No, not Rocky Horror, Richard O’Brien has no role here in this discussion. Gregory Horror Show is a licensed game, based on a Japanese CGI TV show and later anime series of the same name. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Gregory Horror Show and the original TV show is its unusual art style, which makes characters look like cutout paper figurines.
Gregory Horror Show lets you control an unnamed character who, finding himself in a hotel run by the vaguely creepy mouse-owner Gregory, borrows the body of a child from Death himself. The child-body will allow our nameless hero to collect souls from guests in Gregory’s hotel, a favour requested by Death in exchange for the hero’s freedom from the hotel. In order to collect the souls from the hotel guests, the silent protagonist must befriend, deceive and annoy said guests in order to get them to hand over the souls, voluntarily or not. What is certain is that every soul taken from a guest makes that guest your enemy from there on out, and you quickly discover that you must avoid them to preserve your own sanity, which in this game functions essentially as a health meter. There are Resident Evil references including the use of Green, Red and Yellow herbs (this is a Capcom game after all), but the two play nothing alike. Instead, Gregory Horror Show is a unique hybrid of puzzle, survival horror and adventure, with a dose of Animal Crossing for good measure.
The puzzles and things you need to do in order to procure souls are often quite strange. By spying on characters through door keyholes you gain clues about the hotel guests’ habits and (usually fatal) flaws. The utterly deranged nature of the hotel guests means the game’s logic points in wacky directions. Thus one puzzle involves you learning that a character called Angel Dog, who as the name suggests is both an angel and a dog, is obsessed with sports. Through surreptitious use of a porn mag, you are able to disrupt the cleaning schedule of the hotel caretaker Gregory, thereby allowing Angel Dog to watch a sports event on television undistracted. As she watches the sports event – and, creepily, as you watch Angel Dog watching TV through the keyhole – she becomes so blissfully distracted that she leaves her soul unguarded, allowing you to rush in, grab it and get the hell out of there.
The game is thoroughly linear. It is usually possible to tackle one of up to three guests at any given moment, but in any case these options leave little scope or incentive for exploration or side-tasks. While the main tasks are enjoyable, the small scope of options and activities available call terms like narrow and straitjacketed to mind. The narrow focus of the game meant I found myself resorting to GameFAQs fairly regularly for concrete instructions, sidestepping the sometimes laborious activity of collecting and deciphering clues provided by hotel guests. That’s not to suggest that the challenges in this game aren’t worthwhile, and only a scant few puzzle elements smack of the arbitrariness of point-and-click adventures. The majority of the tasks are obvious without being patronising, and better yet the guests themselves are consistently interesting and funny, so that taking advantage of them is never dull.
As the game progresses and more and more guests appear in the hotel to be taken advantage of, the old ones retain their grudges, and so the challenge gradually ramps up. You go from roaming freely at the start of the adventure to, by the end, obsessively checking the hotel map to plot out a safe route to travel. There is plenty of tension in walking through the hotel, comparable with survival horror. Your character is completely defenceless, with running away from danger the only option – and not an easy one at that.
I’ve been struggling with whether or not this game is suitable for kids. On reflection I believe it would make a good “First Horror Game”, which is not the same as saying it is targeted at kids. The atmosphere is creepy occasionally, but this is usually due to things the characters say or imply as opposed to any gruesome things they do. There’s no gore at all to be seen.
Story-wise, the gamer is closer to Silent Hill than Resident Evil. The hotel is a hellish purgatory, and your character appears to be dead. The silent protagonist is quite a cheesy cliche at this point, but I’ve never seen it taken to this extreme before – the main character is not only nameless and speechless, he or she is also body-less (as I mentioned earlier, Death lends you a human body, before that point in the opening cutscene you see through a first person perspective) and almost completely devoid of character except for the actions that you as the player control and perform.
Finally, I’d like to mention perhaps my favourite character from the game. A drooling gambling obsessee, Roulette Boy has a roulette wheel built into his head. One memorable portion of the game (which actually becomes an unlockable single and multiplayer mini-game accessible from the game’s front menu once you’ve reached it in the main game) has you compete in a board game against hotel proprietor Gregory. Every turn, Roulette Boy, with his addict-like demeanour and drool soaked chin, bows for you to spin his mutilated head, and announces gleefully, “Hurry up and spin me!”. It’s so adorable. The only video I can find is a Let’s Play vid by a German gamer, which comes complete with his own impression. Recommended.
As this post hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion, all that remains is to recount the fact that this game is available in PAL territories and Japan only. I am not certain whether American PS2s require modification to play PAL games, but regrettably this is not the sort of game that I can endorse with the sort of “must-play” label that would require that sort of research. Furthermore I imagine the extra shipping cost for a US consumer could be tough to justify. This is a good game, but it falls short of great for me. I paid about £2.50 total for the game, and, while not much money at all, the sheer volume of fantastic gaming that can be had for that amount (particularly from the highly competitively priced PS2 library) does not make Gregory Horror Show stand out as a fantastic value proposition. Worth playing but keep expectations cool, this is a fun game but don’t expect any dramatic impact on your psyche.