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Title: Sweet Home
Rom Player: Jnes
Reviewer: Rick Wickenhofer

Synopsis: Not much is known about "Sweet Home" on this side of the globe because though it was released for the NES around '89 in Japan, it was deemed too graphic for American audiences. This means that for some damn reason, we seem to think it's okay in this country to kill real people but not video-game characters. In "Sweet Home," though, nothing and nobody is sacred, and most of the characters in the game wind up suffering a grisly fate. Even the title screen is smeared with some poor schmo's vital plasma, giving the title "Sweet Home" a very cynical appearance.

You begin the game at the Mamiya manor, where an investigative team has been sent to take photos of a painting. The team is made up of five people who have their own abilities; Kazuo can light things on fire, and has a doctorate in Burning Stuff; Akiko is a doctor with the most versatile first-aid kit ever, because it can not only cure poison, but sedate party members who are frightened and it can even lift magical curses. In fact, the only thing it cannot do is heal injuries. You'd think if Akiko has the foresight to put medicinal weed and holy water in her first-aid kit, she might also remember to throw in some gauze. Anyway, Taro is a photographer and Asuka is a trained master of domestic chores, as her special item is a vacuum cleaner. Her entire purpose in life is to clean up the mansion, because the fact that a house is haunted and strewn left and right with murdered victims doesn't mean it has to be untidy. In fact, Asuka wanted to bring along some Lysol, but she knew she would have a hard time keeping it away from Kazuo because it's flammable and he'd probably end up burning the whole goddamned country down. The last member of the party is Emi, who is unique among her fellows in that she is the only chick in the party who actually looks like a chick. She carries a key that can unlock many of the doors in the mansion.

If you don't like the Japanese names of these characters, you have the option to change them, which I couldn't resist. Thus, Kazuo became Hotbob, Akiko became Skolar, Taro became Mr. Gay, and before I realized Asuka was a girl I named her Sukboy. Finally, since Emi is so gifted at picking locks and has no shame when it comes to breaking and entering, I named her LoLife. However, no matter what you call them, it doesn't change the fact that the leader of your band of heroes is an arsonist who thinks that the best person to have with him in a fight is a transvestite housekeeper. Already the odds are starting to stack up against you.

Strangely enough, it is the domestic prowess of Sukboy that helps you cross the first obstacle, which consists of shards of broken glass that must be vacuumed up. Once past this, you are in the mansion, where you must randomly engage enemies in turn-based combat using whatever kitchen cutlery you happen to find lying around. You can also utilize the power of prayer to defeat your foes, for along with the "Fight," "Item," "Call" and "Run" choices, you have an additional "Pray" option. This is surprisingly more effective than just carving up your foes with a fruit knife, because in most instances your prayer will injure your enemy five times worse than your weapon will. If the game allowed you to hear the words of the prayer, I think they would go something like this: "Hey Christ, I'll put a few more cents in the collection plate every Sunday if you could just see your way clear to give this zombie a fatal stroke. Amen." The good thing is, Christ will come through for you 100% of the time, but he'll charge you some "pray points" for his trouble. These can easily be replenished with the bottles of tonic you'll find throughout the mansion, so Christ is at your beck and call pretty much the entire game. If Christ is unavailable, you can call the other members of your party to help with a pesky monster, because the game only allows you to split up in groups of three or less. When backup is summoned, the courteous monster will wait about half a minute for relief to arrive before taking his turn and attacking in some disgusting fashion.

During the course of your adventure you will encounter many different monsters, such as evil dolls who will beat you into mild discomfort with their cute little fists, zombies that try to puke on you, and nude machete-wielding maniacs with severe acne problems. The maniacs are not the strongest enemies in the game, but they are by far the worst, because they insist upon wearing no clothes and showing you the entirety of their ass-naked, boil-infested bodies. At least I assume those are boils. Either that, or they have more nipples than a goddamned dairy farm. Just pray that the maniac uses his blade exclusively, because his other attack involves popping one of his zits and smearing pus all over you. The pus, as it turns out, is cursed pus, because if you're hit with it, you'll be cursed. I don't know what the curse does exactly, but since you contract it through the infected bodily fluids of a diseased lunatic, I'm willing to bet that it's no picnic. Get Skolar to medicate the infection and give the affected person a lollipop, because believe me, he's earned it.

