It’s October, so I’m going to try and prioritize horror or spooky games. This week I’m discussing No Son of Mine, a horror survival title from the somewhat inappropriately named Pleasantly Friendly Games. I say inappropriately named because No Son of Mine is not friendly. It throws you into its dark world and expects you to sink or swim on your own. It takes pride in its difficulty, so if that’s your thing, you’ll get a real kick out of No Son of Mine.
Your character is a police officer that opens the game by staring at a missing persons report for a child. Your character screams, and the screen goes red only to clear and reveal a school. You grab a flashlight and then wander around the school looking for clues, but to what is anyone’s guess. You do encounter fairly early on two small graves, randomly established in the school. You keep on wandering, and you find creepy things written on chalkboards, various candles, unsettling visions, and a creepy boy with glowing red eyes that will stalk you.
Oh, did I mention the brief message at the beginning? It wants players to find the truth or die in terror with no real preference as to which comes first. The demon boy, as you have no doubt guessed, is the enemy in No Son of Mine, stalking you throughout the school as you try and find keys to open doors and find more clues, eventually leading you to some sort of truth and thereby exorcising the demon boy.
No Son of Mine is a very, very dark title, and I’m not just discussing its tone and themes. No, it is just dark. For the most part, your only light sources are the flashlight you pick up at the beginning of the game, the light on your weapon, and the odd candle that signals a save point, so it is actually physically difficult to play, at least on the Switch. The dark becomes impenetrable, and even though you do pick up a “filter” that allows you to see the demon boy, it’s more of an infrared view, which doesn’t do much for your actual vision. However, given that you have to shoot the demon boy between the eyes with your Cool Boy 9000 gun, you’ll need to use the filter and be judicious about it as the filter only lasts a certain length of time and then goes on cooldown. That said, No Son of Mine does use a bit of light-source leapfrog to direct you along the best path, and a number of the refills and upgrades actually glow. You don’t end up missing them, which is nice.
Targeting the demon boy is incredibly important because it only takes a few hits from him before you get the lovely Try Again screen. In addition to the Cool Boy 9000, the title does provide a “hide” mechanic, in which you find a blue cupboard looking thing and duck into it. This should trigger the most bizarre mini-game I’ve ever seen, which involves stopping a bar between the eyes of a creepy red smiley face. If you fail, and believe me, it’s harder to do than the description makes it sound, you fail. Failure means attack, which more often than not results in the death of your character.
There’s difficulty that makes a game a challenge, and then, there’s difficulty that just trends into frustration. No Son of Mine falls into this latter category for me. It sketches out the basic processes for you, but you are completely on your own. The puzzle designs are a little uneven, due to the environmental narrative structure. By this I mean, you can find yourself wandering into a solution for one puzzle in one room while looking for a solution for another, so you’ll find yourself backtracking a great deal. That gets time consuming and repetitive, so be warned.
I mentioned that all of the storytelling is done through environmental discovery, and No Son of Mine leans into this mechanism hard. However, the route is pretty well planned out, so once you do get the hang of the lay out, you have a better grasp on what it is you need to do. There’s no dialogue, only text that you read, and even that is sporadic. This might seem to be a bad choice, but it’s really not. When you come across a cutscene, the rarity makes the storytelling all the more impactful. Developer Pleasantly Friendly Games have done a great deal with a little, and once you get to the end, everything makes so much more sense. No Son of Mine’s story almost benefits from a second playthrough to appreciate the story’s layers, but frankly, I can’t see myself ever doing that again.
In terms of graphics and sound design, the visuals are about par for the course. They aren’t going to set the world afire, but they’re decent. The sound design, however, is where No Son of Mine shines. The developers have made every effort to find an appropriately creepy soundtrack to set the mood for players as you wander through abandoned houses and neighborhoods. The minigame’s minimalist graphics really seem off-putting and not just in an intentionally creepy way. The smiley face makes for an odd choice until you get to the end of No Son of Mine, when it makes sense. The payoff is pretty solid, so it’s worth sticking with it.
No Son of Mine is a survival horror title that tries to put a spin on the genre. It largely succeeds, with its story, immersive world, and hide mechanics, but its darkness can make it difficult to play. It’s very definitely not for children as some of the visuals are pretty graphic, and the story’s conclusion is pretty rough.
The Switch version is really well made; you shouldn’t anticipate any glitches or weirdness, and No Son of Mine retails for $14.99 on the Nintendo Store.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- You very quickly figure out the significance of the weird oozing walls.
- The decision to use painted images for photographs always confuses me.
- I liked the save/loading image a great deal.
- The demon boy is kind of meh as far as animation goes, but No Son of Mine masters its creepy vibe.