Depending on the era you grew up in, the thought of stumbling across an old arcade and spending the night might not seem so bad. However, for the unnamed lead of Janitor Bleeds, this scenario quickly turns into a nightmare. After crashing his car in the middle of nowhere, players take control of the unfortunate protagonist on a quest to find help. Unfortunately, the only sign of civilization in the area is Hemo’s Arcade, but slipping inside reveals that it appears to be deserted. Perhaps the abandoned cars surrounding it should have been a giveaway that all is not well with the arcade, but there’s no turning back after entering the building.
Initially, wandering through the arcade is quite a nostalgic experience. Although none of the games are working, there are rows of arcade cabinets, claw machines, and even some air hockey tables. Further exploration reveals the sole working arcade cabinet in the building, JANITOR, which can be played using the coins scattered around everywhere. JANITOR is a typical score-chasing game where your little pixelated avatar is rewarded with points for cleaning up trash. There appear to be no enemies until the appearance of a glitchy mass of pixels, which chases the janitor down after it is freed from captivity. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that whatever happens in JANITOR also bleeds over into the real world, which means players are now trapped inside a building with the glitchy entity from the game.
What follows is a game of cat and mouse as players sneak through the arcade trying to find keys or items that will help them make their escape. In the meantime, the entity is roaming around, and if it spots players, there is no other option except to run and hide. This is easier said than done as the entity causes visual distortions while near players and can also slow down their speed. Luckily its pathfinding is not perfect, so we were able to get away from it a few times and hide underneath an air hockey table or desk until it was safe to come out. Word of advice, don’t try this if the entity can see you, as it will drag you out by the scruff of your neck and kill you.
Apart from getting harassed by the entity, JANITOR BLEEDS features some exploration and puzzle-solving. It’s not just events in the arcade game that influence reality, but vice versa. When the arcade cabinet appears somewhere and beckons players with its distinctive chiptune song playing, there are usually some obstacles that have to be cleared. Doing so will open up new routes in the actual arcade too. However, other times players might have to attach a key card, flashlight, or other object to the side of the arcade machine, which causes it to appear inside the game. These items can then be used by the janitor to open up new paths. It’s a clever idea and makes for a few interesting puzzles, but nothing too taxing.
Progressing through JANITOR BLEEDS is a linear experience with new areas such as the offices, warehouse, and roof opening up in sequence. Players are free to explore the areas that are open to them if they want to find the notes left by employees, but these are optional. Playing the JANITOR arcade cabinet also requires three coins per try, but these can usually be found in abundance nearby. Occasionally, players have to play the arcade cabinet with the added stress of the entity being nearby, but it is always apparent when it is straying too close for comfort.
Visually, Korpus has opted for a low-poly art style that appears to be influenced by early 3D games from the nineties. The first-person perspective and intentionally muddy textures, coupled with the short draw distance, make for a spooky experience where your mind fills in the gaps. As with most horror games, the entity is at its most menacing when you can’t quite see it. To try and reinforce this, the entity heralds its arrival with an eerie red glow and lots of visual distortions, which encourages players to switch off their flashlight as it can give away their position. Of course, the entity does lose some of its menace when you observe it lumbering about from the comfort of your hiding spot.
JANITOR BLEEDS is not a very long game, but it does become a lot weirder towards the end. The arcade is creepy but seemingly ordinary at the start, but the more time players spend in it, the stranger it gets. Suffice to say that when the old arcade cabinets began to be draped in blood-soaked sheets that look like they were imported from Silent Hill, we felt a lot less at home.
JANITOR BLEEDS does not feature any voice acting, but it makes effective use of its sparse music to create a tense and unnerving atmosphere. The game is quiet for the most part, but the entity usually makes a lot of noise to match its visual chaos. The JANITOR arcade machine also has a very distinct chiptune theme song that can be heard from far away. This not only makes it easy to locate when it appears in a new location, but the haunting melody is catchy enough that we had it stuck in our heads long after completing the game.
The controls for JANITOR BLEEDS are straightforward but get the job done. In addition to moving around with WASD, players can crouch or even crawl. Players also have an inventory for keys and other items that can be cycled with the scroll wheel and used with a left click. For most of the game, players are helpless against the entity, but in the final act, there is a shift that changes the entire feel of the game. While we won’t spoil it here, it was a little unexpected and detracted a bit from the horror feel, but it fits in with the arcade theme of the game.
Like most other indie horror titles, JANITOR BLEEDS doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s even an achievement for completing the game in less than an hour. Our first playthrough was closer to the three-hour mark but involved a lot of searching for notes and solving the optional “teddy bear mystery.” However, our efforts still only netted us the bad ending, so there is a reason to go back for more, especially as some of the achievements are missable. The game does lose some of its impact during the second time through, as players know when and where to expect the jump scares. For this reason, we recommend savoring the experience the first time around instead of rushing things.
Overall, JANITOR BLEEDS is relatively tame compared to other titles in the genre, and the low poly visuals might not be to everyone’s liking. It also doesn’t have the same amount of depth and lore as other horror hits. However, we did like the game’s premise, and the arcade setting certainly didn’t hurt either. Not having to run and hide from the monster constantly makes JANITOR BLEEDS a bit more accessible for newcomers, too, and anyone who isn’t already burned out on the genre should definitely give it a shot.
- OS: Windows 7 or newer
- Processor: Intel i3 @ 2.00 Ghz
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti on newer
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 2 GB available space