Insmouse no Yakata, apparently based on a film that’s based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft (The Shadow Over Innsmouth - how they got 'Insmouse' from that is anyone's guess) is a first person shooter that sees the player work through maze-like floors of a mansion as they try to escape. But with a variety of monsters, not much ammo and limited time it won’t be easy.
The game begins with a suitably creepy intro. Eerie music plays as we see the mansion, surrounded by a mist. The camera moves forward, taking us inside and jerks through corridors as the face of a monster flashes onscreen. When it comes to setting the scene, it works incredibly well.
Upon starting the game however things are a lot less impressive. Here you realise that the jerky movement from the intro was not for effect; it’s actually how the game plays. While this looks like a 3D first person shooter, the corridors are actually made up of panels and pushing forwards or backwards moves your character a whole panel in that direction. Press left or right and you instantly turn 90 degrees. If you've played the classic Atari ST title Dungeon Master you'll know the deal, but in this kind of game this control system is far less suitable. It’s very awkward and should you accidentally tap a direction twice whilst turning you can find yourself unintentionally heading back the way you just came.
The aim of the game is to work your way through each maze to find the exit that will take you to the next level, but of course to do this requires a key which needs to be found first. To make things easier there are a few items spread throughout each level; as well as bullets and hearts for your ammo and health needs there are also two orbs to be found. Neither is required to clear the level but they certainly make life easier and are therefore worth seeking out; the white orb provides you with a complete map (with exit) rather than just highlight the areas you’ve visited while the black orb shows where the various items including the all-important key are located.
With just the one life and little time (you quickly realise standing around to collect your thoughts is not an option) the game would be quite challenging; however, the presence of passwords reduces the scale of the task somewhat. The game still puts up a stern fight though, as from the second level onwards how quickly you complete a level determines which of a possible two levels you play next. You have to play through 13 levels to complete the game but there actually are 45 in total. How well you have done also determines which of the four endings you get to see. This adds a great deal of replayability to the game as you check out levels you haven’t played before. Even the levels you have played may be different the second time around as although your start point and the exit remain in the same place, the location of the objects can vary.
Although you can only see three panels in front of you, the 3D effect of the Virtual Boy adds depth to the corridors that is very effective. It’s just a shame then that the fact they are all plain makes them very uninteresting. The monsters display a little more variety; there are a handful of different types, some clawed, some spiked, others just bug-eyed. Animation is limited (basically just attacks) and they jerk around rather unconvincingly, but at least the designs are of a high standard.
The music is typical spooky mansion stuff. There is little variation but it’s never overly annoying. It sits in the background largely unnoticed until you start running out of time and it speeds up. Sound effects are noticeably more basic but surprisingly effective. If you are near an enemy you can hear them moving around causing you to worry as you wonder if they are behind that door you’re thinking of going through or sneaking up behind you.
Insmouse makes good use of the controller with the left D-pad controlling character movement and the right being used for aiming your weapon. The R button fires whilst L reloads. The A button would have been a more logical choice but using the L button is by no means inconvenient.
You might not be reloading all that often however. Insmouse is not a game where you shoot everything in sight. Ammo is limited so it’s important to use it wisely. You start with just six bullets and if you are lucky you will stumble across more as you look for the exit. Running out might not happen much at first but get to the later stages and you’ll find the toughest monsters require eight bullets to finish off – and if one’s guarding that key you need, you are really going to regret stopping to kill that bug earlier. As you can imagine this adds to the tension.
Should you decide to take on one of these monsters, combat is slow. The crosshair of your pistol doesn't move very quickly, but thankfully the same is true of the monsters.
One element that is rather annoying is the inability to just run past your enemies. Whilst often this makes things interesting as you hurriedly retreat, trying to find an alternate route, sometimes there is no alternate route and you are stuck without ammo, with a monster between you and the exit. It’s frustrating when rather than just accepting the hit to your health, your only options are to be clawed to death or to let the timer run down. Either way it’s game over and the monsters have some fresh intestines to floss their fangs with.
On the one hand Insmouse no Yakata is to be applauded; there's lots of levels and the multiple endings help to extend the game's lifespan. It’s also one of the few Virtual Boy games that bothered to use a first person perspective and it makes good use of the controller. Unfortunately the awkward movement, samey corridors and limited animation make for a game that even at the time of release seemed rather dated. Running from the monsters as the timer ticks down is exciting, but fighting them isn’t. Insmouse is an interesting game, but hard to recommend.