Psychological horrors, charming artwork, and puzzle-solving, now in the palm of your hand!
Clea, by InvertMouse, was released last year on Steam; A survival horror that boasts “Jump scare-free skill-based gameplay.” Looking at user reviews for the game, I was intrigued by how overwhelmingly positive the reception was. Over time, I’ve seen this game come up time again with various YouTube content creators. I thought the premise was unique in that it reminded me of retro survival horror games such as Clock Tower. Clock Tower was a game that rewarded and punished you according to how much you unraveled the secrets that held within the tower itself, all the while being chased by a stalker.
So when I had the opportunity to play the game itself at the announcement of a Switch port, I was eager. I wanted to see how I fared in escaping the Whitlock Manor. While I’ve not played the original, this is both a review of the port as well as the game itself. The Switch port plays flawlessly in handheld mode via my Switch Lite. It offers a new experience to play a game of this genre. Playing this game on a windy, rainy night in bed under the covers while in complete darkness is an experience worthy of any Halloween night. The Switch was a perfect console of choice for this game.
The first thing that stood out for me was the art style and the voice acting. The voice actors that were chosen for the protagonists Clea and Ed, Xanthe Huynh and Anairis Quinones respectfully, did an amazing job. They helped set the tone and the atmosphere within each cutscene and it made me care for them as characters, despite the shortness of the game itself. The art reminded me of another game, Don’t Starve. It has that charming 2D traditional art style that meshes well with the horror genre. It’s not grotesque, but, it’s like a Tim Burton film cranked up to eleven. It’s hard to explain, but I love the art choice.
As this game is survival horror, the game makes a swear that there is a lack of jumpscares within this game. No animatronics popping out of the woodwork while you’re on overnight security duty at some pizzeria. No QTEs designed to inconvenience you either. Just pure survival. The horror lies in the helplessness you feel as you traverse the various zones with your little brother in tow. All you are armed with is a lantern and that is used to see throughout the darkened halls. You have nothing to defend yourself with. One wrong interaction with the enemy and it’s game over.
The game is split into several chapters. Each chapter is, for the most part, “Reach from Point A to Point B.” This is accompanied by avoiding the enemies who try to subdue you. Each chapter has a puzzle within the level themselves that needs to be solved before you are able to escape. Some are as simple as finding fragments of a key, then combining the fragments whole. Other puzzles include interacting with paintings and switches. The general gist is “hit X amount of pieces in order and your reward is your escape.”
Exploring every nook and cranny is imperative towards getting the most out of the game. While you can play through the game normally, you won’t unravel the story to its completion unless you solve the game’s “bonus paths.” There may be a hidden door in plain sight you never knew was there to begin with. There may be a key to open that rather telling purple door in the middle of the floor. If there is something “out of place,” then it’s encouraged to dig deep. There may just be a secret to connect the missing pieces together.
There is also a soft timer where Clea’s condition grows worse. The worse Clea’s condition grows, the more the enemies will gravitate towards her position until the enemies overwhelm her. There are items within the game that help alleviate your impending doom. There are potions scattered throughout specific parts of each level that help sustain Clea’s condition.
There are also candles scattered about that serves two purposes. The first purpose is that they are used to ward off enemies from whatever floor or room you are in. The effect lasts until you exit the room/floor you are currently in. The second purpose is that the candles are the only way you can save within the game. Period. You cannot save in-between chapters. You cannot save during “important” cutscenes. You can only save when you approach a birthday cake and you have a candle in your inventory.
This is a fun little callback to earlier survivor horror games, notoriously the Resident Evil series, where the number of saves you have at your disposal was related to the amount of ink you came across throughout Raccoon City.
There is no mini-map to determine where your pursuers are. The only way you have a chance at having an idea of where anyone is at any given time is through sound.
The game recommends the usage of headphones while playing this game and I also would like to make the same recommendation. The ambiance of the desolate halls adds to the uncomfortable and tense feeling of the game, but it will also save your life. Hearing the distinct grunts and growls of the enemy is paramount to determining where they are on the map. If it’s faint, then they aren’t a near threat. The louder the noise, the closer to Clea they are. It’s only until you start hearing your heartbeat grow louder when you really should begin to plan your escape. This cue means that the enemy is right on your neck. Switching rooms away from where the enemy is and waiting for them to move somewhere else, accompanied by the sound of doors opening and closing, is usually enough to do the trick.
Enemies can move in between floors and doors, just like you. You can also peek through doors to see if an enemy lurks on the other side, but your peripheral view is limited to what’s directly in front of the door. Usually, a few seconds is enough to determine whether or not they are right outside or not. It’s all a matter of waiting for them to leave the floor or room altogether before continuing.
If you do grab the attention of an enemy, then the music will begin to flare up and you are now in flight or die mode. Remember, you cannot fight back. All you can do is run and hide. There are closets that you can make use of to shake the enemy’s trail, but you’re not always guaranteed that you’ll be in a room that has a closet. Sometimes you’ll reach a dead-end and you’ll just have to accept your fate.
You have three main modes of travel. You walk at a steady speed by default in which you can slow down to a crawl. This is useful for when an enemy is within sight, but you want to squeeze past them to an open door, or closet, without grabbing their attention. This is because sneaking is the only way you can traverse without making noise. Even walking a the default speed creates enough noise that enemies within the same floor or room can hear you in.
The third mode of travel, running, is also an option. You move at twice the speed you usually would travel by merely walking. This comes at the large consequence of alerting enemies who are outside to your presence, homing into the room in which you currently reside. This can be strategic. You could cause enough noise to alert the enemy away from your point of interest by forcing them to enter the room you’re in, only to sneak past them as they enter. However, this maneuver is risky as you run the risk of getting caught.
As mentioned earlier. Each chapter introduces a different enemy with their own unique mechanic. One of the most memorable enemies I’ve encountered was the spider stalker dude earlier in the game. Whose spiders can quickly serve you a quick death if you are not paying attention to your surroundings. Partway through the game, there is an enemy that looks like a demented Suezo from Monster Rancher.
I’m not even kidding this was my first comparison when I saw him.
But, his mechanic is a tricky one. You have to play “red-light-green-light” with this monster and if you fail, then it’s instant game over. That, combined with dealing with your usual pursuers, makes the gameplay hectic at times. This makes inventory management all the more important if you’re playing the way the dev intended (with limited candles). There’s nothing more frustrating than having to reset your progress upwards a full half-hour just because you were caught in a “wombo-combo” of mechanics.
The game rewards you for planning ahead, but ultimately there’s no right or wrong way to play through the game. The game encourages you to play patiently. If you are aware of where the key items are that will grant you your escape, then, by all means, move as quickly yet as smart as you can.
Clea, as a whole, is a great evening session to play in one sitting. Be mindful that the game requires your undivided attention. Each death in this game I felt was my fault, simply because I miscalculated where the enemy was. Sometimes I wasn’t aware where I was in relation to where I needed to be. Once you get settled in, however, it’s a rollercoaster thrill ride that you’ll want to come back for more. There’s plenty of replayability with added difficulties and mods unlocked as you finish subsequent playthroughs. There are various gallery unlockables fulfilled by completing several goals. Overall, it’s a perfect way to spend your Halloween nights. Heck, even your Autumn nights. This game is good for all seasons.
Be sure to look out for the sequel, Clea 2, once you’ve had your fill on the first game as well!
The Lost Summer greatly recommends! ✔️✔️