“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt, It lies behind stars and under hills, And empty holes it fills, It comes first and follows after, Ends life, kills laughter.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Despite its cutesy appearance, a pet shop after dark is a uniquely disturbing psychological horror and puzzle game that really makes the player think. Feed the animals, water the plants and, under no circumstances, turn off the lights!
Released: 30th August 2022
This game is being reviewed as part of the Indie Game Collective (IGC) showcase.
a pet shop after dark sees players exploring the pet shop and solving challenging puzzles in order to solve the mystery and help an unknown entity escape. The mostly logic-based puzzles are very difficult and often involve accessing the game files to move, delete and view different items. The game takes place as much in the game files as it does in the application making for some truly unusual and enjoyable gameplay.
Although mostly satisfying, the puzzles were frustratingly hard in places requiring the use of walkthroughs despite an in-game hint system. This is available most, but not all, of the time and will provide up to 3 hints per puzzle. Despite its challenging nature, the gameplay has a casual feel overall. In addition, the puzzles and narrative are nicely connected and it is fun to see how the story progresses as the player solves each conundrum.
The game follows a young woman as she applies for a short-term job watching over a pet shop. The mysterious owner is paying handsomely and the job seems easy! Things are not as they first appear though and the task is not as simple as just feeding the animals and watering the plants – there are reasons the lights should stay on! With the help of the player, the young woman soon discovers unsavoury goings-on when a bizarre phone call reveals that somebody is trapped … somewhere, and desperately wants to be saved.
The narrative design is fantastic, the story is delivered in a very clever and refreshing way and it takes some surprising twists and turns that will keep the player intrigued throughout. The horror elements are not always subtle and the more psychologically disturbing elements are interspersed with unexpected jump scares in the form of intentional game crashes and mild gore references.
a pet shop after dark has an aesthetic distinct to the developer with its simply adorable cartoon-like illustrations. This iteration appears mostly in black and white with splashes of reddish pink. The overall effect is unique, cute and well-suited to the game’s themes and subject matter.
The music ingame is dominated by two tracks ‘before dark’ and ‘after dark’. The former consist of a gentle yet eerie twinkling tune whilst the latter blends a subtler version of this with a low droning and the foreboding sound of a heartbeat creating a much more ominous tone. Both tracks were pleasant and gave a good sense of atmosphere, but they did get a little repetitive as the other tracks on the OST did not seem to be used as much. The same can be said of the minimal sound effects, which sounded good but were perhaps overused in places. Having said that, the repetition was reflective of that in the groundhog day style gameplay and in that sense, worked very well.
a pet shop after dark is a unique, disturbing and challenging experience that will take around 3-4 hours to complete. The unusual way the gameplay takes place both in the game’s application and its files is refreshing and fun and makes it feel as though the player and protagonist are working as a team to take care of the pet shop and solve its mysteries. The puzzles are difficult but logical and not too convoluted and are very engaging. The cute visuals and eerie music provide an aesthetic as distinct as the gameplay and help bring the different scenes to life, despite some repetition in the audio. Overall, it is a great game that I highly recommend to horror and puzzle fans who like something a little more demanding on the cranium!