By EVAN MILLAR
Class is in session, and the lesson of the day is horror of a positively galvanizing nature. Electrical towers are popping up close to home, children are disappearing, and it’s important to learn the proper safety precautions and adhere by them… or die.
On the surface, PYLONS is a brief 8-bit edutainment game from the mind of graphic novel and comics author T.W. Burgess (GHOSTER, THE EYRIE) and developer Teebowah Games’ Scottie Supple (THE THIRD SHIFT), “reconstructed” from the annals of the mid-1970s from a single remaining build. Peek just below its deceptively innocent demeanour, however, and there’s something much more murderous at play.
Playing as a young boy who ventures from his house over the course of several days, players mingle with the neighbourhood children and receive advice from adults, whose various vocations range from an officer of the law to a pylon repairman. It’s fitting that the word “pylon” derives from ancient Greek terminology – the events that transpire here are decidedly more primeval than mere electrical towers stretching across the English countryside.
With an art style that perfectly recreates the charmingly nostalgic low-res look of edutainment classics such as LEMONADE STAND, READER RABBIT and THE OREGON TRAIL, the game is initially exceedingly charming, that is right up until the nearby cemetery begins filling with more and more deceased kids. A tad morbid, sure, but it certainly gets the importance of safety across.
The audio design of PYLONS, provided here by composer and Teebowah Games co-founder Julian Crowhurst, is similarly excellent and suited to its ostensible time period. The disquieting hum of electrical wires increases and diminishes as players move around the map, and sudden stabs of static or simplistic melody accompany onscreen prompts depending on how certain choices are made.
Because of its shorter gameplay length, it’d be careless to spoil the surprises that PYLONS has up its sleeve, though rest assured that by its conclusion you’ll likely never view these lumbering pillars of steel with just a passing glance ever again.
As playful as it is haunting, PYLONS delivers one of the most potent indie horror experiences to be had this year in an impressively short amount of playtime, masterfully warping the seemingly mundane into a surreal cautionary tale.
PYLONS is available now on itch.io.