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Game review: “SALLY FACE” is the “LIQUID TELEVISION” of adventure horror games

Tuesday, February 16, 2021 | Games

By EVAN MILLAR

If you’re a computer gamer, you may already be familiar with developer Portable Moose’s SALLY FACE, a five-part episodic initially released for Windows and Mac beginning in 2016 and concluding in 2019. Two years later, developer Steve Gabry has made the complete experience available on the go with a wonderfully faithful port for the Nintendo Switch console.

SALLY FACE follows the young Sal “Sally Face” Fisher, a boy who sports a prosthetic mask over his disfigured face. After Sal and his single father move into an apartment building that’s host to a fresh and grisly murder, he quickly befriends the charming metalhead Larry, son of the building’s janitor and an all-around rad guy.

What begins as a relatively innocent investigation by Sal and Larry into uncovering the truth behind the recently murdered tenant quickly becomes a supernatural-charged adventure spanning several years and perceived planes of existence.

Gabry’s unique artistic vision is wound into every fabric of SALLY FACE, having done all of the game’s artwork, music, programming and writing himself. He cites classic ‘90s cartoons such as DOUG, REN & STIMPY, and ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE as influences, though the game is also very reminiscent of MTV’s LIQUID TELEVISION block of programming that included AEON FLUX, THE MAXX – and perhaps the most relevant here – Eric Fogel’s THE HEAD. As with that series, SALLY FACE takes a relatively mundane slice-of-life and injects it with compelling, otherworldly drama.

Speaking of visuals, SALLY FACE is absolutely gorgeous to look at with smooth animation and vibrant colours. This only aids in enveloping you in Sal’s world, and when the horror hits, it’s all the more impactful for it. And there’s plenty of spooky content to enjoy here: red-eyed demons, potentially extraterrestrial senior citizens, and an entire cast of ghostly entities, just to name a few.

As with most adventure titles, there are appropriately challenging puzzles in SALLY FACE to test your abilities of deduction, though these extend to elements some may gloss over entirely. Take Sal’s “Super Gear Boy” for example: a spirit-hunting peripheral you’ll use to locate and communicate with spectres that also contains its own Game Boy-inspired minigames.

These aren’t just charming distractions from the game’s disturbing main plot, however, as they flesh out SALLY FACE’s lore through engaging gameplay mechanics in place of any boring exposition dumps. Smaller discoverable details in each of the game’s environments contribute to its well-executed worldbuilding as well, and you’re consistently rewarded for taking the time to explore each episode’s darkened nooks and crannies.

Even with its distinctive aesthetic and engrossing gameplay, perhaps SALLY FACE’s most impressive attribute is its ability to tell such a grounded and poignant tale of acceptance, friendship, loss, and mental health.

A tremendously enjoyable journey from beginning to end, SALLY FACE is a staggeringly creative horror experience that absolutely needs to be on your radar. And with its newfound home on the Switch, here’s to hoping that an entirely new demographic recognizes SALLY FACE for the exalted indie horror jewel that it is.

5/5

 

SALLY FACE is available now on the Nintendo Switch. Review code provided by the publisher.

Evan Millar
Evan Millar is a freelance journalist based out of Toronto, Canada. A graduate of Humber's journalism program, Evan joined Rue Morgue as an intern in 2015 and became a frequent contributor of game, film and event reviews. He took over as games editor in early 2018 and has had a passion for video games since booting up the shareware version of DOOM on a dusty MS-DOS computer. Follow him on Twitter (@evanjmillar).