Rental Horror Game Review
Animita Project

What do you get when you cross adorable rabbits, a haunted rental home, and about a half-hour’s worth of puzzle-solving and exploration? You get Rental, the latest (and so far only) game developed by Lonely House and published by Animita Project.

Developed under a horror-themed umbrella by the Smarto Club team–comprised of Francesca Melio, Alonso Canales, and Dani Rojas, along with Matias Gabler and composer Cristian Vásquez–Rental is an admittedly brisk but no less enjoyable exploration game with some very light horror elements. It’s heavily styled after retro games, particularly taking after those from the late PlayStation and early PlayStation 2 era. Fans of Animal Crossing will also notice some similarities in the game’s character designs, with emphasis on exaggerated heads and tiny bodies to support them. Like Smarto Club’s other projects, the game foregoes harsh storytelling and unfriendly design in order to deliver a light horror experience for those in need of something short, engaging, and charming.

We follow a family of four, namely the oldest sibling, as they begin to settle into their newest home: a seemingly isolated property located firmly along the shore in the wilderness. Donning the role of the oldest sibling, you’re the first to enter the house… just as the doors mysteriously lock behind you. Upon further investigation, you discover the Rental Man is still residing within the premises, and he bestows upon you a terrible realization: the house is under a curse, and should the protagonist not perform a ritual via collecting key items to save herself, she’ll be trapped within the domicile forever.

What you have, then, is the perfect recipe for a spine-tingling horror experience. Only Rental isn’t that. It is, in essence, a simple exploration game with some very, very mild horror elements. That’s not to suggest that this is a bad thing, however. What it lacks in outright scares, it makes up for in a handful of other ways—about three or four things, maybe less.

Rental Is Really Short (And Free)

Rental Horror Game Review Still
Animita Project

It’s difficult to speak about Rental at length due to its… well, length. In under an hour, I was not only able to complete the game once but twice over with all Steam achievements. That being said, there’s something to appreciate in its brief length. The horror elements, while somewhat understated in hindsight, are fairly effective as you scour the house for ritual items. This is amplified as you venture deeper into the recesses of the house, resulting in an admittedly tense first-person sequence.

You’ll spend the majority of the game exploring the house, a simple structure with plenty to see and interact with–even if some of it is unnecessarily hidden. Once you gather a set number of items for the ritual, a new area opens up, wherein you find the remaining few left, and the game abruptly ends.

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If anything, Rental certainly respects your time. There’s little in the way of fluff. The brief interactions you have with your environment and a handful of other characters are either informative or humorous (or both), entertaining enough, and add to the game’s surprising amount of charm. This is compounded by its abrupt ending, which leans more toward outright comedy than anything truly spooky.

If Rental has any faults, it’s that its horror elements are somewhat superficial: the only real scare that occurs is the periodic moments where the controls are wrestled away from you. The screen gets a sickly tint as the world distorts into static, and if the camera is facing in just the right direction, you may even be able to catch something lurking in the shadows.

It just won’t attack you. Or do anything else, really. Even during a particularly tense sequence towards the end of the game, one where I felt genuinely on edge as to what might come next, nothing really came of it. Because of this, the horror elements feel oddly tacked on, as if this could’ve been something wholly cutesy without the tease of something greater.

The additional area you unlock is where things get interesting. You’ll navigate a blank void of a world that resembles a funhouse of mirrors, with the camera now firmly affixed to the character’s perspective. You’ll have to navigate a maze to find the rest of the items necessary to complete the ritual. It’s decently challenging and creates an environment where you’re not sure of what’s hiding behind the next corner. The mirror effect may make your stomach turn, however.

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For as abruptly as the game starts, it ends just as quickly, leaving behind a modest adventure that’s seemingly tailor-made for an audience that wants some chills but not necessarily thrills. It’s horror-lite, something that can be appreciated for a quick break into a charming world reminiscent of early PlayStation games and the cutesy world of Animal Crossing. Compared to some of Smarto Club’s previous games, namely their crowning achievement, Teacup, it’s fine. If anything, it’s a promising start for future horror projects to come.

Rental can be downloaded for free from either Steam or Itch.io. If you’d like to show your support via cold hard cash, you can also purchase a downloadable zine that provides a plethora of bonus content for the low price of $2.99.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Rental
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Sean is a devout data hoarder, CD collector, and purveyor of weird things. When he's not scouring the depths for the odd and macabre, he's usually playing video games, trying to learn Blender, and subsisting on coffee and protein bars. He also knows how to "get things."
rental-game-reviewFor as abruptly as the game starts, it ends just as quickly, leaving behind a modest adventure that's seemingly tailor-made for an audience that wants some chills but not necessarily thrills. It's horror-lite, something that can be appreciated for a quick break into a charming world reminiscent of early PlayStation games and the cutesy world of Animal Crossing.

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