Boo Party is an unforgettable retro Halloween house party

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Cosmi Kankei’s previous game Crawlco Block Knockers was an absolute delight, blending retro-inspired arcade-style fun with some mild pinup-style lewds in the grand tradition of ’90s Japanese games. Now they’re back with a brand new invention: Boo Party, which is a rather different game in execution, but still one that will particularly appeal to those with a fondness for ’90s nostalgia.

In contrast to Crawlco Block Knockers’ arcade-style action, Boo Party is instead an adventure game. More specifically, it’s what some would refer to as an “arcade adventure” — a mostly dormant genre primarily associated with 8-bit home computers, in which you take direct control of a main character as they move around a vast map, gather items and figure out what the bloody hell you’re supposed to do with them, with some occasional action sequences along the way.

Boo Party

Your goal in Boo Party is to collect 12 (naked pinup-style) photographs of various monsters and undead creatures lurking in a dilapidated old mansion, so that your scientist friend can use them to prove the existence of the paranormal. Except there’s something thoroughly mysterious about said mansion — after locating an errant ghost’s invitation, they offer to bring you along as a “plus one”, and you find yourself in the middle of an absolutely happenin’ house party taking place in a mansion that is as vibrant and luxurious as the day it was built.

This, naturally, looks set to make your job a whole lot easier, so your job from hereon is to mingle with the various partygoers, discover the ones who are open to having their photograph taken, then inevitably do something for each of them. The game is almost entirely non-linear, meaning that you can tackle its challenges in whatever order you please, and you’ll likely find that most of your initial time with the game is spent simply exploring the mansion.

It’s a large game world — dauntingly so, to begin with, particularly as there’s no in-game map function — but before long you’ll start to realise that the layout actually makes intuitive sense; it feels almost like a real place. It won’t take much wandering around before you start to figure out the best route to reach various areas, and by the end of the game if someone tells you to go to a specific place in the mansion, you’ll be able to head right there.

Boo Party

Wisely, the game’s opening limits your access to certain areas until you complete an initial task: a busty vampire lady is tired of having nothing but blood, so desires nothing more than a big juicy hamburger. Unfortunately, no-one is cooking hamburgers right now — the mansion’s chef refuses to do so, and the various ghouls and ghosts having a barbecue outside are only cooking hot dogs — so your goal becomes to find the component parts of a hamburger, then present them to a livestreaming witch attempting to sign a lucrative sponsorship deal with a cauldron manufacturer.

Yes, Boo Party is a silly game; delightfully so. The game’s script manages to feel modern without descending into the tedious irony that so many western games use as a crutch for their “humour”, and in fact it feels very much like it’s been written both by and for a slightly older generation rather than memelord teens.

There’s plenty of light-hearted mocking of modern vernacular and online culture, and many of the characters you interact with feel like grown adults who are slightly tired with modern life… err, undeath. It never becomes overly cynical or mean-spirited towards the younger generation, though; instead, in some ways it feels like it’s pointing out how, in some ways, the absurdity of youthful exuberance can easily raise a smile if you just switch off from “the real world” for a bit.

Boo Party

It’s always a delight to see the grinning ghosts dancing in every corner of the mansion, for example, and I defy anyone not to laugh when they see the skeleton conga line in the main performance area — even if it is blocking your route to some interesting-looking characters until you deal with it in some way! It’s hard not to feel like you’re being drawn in to the party atmosphere; there’s something interesting going on in absolutely every room in the mansion (as well as the outside areas) and it’s a consistent pleasure to explore and get to know the partygoers.

The majority of Boo Party’s gameplay involves tracking down the twelve monstrous and/or undead ladies that you need to get photographs of, then completing their tasks in order to get their photographs. In some cases, their task is as simple as finding a specific item to give to them, while in others completing their missions will involve some sort of specific gameplay element — and often a chain of events that link to situations unfolding elsewhere in the mansion.

For example, a mummy girl hanging out in the mansion’s game room is frustrated with the rowdy skeletal teens noisily playing a popular arcade game called Succu Bouncer, so it’s up to you to wipe the floor with them until they get fed up and leave.

Boo Party

Of course, it’s not as simple as just wandering up to the game. First you need some tokens to play the game with — but oh no, the token machine is broken! You speak to the game room’s attendant, but his phone has run out of battery and he’s forgotten his charger. A killer death robot is hogging a charger on the mansion’s landing, but agrees to engage his fast charging mode if you give him “Spirit Points” — and Spirit Points are acquired by successfully getting photos of the other girls.

And then when you’ve done all that, you have to actually play the game itself, which is a significant challenge. A well-crafted one — a full third of Boo Party’s excellent soundtrack consists of just the music for Succu Bouncer — but a very tricky one nonetheless. I’d perhaps argue that it’s maybe a little too tricky, particularly for players who have come into Boo Party primarily for the chilled out adventure-style gameplay, but there’s no penalty for failure; you can just keep trying until you eventually succeed.

Elsewhere, you’ll find yourself competing in a WarioWare-style compilation of microgames based on exercises for the world’s cutest Frankenstein’s Monster, a sequence based on Atari Games’ arcade game Toobin’ in order to retrieve a pair of magic mermaid panties, and even a direct homage to Sega’s classic rhythm game Space Channel 5 as you get to know a pair of alien twins a bit better.

Boo Party

Pleasingly, even after you beat the various minigames in the context of Boo Party’s story, you can go back and challenge them again whenever you like — and, indeed, there are a number of achievements related to doing so. After beating the game, you can also play Succu Bouncer as its own self-contained thing, including a two-player mode. And if you’re the speedrunning type, there’s even a time attack mode to see how quickly you can clear the entire game.

My one main criticism of Boo Party is that its difficulty level is a little wonky. Besides the aforementioned spike in challenge factor with Succu Bouncer, there are also a few sequences in the game that are dependent on you discovering items that are secreted in otherwise unremarkable-looking objects or held by generic-looking NPCs that you might not think to bother trying to interact with.

Thankfully, due to the way I personally tend to play games like Boo Party, I never found myself at a point where I got genuinely “stuck” due to missing a critical item hidden somewhere in the mansion, but I can easily see those who take a less fastidious approach to searching everything and talking to every NPC finding themselves hitting a seeming dead end. The solution, of course, is to attempt to interact with everything you see — that’s the main point of the game, after all — but some sort of indication that an object you’re standing next to is interactive wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Boo Party

This minor niggle aside, though, Boo Party is a wonderful experience. It draws you in with its infectious party atmosphere, beautiful pixel art, wonderful animation and amazing Opus Science Collective soundtrack, then keeps you interested with characters who are enjoyable to hang out with, an environment that is satisfying to explore and some varied challenges that are fun to engage with.

Cap it off with some subtle touches of fond nostalgia — the skeleton doing the “dance of his people” on a set of stairs and saying “it’s normally accompanied by flinging bones at people” is a delightful homage to Castlevania, and I was very happy to see some Dreamcast-inspired “It’s Thinking” graffiti on one of the walls — and you have a rather wonderful interactive Halloween party that can be enjoyed all year round, regardless of your own age and cool factor.

My own house party days are long behind me, but Boo Party definitely brought back some fond memories and, for the four hours or so it took to beat the game, made me almost feel young again. And for this old fart, that’s more than reason enough to wholeheartedly recommend the experience.

Boo Party is available now for PC via Steam.

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Pete Davison
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