As time passes, I’ve fallen away from ‘big boom-boom AAA titles’ and fallen in line with gentle indies – games where you grow crops or build little towns and spend your days fishing. If you’re a fan of having your heart relocate into your mouth while you play a twisted game of cat and mouse through a nightmarish world, have a blast of The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters.
This second instalment finds the original protagonist Youngho still bedridden and unconscious from his previous encounter with a murderess teacher. In his absence, we take on the role of his concerned best friend Mina Park, who discovers Youngho’s strange amulet and decides to keep it as though nothing ever went wrong with picking up weird things you don’t understand.
Whatever happened to Youngho was probably connected to this amulet and wound up with him being in the titular coma. The Coma. Now through a series of suspiciously unfolded events involving students and teachers alike, so are you. Upon entering ‘The Coma’, Mina is hunted by Dark Song, an evil demonic version of her teacher. The crazy psychotic stalker of the first game is now two crazy demonic hell-witches disguised as teachers baiting on the students in Sehwa School.
The Sisters’ corruption has now extended beyond the school and has engulfed the surrounding community. The Police station, the local food market, and even hospitals are all under the dominion of the Vicious Sister. The influence has infected and permeated everything in their path and holds some human shades in Thrall form.
The side-scrolling level design is deceptive at first – this simple set-up belies a dark and harsh undercurrent of hard lessons you will be forced to learn. Each area is made up of many floors, which gives scope for exploration to find keys and run into other characters. And this is where you get lulled into a false sense of security. Each new area is a harvest of things to investigate, and you can do so quite comfortably until you trigger the next portion of the narrative.
In true survival horror fashion, you’ll be reliant on finding a map and have very little backpack space. But even as comfortable as you begin to feel, something always happens to rub that settled feeling out. Hearing the clicking of heels down a corridor will never have the same benign feel to it again. When you hear that steady ‘click click click’ so begins the game of hide and seek.
The screech of fury somewhere off-screen communicates quite clearly that one of the Sisters’ minions is coming to get you. Occasionally you come across an item you can use defensively, but you’ll probably die so often you’ll figure out ways to not need them. The only way to survive is to break their line of sight and hide in a container and hit the on-screen commands to escape her notice.
The various settings also have environmental hazards such as huge clawed arms which swipe at you from the ceilings, and tentacled pustules which explode poison and make Mina sick if inhaled, but these can be avoided with fair ease. Of course, nothing is ever this straight-forward. Doubling down on making sure you have a traumatic time, a lot of paths are blocked or later deviate from the left-right scroll into moving between building rows, creating a fair amount of back-tracking through levels to find keys and helpful items.
This creates a lot of drama which…I’m getting too old for. Why couldn’t the story take place after the sisters had been vanquished, someone was still in ‘The Coma’ and they’re just picking through a nightmarish apocalyptic wasteland of a dream with no murdering teachers? Its intensity was sometimes too much for me to stick with for too long. Frequent breaks had to be taken so I could resolve my heart rate being through the roof. Balanced with an abundance of save points, I didn’t mind because I never felt like I was losing too much progress when I needed to settle myself down.
When you combine all of those things, you have a game that rarely lets up on making the player feel unsafe. The visual presentation is impressive and full of detail, fleshing out this dreamworld in dramatic and surreal fashion. It’s also dark and atmospheric, and there is little to feel comfortable about when you have a decreased field of vision.
When you’re not ducking and diving, the peace and passivity of exploration comes back, a welcome relief from the Vicious Sisters, vicious both in name and nature. Plundering scattered notes deliver more narrative and this is the most rewarding part for both new players who didn’t play The Coma: Cutting Class and returning players who did, as it expands on details of the first game and Vicious Sisters.
Though the overall impression of Vicious Sister is that it’s grossly engaging, it has moments when you feel frustration more than fear. The Sister’s cohorts are capable of some scarily mighty damage if they get their hands on you, and many encounters will not be survived. In new and unfamiliar environments, you’re prone to running into Vicious Sister’s minions frequently, and if they see you crawling into a hiding space, the quick-time commands do little to save you from their attacks. This traps players in some spots, destined to keep repeating the same errors until you work out a way to at least avoid them.
A short but spooky experience around 4-8 hours long, depending on how collectable hungry you are, developers Devespresso have built on their first game and expanded further on their ideas. The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is an excellent stand-alone title, as well as a great sequel. Thrill-seekers will love the on-off bursts of action, puzzle-lovers will enjoy working out paths to get to where they need to be, and I’m going to enjoy a nice calming cup of tea.