Sometimes, the scariest ideas aren’t the most gruesome or freakish ones, but those that are grounded in the mundane realities and every day worries that end up being the most successful. When our common fears or concerns are put onto the silver screen or rendered in a video game, it adds a dash of familiarity that draws you into the experience even deeper. Take that relatable experience, and add just a hint of mysticism or nightmarish imagery, and you’ve got a recipe for horror perfection. Yuppie Psycho takes this formula for scary success and applies it to one of the most dreadful experiences of all our lives: getting your first adult job.
The game opens with Brian Pasternak, a nervous young man from the countryside, packed like a sardine in a train heading into the city. He received a mysterious red envelope offering him a job at the prestigious headquarters of Sintracorp, the most important company in the world. When he gets there, though, he discovers a 10 story hell-maze with decaying corpses, unearthly creatures and bizarre co-workers in every corner of the sprawling building. At the centre of it all is a conspiracy involving a powerful witch and a decades long curse, and Brian’s secret role at Sintracorp is to track down this witch and terminate her before it’s too late.
The atmosphere and aesthetic of Yuppie Psycho is unlike anything else I’ve seen in gaming. There are shades of Silent Hill to it, but the backdrop of a bustling corporate building is so unlike any of the rural towns and decrepit sewers of Silent Hill. Yuppie Psycho draws much more inspiration from surrealist works in contemporary film and television. There are flavors of David Lynch and the original Twilight Zone sprinkled throughout the game. The subdued but slowly escalating horror of the game, on top of some of the grotesque creatures and imagery sprinkled throughout, reminded me of seminal horror manga author Junji Ito.
Unfortunately, there’s a big disconnect in the visual department of Yuppie Psycho that left me a little disappointed. There are two clashing art-styles at play in the game, but the weaker one ends up taking centre stage. Dotted throughout Yuppie Psycho are animated cutscenes, CG illustrations and character portraits during dialogue. All of these are rendered in a lo-fi anime-inspired aesthetic that I fell in love with immediately. The bright colors and vivid character designs mesh with the dark subject matter of the game perfectly.
And yet.. those are only a very minor part of the game. The actual exploration-focused adventure game part of the package is depicted in an uninspired, 16-bit pixel art style that lacked all of the charm and personality of the cutscene art. Brian goes from looking like a scrawny and nervous young man with oversized onyx glasses to… a man in a blue suit with black dots for eyes. There’s nothing wrong with pixel art or 16-bit graphics, but there are so many ways to deliver a unique and striking art-style with those graphical limitations, and Yuppie Psycho fails to deliver that.
Thankfully, the other parts of the experience are a lot more successful. The survival horror gameplay in Yuppie Psycho is gripping and challenging without feeling sadistic or overly complicated. As you explore the game world you’ll be solving puzzles, hiding from monsters, and interacting with characters to progress the story. Hazardous materials and volatile enemies can damage you, which is why you’ll need to stay stocked up on food items in order to replenish your health.
You’ll also need to have certain materials in order to save, which is the one part of the experience I was left feeling a little mixed on. You can only save your game by photo-copying your soul at copying machines scattered throughout the building. Every time you save, you need to use up a piece of Witch Paper, and some copying machines even need a cartridge of ink inserted before they can be used.
At times, this system is an interesting way to add to the tension of an experience; limited saves mean you have to be a lot more careful of your actions and concerned over what might be in the next room. Other times, though, it can be more of a mechanical annoyance when you really need to put the game down, but can’t risk wasting a Witch Paper or losing 20 minutes of progress.
Throughout all of this, and despite a disappointingly bland art style, Yuppie Psycho manages to maintain a consistently tense and dreadful atmosphere. This is in part thanks to the absolutely incredible sound design and music of the game. The realistic sounds of flickering lights and chattering keyboards that echo through every floor of the building contrast with monstrous growls and disturbing whispers that kept me on the edge of my seat at all times. The soundtrack elevates every scene of the game with ominous tunes and adrenaline-building beats, and the moments where the soundtrack cuts out entirely are often the most terrifying of all.