Mothmen 1966 is the first entry in a planned series of “Pixel Pulps” from LCB Game Studio that pay homage to classic pulp horror and retro PC gaming. If you know and love pulp horror, Mothmen 1966 will be right up your alley. This tale of terror nails the style and feel while delivering a quick fix of thrills that will leave you thirsty for more–exactly what a good pulp should do. If you’re not familiar with pulp, read on, as it has some notable features that can be a matter of taste.
Thrills and Chills
The term “pulp fiction” is thrown around a lot but historically refers to cheap fiction magazines from the first half of the 20th century. The name “pulp” came from the low quality paper used to print these magazines, and like the physical material, pulp storytelling is defined by disposability. It’s all about evoking strong reactions using intrepid heroes, despicable villains, lurid locales, shocking reveals, and sending the reader careening from thrill to thrill in a way that quickly hooks them and leaves them wanting more. There’s not much in the way of long-arcing character study, worldbuilding, or setups, beyond the broad strokes. Plot threads are often archetypal and repetitive. Pulp wants new readers to be able to pick things up at any time and keep them reading (and buying) as long as possible. It’s a style that lets the past die and lives in the moment. If you’ve not read pulps, you might have encountered elements of this style in the famous “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, which has many similarities. Why do you go from sneaking past living statues to fighting pirates to negotiating with aliens as you traverse the House of Danger? If you can ride the wave of excitement to the end, it’s not important.
Mothmen 1966 enthusiastically embraces the pulp style. The story is split over three viewpoint characters: a gas station attendant and a pair of lovers, and wastes no time in diving into the strange and exciting. From men in black to lurking monsters, the greatest hits of sci-fi horror parade across your screen as ever-escalating thrills send you barreling through the 90-minute or so playtime. You see through the characters’ eyes in their ugly, vulnerable, and visceral moments, capped by reveals that are all the more shocking because they don’t have much buildup. That’s not to say Mothmen 1966 is incoherent. It has the kind of foreshadowing that’s so obvious it’s hard to miss yet still creates a nice “aha!” moment when things snap into place. Add in sharp prose that knows when to stop and gawk and when to push things along and you have a recipe for pulpy goodness.
The interactivity in Mothmen 1966 comes from choices and puzzle minigames. In the “Choose Your Own Adventure” spirit, it’s a lot of following your gut and seeing what happens, with wrong choices often leading to fittingly gruesome deaths. The puzzles remind me of the old Sierra adventure games in how they all use slightly different mechanics, although the ones in Mothmen 1966 are much more accessible. The controls are intentionally obtuse to emulate retro computer interfaces, but all save one puzzle feature a partial or complete opt-out in case you’d prefer to move on. The interactivity complements the story well. The bad endings contribute to the sensationalized horror while the puzzles help build a sense of mystery and stakes.
Turn the Page
Mothmen 1966 is not a deep story with fleshed-out characters that will take the time to carefully explain and resolve its numerous plot threads. I take this as a feature of the pulp storytelling, and Mothmen 1966 clearly advertises what it is, but it might not satisfy everyone. While the legacy of pulp lives on in places like comics and procedurals, even these tend to feature much more character and world-building today. And that’s not to mention the influx of “prestige TV” with ambitious long-running storylines and character studies. In many ways, the pulp style of Mothmen 1966 is a throwback that runs counter to modern storytelling conventions, and whether you enjoy it might depend on whether that works for you. That’s a matter of taste though; Mothmen 1966 succeeds at what it’s trying to do.
Mothmen 1966 is also compact, clocking in at the aforementioned 90 minutes. You can play a solitaire minigame from the menu or go back to hunt for achievements, many of which are tied to particular choices, but Mothmen 1966 is a linear narrative with bad endings. Replay value is limited once you make it to the main ending. There’s nothing wrong with brevity, especially as Mothmen 1966 is planned as part of an anthology, and it fits with the storytelling. Plus, Mothmen 1966 takes care to fill the time with quality material.
Mothmen 1966 looks amazing. The pixel graphics call back to 80s PCs, especially in their heavy use of blues and greens, and are vividly detailed within that style. Some of the backgrounds even feature animation, with the point of view character’s portrait occasionally changing expressions to match the situation. There’s a lot of art for the length too. Rather than use generic sprites or backgrounds, Mothmen 1966 features unique CGs for events and locations, revisiting things only when it makes sense within the story. You can even unlock some cool extras in the Gallery by completing various achievements.
The sound and music are also retro. Text crawls to that faux-typewriter noise I associate with NES-era games, while chiptune jingles and exaggerated effects accompany puzzles and key moments. While they certainly fit with the aesthetic and I didn’t mind them, Mothmen 1966 wisely allows you to adjust the volume of the effects. The text crawl effect in particular I could see becoming grating, so it’s nice to have the option to turn it down.
If you enjoy pulp horror, you’ll have a lot of fun with Mothmen 1966. I certainly did. It’s a sharp, well-crafted package that nails the style and aesthetic. Mothmen 1966 doesn’t have a lot of depth or nuance, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but this is very much an intentional choice. And if you’re unfamiliar with pulp, Mothmen 1966 is short and accessible: a great introduction that’s worth giving a shot.
MOTHMEN 1966 IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to the publisher Chorus Entertainment for a PC review code for this title.
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A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.