No one could have ever guessed that the quest to cure cancer could ever be so bizarre.
This little gem I actually played for the first time quite a while ago, and I suppose that at least hints at its greatness. It’s the kind of game that doesn’t let go easy, and for those willing to immerse themselves in its dark depths, it’s not difficult to understand why.
First, I suppose it must be said that I love scary games. For someone who loves to be scared, I learned early on with titles like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Fatal Frame that the interactivity provided by video games gives them a potential far beyond that found in most books and movies to scare the ever-livin’ bejesus out of you.
What Cactus, Mondo Medicals’ designer, manages to do is create a thoroughly eerie and unsettling experience without falling back on the norms that typically are found in scary games. That’s to say, you won’t find zombies, nor will you see some creepy old mansion. Notebooks aren’t scattered about page by page throughout the playing field, and there is not some ancient demon that is just waiting to be born should you fail to halt the sacred rite that is about to be performed.
It’s just you and the Mondo Medicals complex.
You are selected for research; to be a test subject for what one expects to be a very radical form of cancer treatment. But before you can become a part of the program, you must go through Mondo Medicals’ “disorientation” process.
It is this disorientation process that makes up the game, submersing you in the depths of a monochromatic labyrinth where you must solve what the designer rightfully calls “illogical” puzzles.
And when I say submerse, I mean submerse. Mondo’s greatest genius is its ambiance; you are thrust into some sort of suit, watching the entire world through a visor complete with air holes poked through it, framing the unending gray walls with the black edges of your vision and the sound of your own breath reverberating in your ears. To say this creates a claustrophobic effect would be a severe understatement.
Adding to this is the very nature of the puzzles. Logical puzzles allow your mind to focus on them, to plug in the right components in their right places until all the equations add up correctly. In Mondo’s Medicals, the whole point is that the equations often times don’t add up properly, following instructions doesn’t result in the desired outcome thus keeping you constantly off balance.
The final factor of what makes Mondo Medicals work so well is the vehicle through which the story is told; successfully beating each level will assault you with cut scenes of what one assumes is the lead doctor screaming slightly nonsensical missives about cancer at you.
All in all, Cactus creates a seriously disconcerting experience. Everything is intended to keep you completely off guard, from the puzzles which are anything but intuitive, to the way that the directions before each level are just a little bit skewed, creating what is ultimately the kind of environment in which you never feel safe.
Even the intentionally flawed English is somewhat offputting.
Gameplay itself is simple. You’re in first person view, using the arrow keys to move, and the z key to interact with things. Of course the simplicity of the controls in no way makes up for the outright impossible quality of some of the puzzles.
In fact, Cactus was nice enough to recognize that some of the puzzles defy solving, and thusly provides a walkthrough for our benefit. Still, I don’t recommend jumping automatically to the walkthroughs to burn through the game. If played through too quickly, I don’t think you’re going to get the full effect.
This is the kind of game that needs to be enjoyed slowly, allowing its many different quirks and eccentricities to fully marinate before it can be completely appreciated for what it is. And that would be an honestly creepy and unique gaming experience not to be missed.