The concept of 2D horror has always fascinated me. When you look at titles like Yume Niki, Clock Tower, and Fran Bow, they depend on using strong and foreboding atmospheres through their limitations in order to make the player feel uncomfortable, which I adore. Personally, I much prefer such a take over jump scares that are nothing more than a cheap gimmick 3D games easily tend to rely on, similar to what Five Nights at Freddy’s and Stories Untold do. Because of this, I was instantly intrigued when I found Deadeus, as it is a title made with Chris Maltby’s GB Studio Engine that tried to bring horror to the Game Boy! A compelling concept that I will explain why worked well.
Like a good series with planned endings
As an unnamed protagonist, you struggle one night with a terrible nightmare. In this dream, a giant leaking eye with other smaller ones stare at you, demanding a debt being paid in your flesh alongside with the rest of those who walk upon Earth. This will take place after three days have passed. It is from the very moment you wake up that Deadeus shows its strength: you decide on how this story will be played out. Do you seek answers to redeem this terrifying fate? Try to enjoy the last couple of days in peace? Answer to the demand of sacrifices? Or maybe you will simply leave your home and never look back?
All of these are choices you can make and with no time limit to speak of, the game lets you leisurely explore this little town you live in, which has interesting, uncomfortable, and even humorous inhabitants. Some are struggling with the loss of someone dear to them, a heartwarming couple is supporting each other to the bitter end, and even two people from a cult are studying a painting with no idea of what it could mean. There is always an unnerving atmosphere throughout this title that makes it clear something is not right, but the tone is never afraid of having sprinkles of comical or sweet moments included. In fact, this makes the horror elements even more sever for what could potentially be gone forever.
I try not to spoil anything, since every discovery is affected by how you play this game. There is even optional reading materials that can be found at the school or the library, including paintings that all expand upon Deadeus‘s lore subtly. Furthermore, I also admire how these issues are mainly making the kids uncomfortable while the adults are nonchalant about them, which is a familiar trope nicely utilised here. This story might leave you hungry for more due to how short it is, even if you explore everything in one playthrough, but still has a lot to offer for any fan of horror.
Story Score: 8/10
Novel cult mystery
It is not easy to put this title under one specific genre, as it is structured as an overhead adventure game, has some aspects from point-and-clicks within, and is at times reminiscent of a walking simulator. This comes from how much freedom you have in the ways to tackle Deadeus, giving you a different experience every time you vary up your playthrough. However, let us say you decide to explore this town and figure out what is going on. This project then has a lot of fascinating elements to offer through its Game Boy limitations.
You only move time forward to the next day by sleeping in your bed and have a book on the nightstand that you can save your game at. There is a lot to discover and areas to come across, but this town is confined and has a layout that is easy to remember, to the point that I actually forgot there is a map at disposal. Despite that it does not clearly show locations of the establishments, it is still helpful with its outlines. By searching for clues and secrets throughout this small place, you will uncover more of the mystery and figure out what tools are needed to go even deeper with your investigation.
Similar to other point-and-clicks, you have an inventory menu that displays the items you have picked up. Although, they are all automatically used with an object or a person if the solution is correct and you simply interact with them. This provides this title with a good flow, as there is always something to witness and uncover, with clues being scattered everywhere in a solid and subtle manner. In other words; Deadeus focuses on making the exploration engaging and negates unnecessary item management, without becoming too vague or direct with its puzzles. Should you ever get stuck, talking to the inhabitants or reading upon materials will always nudge you towards something worthwhile, even if it might change your current objective.
This is an incredibly short adventure though, and can be beaten within an hour if you try to uncover its mystery. In fact, should you decide to take a specific path, the game can last less than five minutes. This is because Deadeus has tons of replay value. As mentioned, there are many ways to take on this journey, with multiple events to encounter and 11 different endings. This is also why I compare this title to a walking simulator, as one run can simply be about you strolling around in a slow manner and not figuring out any of the puzzles throughout. Some endings can have similar aspects to them, but have enough to stand out from one another.
This is definitely a small game, but just like a plate of chocolate, it is still delightful and contains possibilities for what you can do with it. Any approach you choose to take, will make for a memorable and sweet experience, despite its limitations. Deadeus gives the player tons of ways to play and a fascinating world to discover, showcasing just how much a Game Boy title can still offer to this day. By also being so short, it is easy to replay for the entertainment alone.
Gameplay and Extra Score: 8/10
A nostalgic treat
This is an impressive project that works within the Game Boy’s capabilities, which should be obvious considering what emulator you have to use in order to run it. However, this title goes further than just meeting the requirements on a technical level and adds in style to make itself intriguing. I love how all of the characters are small sprites with subtle designs to make each of them distinct, be it the bald priest or the cafe owner with rough hair.
While not as strong, this project’s take on a traditional small town is cute with clear aesthetics to make its structures believable. A cafe on top of a tall mountain, a library with tons of books, and a church with gravestones, are all familiar and well designed. Nothing feels iconic from more than their functionalities, but still look good. I do wish the walking cycle had more details to them as your avatar seems to be sliding all over the place, and giving actual animations to the ocean or the pond at the bottom of a waterfall would have been welcoming. Even the NPCs lack any animation while standing around, which makes them feel lifeless.
This simple design is easy to admire, and is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack that keeps up the unnerving tone. It is a strange one with melodies that contain long and echoed notes, clear buildups, and dark beats, making you never feel safe. The only exceptions are the moments where you are supposed to feel more relaxed, like at the funky beach house or inside the cafe. Both these places have tracks that are more upbeat, providing an uncanny, but welcoming change that gives you a breathing room to make the horror music even more effective. The variety in these tracks are strong, without any of them becoming repetitive.
Unfortunately, while the audio is solid for the most part, there is an eerie silence throughout most of the game, with even bumping into the environments or people never leaving a satisfying effect. The school bell also sounds more like a phone ringing and I believe better audio could have been added in overall for creating a more tense atmosphere, such as subtle footsteps. This is luckily still an immersive title, but it lacks the finer details.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Deadeus is truly what I want from a title trying to represent a hardware’s capabilities; making its ideas work within clear limitations. It is certainly small and unrefined in some aspects, but still offers a fascinating experience that showcases how focusing on narration does not have to compensate for gameplay. With an intriguing town to explore, choices that matter, inviting presentation, and enthralling mysteries to uncover, this is a sleeper hit that I would love to own a physical copy of. Hopefully one day.