In addition to fighting, you must also solve puzzles, dodge traps and talk to earlier investigators who did not fare quite as well as you. Some of these unfortunates are seated in a lake of their own blood, some have been reduced to skeletons, and a few have been smashed feetfirst through the floor. The eerie thing about the skeletons is, some of them are still alive. They don't attack you like a reanimated skeleton usually would do in games and movies of this type; instead, they offer clues and moan and groan about how much it sucks being them. Well, hey, life's a bitch, skeleton. What would really help me is if you told me what maimed you so brutally to begin with so I can stay the fuck away from it. I mean, that's as badly as you can be hurt and still be clinically alive. I tried to give these poor bastards some tonic, but the members of my party drank it instead, the selfish asses. So much for the Christian spirit of giving.

To help you with the puzzles, there are various ordinary items scattered across the rooms, such as hammers, planks of wood, and candles. Most of the time a character will hint what he's looking for when he encounters a barrier, saying things like "A chasm...if only I had a bridge," or "a fresco...but how do I preserve it?" That last one is especially goofy, because photographing the frescos of Mamiya was the original mission of the investigative team before they became trapped in the mansion, and apparently the photographer has already forgotten how to snap a fucking picture. He might as well say "I've got all this air around...but how do I make use of its oxygen?" Then you'd have to select the "Breathe" option every two seconds or your game would end.

The inventory system of the game is much like that of "Resident Evil," in that you can only carry a few items at a time. In fact, there is much about this game that is reminiscent of the RE series, such as the creepy door opening sequence that happens every time LoLife uses her key. Anyway, the inventory system can be both fun at times and frustrating at others, because managing your belongings by hanging on to important items and discarding red herrings adds some realism to the game, and helps to immerse you in the survival horror situation presented by the plot. However, in some places the game could benefit from more logical solutions to puzzles. Once I ran into a guy who said he was looking for a new shovel, but I realized I'd left the shovel on a faraway island surrounded by reanimated corpses, powerful ghouls and exhibitionist killers. That's the kind of video game logic that made me suplex my Nintendo back in 1987. This was after I realized that the Great Puma from "Pro Wrestling" was able to gain his strength back, and that you had almost as favorable a chance of defeating Mike Tyson from "Punch-Out" as an armless catatonic has of knocking out the real Mike Tyson.

Besides the weapons and puzzle items, there is another category of pickups that I call "insurance items." These are the matchbook, pills, camera, broom and wire, and will perform the functions of each character respectively should one of your allies be killed. There is no "Fenix Down" or any equivalent that will bring your friends back to life, and you will not be magically transported to King Lorik's throne room, where he always berated the hero of "Dragon Warrior" for being a big enough dumbass to get killed by a small green droplet of snot. The insurance items are the only way to preserve a character's abilities, and will also help fill the emotional void left by an ally's passing. If you need additional moral support, go seek some grief counseling from one of the living skeletons, who will console you by saying "Oh well, at least he didn't end up like my bony ass." The insurance items serve to keep the game going should fortunes turn against you, which is obviously good for the player, but it is a terrible psychological detriment to the individual characters. Think about it -- Skolar, or Akiko, has had at least seven years of medical training to be able to cure various types of poisons, emotional distress and pus-related illnesses, but then she comes to the Mamiya manor and finds that any jackass can do her job just as effectively with a vial of unlabeled pills he happens to find on the table. All those years of diligent study at college were obviously wasted, and all that time she was cramming for med class she could have better spent by boozing it up with her dorm buddies and getting groped by fraternity boys. Well, I'm not so sure about that last part, because upon first glance I thought she was an elderly man. But hell, give a guy enough alcohol and he'll spend a night of passion with anyone who even slightly resembles his girlfriend, then he'll wake up and find out that it was actually his roommate. How the hell anybody could emerge from an environment like that as a doctor is one of those lofty questions that mankind will perhaps never find the answer to.

Upon playing further into the game you will begin to understand why it was not released in the States, because there are some gruesome elements in "Sweet Home." When one of your characters dies you will be greeted with a gory death scene; if the character is male, he will be torn in half, and if she is female, she will be dashed against a brick wall, leaving a bloody smear. Also, in order to complete the game you must do things like drink blood and desecrate the grave of a dead baby, so those are clues as to why we Americans never got to experience the game that may very well have started the whole survival horror game genre. If anyone over here had caught their children playing "Sweet Home," no doubt irate parents would have firebombed Toys 'R' Us and walked away chanting with its giraffe mascot's head on a pole. But although I see the reasons for the game being withheld, I still think experiencing the game while in the prime of my boyhood would have been fucking sweet.

Best Cheats: Nothing Entered

Game Play: 8
Graphics: 9
Music/Sound: 7
Originality: 10
Overall Rating: 9

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