The Clock Tower Is Scary As Hell For A Super Nintendo Game

I had a simple reason to play the 1995 survival horror classic Clock tower decades after its original release: I didn’t want to be a poser anymore.

Clock tower first became a personal brainworm through an episode of Game Center CX (which you can still consult here on Kotaku). Watching comedian Shinya Arino struggle with the old-school horror game, I learned to love its art style and vicarious point-and-click gameplay. I even bought a contraband Clock tower shirt last May without ever having played there. Deep in my soul, however, I knew I was an impostor. And so, last weekend, I finally sat down with a fan translation to experience its horror firsthand.

Developed by the defunct Human Entertainment for the Super Famicom, Clock tower follows orphan Jennifer Simpson – believed to be inspired by Jennifer Connelly’s appearance in Dario Argento’s 1985 horror film Phenomena — as she and several other teens travel to a remote mansion after being adopted by its reclusive owner. Jennifer’s instinctive reservations about the arrangement are soon vindicated when her friends disappear and she becomes the unwitting prey of a small, childish creature wielding a pair of scissors so big they would otherwise be comical.

You have no idea. (Screenshot: Human Entertainment/Sunsoft/Kotaku)

After a short introduction, Clock tower gives you great freedom in how to proceed. You control Jennifer with a cursor that turns into a box when you hover over something she can interact with. The early stages have no music or sound effects other than the protagonist’s own footsteps, which gives the game an extremely eerie vibe. Jennifer walks at a pace that often inspires you to urge her to run, but she can also become fatigued – and therefore easier to kill – from too much activity.

There are several ways to activate Scissorman, the inexplicable name given to the scissor boy by Clock towerdevelopers. Some of the little vignettes that feature the little dude are obvious, like when he steps out from behind a shower curtain after Jennifer finds a friend of his dead and hanging in a bathtub, but others are a bit more absurd. During one of the many false starts while I was still learning the ropes, Jennifer encountered another friend who was drowning in a swimming pool. I could do nothing but watch the girl sink into darkness, soon to be replaced by the silhouette of Scissorman as he emerged from the water, ready for mayhem. Unlike the bathroom scene’s pseudo-jump scare, which legitimately surprised me, this ambush in the pool only elicited a chuckle as I scrambled to find a spot where Jennifer could to hide.

That’s not to say Scissorman is child’s play. Of course, meeting him is mostly an exercise in mashing the action button to escape certain death, but Human Entertainment did a fantastic job of making him menacing years before games like the resident Evil series would introduce unkillable enemies that relentlessly stalked players. Only after angering Scissorman is the music added to the Clock tower experience, the presence of the chase theme is a clear indication that he is still on your trail. The little killer will find you no matter how far you go, which will require using hiding places to get him out of your back. However, the game doesn’t make these hiding places easy to find, which often sent me on a mad dash to places I already knew were safe.

One of these places, a hayloft located in the garage, became my refuge during my first skirmishes with Scissorman. That said, Clock tower was quick to punish me for my pride. During one of my many visits to the hayloft, I apparently waited too long after Scissorman left the screen and the music stopped because, to my dismay, the little prick broke out at through the wooden ceiling above me, shocking Jennifer into vulnerability and leading to the dreaded Dead End game on screen. It was a simple trick, but with a layer of sophistication that I didn’t expect to find in a game from the 90s.

Clock tower is often described as the granddaddy of the survival horror genre, and having played it myself, I think that’s a pretty apt description. By borrowing generously from classic horror films like the aforementioned Phenomena, the folks at Human Entertainment created a game unlike anything that came before and would be used as a model for developers in the future. While certain aspects, like the slow movement speed, confusing progression, and sprawling, mapless environment, certainly haven’t aged either, there’s still something very charming about a game that doesn’t pull its strokes. You will not escape your first foray into Clock tower without leading Jennifer to at least a few gruesome (and, in some cases, parrot-related) deaths, but fans of classic horror movies and video games are sure to enjoy the experience.

And hey, now I can wear my cool Clock tower loud and proud t-shirt regardless of some nerd attacking my credibility on the street.

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