Puppet Combo: Resurrecting the Slasher Genre One Indie Horror Game at a Time
Fans of indie horror games will likely be familiar with the name Puppet Combo, the one-man band behind such delights as Babysitter Bloodbath (2013), Power Drill Massacre (2015) and his most recent, Christmas Massacre (2021). Several of his titles have been played by the biggest names in YouTube Let’s Plays, including PewDiePie and Markiplier, and all in all, over the course of a decade, he’s developed and released 23 games.
In a world where indie horror games are saturating the market, some even gaining more success than AAA titles, what makes Puppet Combo’s body of work stand out? It’s a good question — after all, there are bigger titles out there, some of the best examples being Outlast (2013), Five Nights at Freddy’s (2014) and Doki Doki Literature Club (2017). With clean graphics, original narratives and genuine scares, these games have all carved out a place for themselves on the leader boards. So why is this article on Puppet Combo, when you’d be forgiven for thinking that stills of Babysitter Bloodbath are from an obscure, long-forgotten PlayStation game?
If we learnt anything from the glut of indie RPG Maker horror games released in the early 2010s, like The Witch’s House (2012) and Mad Father (2012), it’s that a game doesn’t have to look like a AAA title to be effective. Sometimes, games do suffer for their graphics, but Puppet Combo’s blocky, polygonal characters and low-resolution textures are all very intentional, in loving memory of a much earlier era of gaming — namely, the survival horror titles of the PlayStation, such as Silent Hill (1999) and Resident Evil (1996).
Both of these franchises, particularly the earlier releases, are iconic staples of horror gaming and have gone on to inspire many horror titles since. You don’t even need to replay the games to feel that familiar sense of dread, either — a well-taken screenshot of Harry Mason in the alleyway can be more than enough to send a shiver up your spine. The graphics, as primitive as they seem to us now in 2021, play a major part in building up that heady mix of nostalgia, fear and familiarity. It makes sense, then, that Puppet Combo would use something that so many of us recognise as symbolic of the golden age of survival horror.
And boy, does it work. Just because we have the privilege of ultra-realistic graphics in today’s games doesn’t mean that that older look stops being effective. If anything, it can make us yearn more for something simpler. While the early Silent Hill titles are real gems, the franchise’s quality has certainly dropped off in recent years — it’d be fair to say that Puppet Combo’s Nun Massacre (2018) scared me more than Silent Hill: Homecoming (2008) and Silent Hill: Downpour (2012), collectively, ever did.
But perhaps it’s unfair to compare them too much. After all, not only does Puppet Combo utilise elements from early survival horror in gaming, he also takes plenty of inspiration from one of horror’s most iconic movie genres — slasher films.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines the slasher film as, ‘a film in which people, especially young women, are killed very violently with knives,’ the genre becoming popular in the 70s and 80s. The influence of such films on Puppet Combo’s games is clear to see — Babysitter Bloodbath takes heavy inspiration from John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the characters and settings within Stay Out of the House (2018) were inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and influences from Just Before Dawn (1981) and Friday the 13th (1980) are evident in Night Watch (2019).
The afore-mentioned films are all considered to be titans of the slasher genre, and, if asked to think of a slasher film, many of us would undoubtedly pick at least one of them. Even with those of his games that haven’t necessarily been inspired by a specific slasher film, like Feed Me Billy (2018) and Buzz-Saw Blood House (2017), the general elements of the slasher genre are all still there — the victims, mostly young women, the maniacal murderer stalking them, and the not-always-bladed-but-always-deadly weapon. Many of his games are reminiscent of the time period too, with old tech like payphones and retro televisions, as well as dated hairstyles, abounding.
Unfortunately for slasher fans, people seem to have lost their appetite for such carnage in film. There seems to be a common feeling that the slasher genre has had its day, and that it has no place in today’s horror. Certainly, many slasher films are dated, the characters often sporting those distinctive 80s hairstyles and the special effects more than lacking. After the resurgence of splatter films — otherwise known as torture porn — in the 2000s, with films like Saw (2004), Hostel (2005) and Wolf Creek (2005), a new, more subtle brand of horror arrived. In more recent horror movies, like The Conjuring (2013) and Insidious (2010) franchises, Get Out (2017), A Quiet Place (2018) and It Follows (2014), when death or murder does happen, it’s either cleaned up, or simply not shown.
Given the widely differing genres between these horror films, it’s hard to compare them with slasher movies of old. However, even with the modern-day equivalent of slasher films, such as Don’t Breathe (2016), The Strangers (2008) and Hush (2016), death is much cleaner and more restrained than that which came before. It’s not surprising, really, that the excess of blood and guts during slasher’s golden age eventually turned people off, and away to greener pastures.
But for those of us who haven’t quite had their fill of gore, games like Puppet Combo’s are real treasures. While it might be true that the slasher films of yesteryear are done and gone, there’s clearly still a market for such content. Puppet Combo’s body of work, as well as his 1678 patrons, are testament to just how popular the slasher genre remains, even decades after its prime.
So, with the iconic look of early survival horror games, the atmosphere and no-holds-barred terror of golden age slasher movies, along with some truly fantastic art reminiscent of VHS tape boxes, Puppet Combo has well and truly carved out his gaming groove. There’s gratuitous violence and blood aplenty, but it isn’t just a gorefest — there’s story and lore within each game that bubbles beneath the bloody surface. Night Watch is connected to Power Drill Massacre by way of the same maniac, and a number of the games, like Nun Massacre, Day 7 (2019) and Stay Out of the House all have multiple endings to discover.
Who knows? Perhaps the slasher genre will be resurrected fully in due time. For now, at least, we crazed slasher fans have Puppet Combo and his games to pass the time, and sate the bloodlust.
Check out Puppet Combo’s work on his Patreon, where you can buy all of his games.