, that’s exactly what you’ll find yourself doing in Innsmouth no Yakata.
Before talking about this particularly haunting title, it’s important to cover a few background details on its origins and inspirations. Horror novella The Shadow over Innsmouth will likely be a familiar name to any fans of H. P. Lovecraft, the American author who is considered today to be one of the most significant and influential horror writers of the 20th century. It’s no surprise that a plentitude of games have been inspired by Lovecraft’s eldritch tales, however this specific adaptation is not based on the original Innsmouth story, but on the low-budget Japanese movie Insmus wo Oou Kage, directed by Konaka Chiaki.
In fact, this peculiar Virtual Boy title is fairly distanced from the original story, in more than just its inspirations; whilst The Shadow over Innsmouth presents a gripping yet complicated tale of deception, fish-men, aliens and plenty more that I couldn’t even begin to describe, all set in the sleepy yet twisted town of Innsmouth. Innsmouth no Yakata‘s take on this concept presents a much more… hands-on approach; as opposed to offering a more psychological kind of horror, the Virtual Boy take on this classic horror story sees our protagonist valiantly stroll into an eery-looking mansion armed with a handgun and nothing more, fighting off eldritch horrors in the manor house’s cramped corridors with incredibly limited ammunition.
Unfortunately, it seems that the protagonist lacks a particularly good aim, as actually getting a hit on said horrors is a nightmare in itself… OK, perhaps that’s mostly down to the controls; the game uses the Virtual Boy’s unique two D-pads for both movement and aiming, something which seems like it would be more effective than it actually is, but all this does is make for an incredibly clunky aiming experience that I certainly wouldn’t trust my life with in a mansion filled with Lovecraft’s worst.
There are a variety of pickups throughout the mansion, ranging from spare ammo clips that likely will come between life and death when you’re cornered by a monster (that is, providing you can line up your shot properly) to various ‘orbs’ that extend your map and help prevent you from constantly backtracking through the mansion’s many familiar looking corridors, and most importantly, keys, which allow you to exit each stage and move on to the next. Depending on how quickly you clear each stage determines which you’ll be faced with next in a branching path-like formula, allowing you to eventually reach one of four different endings; with a total of 45 different levels, you certainly won’t be pushed when it comes to re-playability.
The game’s visuals are a mixed bag; the intro is fantastically illustrated and does a great job at setting the scene, relying on a few jump scares here and there to give you an idea about what you’ll be up against inside the mansion; it also does a fairly good job at making use of the Virtual Boy’s 3D effect, bringing to light the surprising lack of first-person titles on the failed system. The enemy design is suitably Lovecraftian and is faithful to the themes of Innsmouth‘s disturbing monsters, and it’s a nice touch that their attacks, such as clawing at the player, also use the Virtual Boy’s 3D effect. However, beyond invoking a severe case of claustrophobia, the game’s environments do little to carry on these spooky themes, appearing more like a budget hotel than a mansion plagued with evil; the game’s faux-3D environments that make use of numerous repeating wall and door tiles that age the game quite badly, as well as being something you’ll likely grow tired off very quickly after 45 levels.
Innsmouth no Yakata is a game that has a lot of interesting elements, such as making good use of the Virtual Boy’s flawed 3D, as well as a generally good atmosphere that can become tense and exciting at times (especially when you’re low on time and ammo!). However, it ultimately falls short overall, mostly as a result of a lack of variation across the game’s plentitude of levels, especially visually, something partially brought about by hardware limitations. However, it you’re looking for some quick Halloween scares in primitive 3D, or perhaps you’re missing that one Lovecraft-inspired Virtual Boy title in your life, then you can’t go wrong.