Roguelike Withering Rooms Masters The Macabre

Withering Rooms
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

For the longest time I was the unofficial horror game reviewer for GiN, and I have been able to play quite a lot of them. Some were quite good, like Burnhouse Lane and DARQ. However, the horror genre is kind of hit and miss as developers need to have skill in both making a good title and incorporating horror elements beyond simple jump scares. For every DARQ, we get several that are more like Agony (reviewed by Vincent Mahoney for GiN) that just put a bad spin on the entire horror genre.

So, I was wondering which type of horror game I would get when I started playing Withering Rooms. Thankfully, very quickly I realized that this was going to be a really bright spot for dark horror. Withering Rooms seems to combine the best elements of several genres into what is essentially a so-called 2.5D survival horror game. That means that the levels are 2D, but also have some depth where you can hide under, behind, or in things, and also use the environment to your advantage, unlike say, a traditional platformer.

The plot of Withering Rooms is really amazing. You play as a young girl called Nightingale sent to an asylum called Mostyn House, which is a giant Victorian mansion. She is supposed to get treatment for whatever ailment she has, but she instead gets caught inside a nightmare, literally. When everyone goes to sleep in Mostyn House, they enter a shared dream, which as one might expect from a shared dream taking place in an asylum, is actually a nightmare. Weeks can pass in the dream world for every night in the real world, and some asylum residents, like those in comas are, more or less, permanent residents of the dream.

You quickly learn that this is a roguelike game, and dying is something players will need to deal with, which really is not too bad in Withering Rooms. Right from the tutorial, you meet a coven of witches who decide to charbroil and kill you for being a liar in their estimation. When you wake up, another witch appears and apologizes for the chief witch cooking you well done. She explains that in the dream you can die and still come back to life. However, when you do, the layout of the mansion will change.

The mansion is filled with enemies including undead monsters, ghosts, and those aforementioned devious witches. You will also run into some characters who you can talk with and help out, and there are even those who offer to provide you with gear for a price. Combat in Withering Rooms is probably what you would expect from a 2.5D title. You can find melee weapons like cleavers and swords, and there is also ranged weapons like rifles and shotguns. There are even some exotic weapons like flamethrowers which are a lot of fun. Don’t expect too much in the way of advanced combat though, since this is a 2D world at its heart. Mostly shooting first or successfully dodging before taking a swing is going to be the key to your success and survival.

The monsters in Withering Rooms are also pretty smart in their own way. They know how to move through the mansion probably better than the player since the layout changes each time you reset or die. If you make a loud noise, like blasting enemies with a shotgun, those in nearby rooms will wander over to see what all the fuss is about. The monsters are also pretty good at chasing you from room to room, although you can eventually lose them in most cases. Especially when you are just starting out, avoiding some of the more powerful enemies is a much better strategy than fighting.

Nightingale can also use powerful magic which would be impossible in the real world. But magic has downsides. Yes, you can craft magic scrolls (or find them if you are lucky) that do all kinds of interesting things like wizard-locking doors, shooting fireballs, or damaging a bunch of enemies standing together in a group. However, this also earns you something called Curse, which subjects you to more paranormal events in the mansion. If you thought that a shared dream from those trapped in an asylum could not get any worse, try it with a high level of Curse. Thankfully, finding and lighting black candles can cure Curse, so players do have options.

For those who read my review of Against the Storm, you know I am not a huge fan of roguelike titles. However, Withering Rooms tackles these elements in a really good way. When you die, you can sometimes keep a few of your collected goods from your previous runs. You can also perform rituals that will permanently level up Nightingale to make her stronger and more capable of venturing deeper into the deadly dreamworld. Permanent equipment also exists in the form of relics and some forms of armor, so you can choose to actually build up Nightingale in certain ways to support your unique survival strategy.

Withering Rooms released for Steam, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X without too much fanfare. And for a $25 game on Steam, I really did not know what to expect. But it really surprised me by providing an enjoyable experience that is actually unique (and good) for horror titles. In fact, playing Withering Rooms gives me hope that maybe other developers can follow this example set by Moonless Formless. They certainly know how to do horror right.

Withering Rooms should be on the list of anyone who enjoys survival horror or 2D adventures. It’s among the best of the best for its genre, creating a wonderful nightmare that players won’t want to wake up from.

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