Horror games are a hard genre to make at times. It's actually quite difficult to create something that's scary to a large number of people since our worst fears are often quite disparate with those around us. Most games either fall back on real primal fear, which is why jump scares and the uncanny valley are both such common tools in video games. It's nice to stumble on a game that instead relies on depression, existential terror, and self-inflicted mutilation for once. Introducing The Repairing Mantis, the game that it took to finally break me inside.
The Repairing Mantis is a first-person horror adventure game that's set on a small island in a misty sea. You control the repairing mantis itself, a sort of grotesque praying mantis who wants to repair a bridge. Your job throughout the course of the game is to get that special bridge repaired while also interacting with the other inhabitants of the island, namely a bunch of flying squirrels who can't fly and a singular crocodile who hangs out by the beach.
When you first boot the game up, you're presented with a warning screen. The warning is basically telling you that the game features a lot of heavy topics, such as depression, suicide, self-harm, emotional manipulation, and death... so it's a fun time basically. Jokes aside, it's a pretty accurate list of the main themes of The Repairing Mantis, which seems to embody the dichotomy between hope and dispair better than many other games that have tried harder.
You really only have one way of interacting with the world in this game, and that's flicking your claw (is it called a claw on a praying mantis?) at things. Of course, the important factor is what you're flicking your claw at. When you come across another character you can talk to them by clicking on their speech bubbles, and when you come across an item you can pick up or use, you flick your stick on it to do the thing that you do with it. It's very simple to understand and play.
On the topic of speech bubbles, the way you conduct conversations is very strange in The Repairing Mantis. Rather than being given dialogue options for your own character, you instead see inside the thoughts of those you're talking to and pick what they say instead. Not only that, but your own character's dialogue is completely incomprehensible, mainly being a jumble of random characters, though it is occasionally possible to infer what is being said by how the characters react to you.
It all goes together with the visuals and overall tone of the game to produce a very surreal experience. You're wandering around an island with only the idea of repairing a bridge to guide you, surrounded by encroaching misty seas all around. Most of the characters you're interacting with don't have reasonable responses to what you're saying, being far too comfortable with the idea of death and mutilation as something that just happens in the course of life.
The weirdest part of it all is that you actually accomplish your objective in the opening few minutes of the game and repair the bridge, though I won't say how you do it because I want the trauma to be as fresh for you as it was for me. Despite this, the Mantis journeys around the island, constantly trying to fix everything and completely living up to her name. Of course, because it's a horror game nothing you try to accomplish actually works out well for you or anyone else for that matter.
It's sort of hard to encapsulate the feeling of playing The Repairing Mantis. There's an overwhelming feeling of darkness and nihilism that pervades throughout the entire game, but that doesn't necessarily make it unpleasant to play or anything. it controls relatively well and has a branching narrative with multiple endings, but it's also barely an hourlong, assuming that you don't get stuck.
Not that this final point should count against the game, it's certainly got much more to offer than the millions of indie horror titles on Steam that lack anywhere near this level of design consistency and playability. You're not liable to get caught up with bad gameplay glitches or design, although I do have to admit that I did have a single glitch that caused me to be locked out of the ending. Yet another saving grace of the shorter length, which made it much easier to get back to the ending again.
If I had to make one complaint it would be that it does feel a little directionless at times, and the surreal tone is definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea. At one point I was asked to hunt a butterfly and couldn't for the life of me find one, yet when I chose the other path and had to hunt a month instead, it was inexplicably easy to find one. The tone is a much more nebulous issue. I don't mind a game that is being very vague about what is going on and what is being alluded to, but if you do then The Repairing Mantis certainly won't be for you.
At the end of the day, The Repairing Mantis is a short horror experience that succeeds where so many games fail. It doesn't shock or surprise like someone jumping out from a cupboard, it horrifies. In some ways, that might make it difficult to play, certainly, if you're bothered by suicide or other similar issues getting through it might be tough, but if you're into the idea of an hour-long surrealist horror game, then this is certainly one of the better choices on PC.
TechRaptor reviewed The Repairing Mantis on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
- Consistent Visual Design
- Genuinely Horrific At Times
- Short and Sweet (Well, Sort of Sweet)
- Did Have a Crash Once
- Some of the Tasks are a Bit Nebulous