When you step into a sepia-toned world crafted by Black Tabby Games, there’s a couple things you can expect: a cast of quirky characters, dark humor, and the occasional macabre shot of something grotesque that reminds you–yep, this is a horror game. This is a formula I know all too well from the three currently released episodes of Black Tabby Games’ ongoing title, Scarlet Hollow; but despite going into the demo of Slay the Princess with those expectations, I get the feeling the latter will pull less punches than the former. Slay the Princess feels more satirical, more tongue-in-cheek, and more likely to throw the player right into the deep end of chaos and cosmic horror than the slow-burn of Scarlet Hollow.
Slay the Princess appears to follow a storybook format – sections of the game are separated by chapters, and the player is guided (or misled?) by a sardonic and seemingly omniscient narrator (voiced by Jonathan Sims). Abby Howard’s visually striking and iconic art is fully animated this time around–bushes, tree branches, and leaves shake and shuffle in an eerie, dreamlike manner, and the camera slightly pivots based as you move your mouse. Additionally, Slay the Princess is fully voice acted, delivering a truly immersive experience. As soon as the scene unfolds and the somber background tune kicks in, you’re given the simple prerogative: slay the princess, or the world will end.
As the protagonist, you’ll control the narrative through decisions related to actions and dialogue. Do you play a brash, no-bullshit character that listens to the narrator and acts, no questions asked? A reluctant hero who questions why you’re being tasked with “slaying” the princess? Or do you say screw it, reject all expectations and try to force your own path?
I was pleasantly surprised during my handful of playthroughs of the demo just how differently the first two chapters panned out based on my choices. Not completely surprised, given how effectively Black Tabby Games has nailed down branching narratives in Scarlet Hollow, but surprised by how complex the premise becomes despite the seemingly simple task you’re given. Spoiler alert: slaying her will not be that easy (if you choose to in the first place).
It becomes apparent very quickly that the world of Slay the Princess is not as it seems. Objects disappear and reappear without reason. Multiple paths somehow all lead to the same destination. You’re never given a concrete answer on, well, just about anything. The short demo has already spawned dozens of theories in my head about who (or what) the princess is, whether I should trust The Narrator, and how the story can potentially pan out. That’s the beauty of Black Tabby Games’ titles: the possibilities seem endless, and coming up with theories is half the fun. I have a feeling some folks will be dying left and right, some will be trying to woo instead of slay the princess, and others will be choosing their moves very carefully to crack the mystery of the game (if there even is a mystery to be cracked!).
Despite the fact that Slay the Princess doesn’t take itself fully seriously more often than not, when it chooses to get dark, it gets dark. There were multiple times during the demo that the mood suddenly shifts, the music abruptly stops, and the creepy factor jumps to level 100. Whether it’s body horror or cosmic horror, Slay the Princess is quick to remind you that despite the witty dialogue choices and one-liners, it stands firm as a horror game as well.
If you’re intrigued, the demo of Slay the Princess is currently available on Steam, and it’s currently set to release sometime in 2023. In the meantime, if you find yourself hooked to art and humor, I completely recommend trying the first three episodes of Black Tabby Games’ Scarlet Hollow. The visual novels being produced by Black Tabby Games are like no other, and they’re the perfect spooky choose-your-own adventures to get lost in as we head towards Halloween.
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