World of Horror is a skin-crawling dread machine that does its inspirations proud

The point-and-click RPG created in MS Paint is a masterpiece in emulating Junji Ito and HP Lovecraft.

Ysbryd Games

I am fully encased in a bundle of spider’s silk, only my eyeballs still visible as I wait for my turn to be devoured. I’ve failed to save the city from the insatiable arachnidian Old God, and now myself and all the inhabitants of Shiokawa, Japan are caught in its web. I’d come so far this time, solved all of the mysteries tacked to my bulletin board, but in the end, I couldn’t escape the doom that had been closing in on me.

If World of Horror could be reduced to a single word, it’d be “dread.” It's a point-and-click cosmic horror game created by Polish developer and dentist, Pawel Kozminski (also known as Panstasz). And after spending years in early access, Ysbryd Games finally released it to the public this month on Steam, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Nintendo Switch. It was well worth the wait.

World of Horror is heavily text-based, and plays like a choose your own adventure story — one in which most of your options are bad ones that will inevitably lead you to a gruesome death or irrevocable insanity. Players must solve five mysteries that are tormenting the townspeople, gathering information and fighting off the monstrous entities that attempt to get in your way. A slippery, boil-covered former teacher here, a woman with shards of broken ribs jammed into her gaping hole of a face, there.

All the while, you’ll be working to stave off whichever Old God has set its sights on Shiokawa for that run, and must keep an eye on the ever-ticking Doom meter to know how close you are to being overcome. Only after you’ve obtained five keys by solving each of the five mysteries can you unlock the town’s lighthouse, where you can banish the Old God. That is, if you’re able to make it through the trials on the way to the top. It’s a roguelite, too, so prepare to start from the beginning every time you make a fatal misstep.

The horror-manga-style RPG doesn't hide its Junji Ito and HP Lovecraft influences. It's so disquieting that you’ll find yourself jumpy and on edge even when nothing’s happening, which in some investigations is most of the time. The evil may not be coming for you right that moment, but there’s the sense that it could at any turn.

A combat scene in World of Horror shows a gory faceless woman,  with a maroon and black color palette applied
Ysbryd Games

When those little jump scares do come — a particularly revolting attacker or a booming sound that cuts through the chiptune score — they’re made all the more jarring by the high-contrast 1- or 2-bit visuals (you can choose at the beginning) that were created, incredibly, in MS Paint. It nails the often hard to stomach Ito-esque gore, and there are a few scenes I had to force myself not to turn away from (a certain DIY eyeball operation comes to mind).

You’re given a few options for approaching the game, in terms of difficulty and complexity. Its short tutorial, “Spine-Chilling Story of School Scissors,” is a straightforward introduction. And in the beginner-level main story mode, “Extracurricular Activities,” you'll start with one mystery already solved.

Players also have the choice of a “Quick Play” mode, in which elements like your character, Old God and backstory are randomly selected, or a fully customized playthrough where you choose your own character and story elements. That last one is the most challenging route. You can also choose from a slew of color palettes at the start of each game, if you want to mix it up.

The game mode screen in World of Horror, with a black and mustard yellow color palette applied
Ysbryd Games

While the turn-based combat is nothing revolutionary, I found it to be engaging enough. There’s no guarantee all of your hits will land, and relying on spiritual attacks when going up against a ghost-type foe is a stressful game of “guess the right combo.” It keeps things interesting, albeit a bit frustrating. Since the runs are relatively short — about an hour, give or take 30 minutes — it doesn’t feel soul crushing every time you die and have to start fresh. If anything, it becomes an addicting cycle.

Where World of Horror truly excels is in its attention to horrifying detail. A TV playing in your home runs grisly newscasts nonstop, including one about a dentist who replaced his human patients’ teeth with dogs’ teeth. (Remember, the developer is also a dentist). Look through the peephole of your apartment door and you might see a shadow man down the hall, or the quickly retreating face of someone lurking around the corner, or just an empty corridor. Twisted ghouls wait behind dead-end classroom doors.

Things are rarely the same when you come back to them. Each mystery has multiple endings and multiple ways to get you there, so you can’t quite predict what’s going to happen next even if you just played 10 runs in a row. Some stories are more involved than others, better thought through. But each has at least one ghastly element that justifies its place among the rest. If World of Horror is anything, it’s effective, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.