Platform: PC-88, PC-98
Developer: Macadamia Soft
Retro PC title Produce begins like a slasher film, plays like a creature feature and concludes like a visceral body horror thriller. The twist ending is shocking but the archaic gameplay is the real terror.
The story starts with our cast of generic teenagers, Gilbert, Tina, Sayaka, and Toshio on a camping trip in the mountains. Milquetoast Toshio has a crush on Sayaka, but Sayaka only has eyes for the dashing Gilbert. One morning Toshio wanders off on his own, inexplicably drawn towards an abandoned apartment tower. Once inside he makes mental contact with The Entity, an evil being of pure psychic energy that promises to bind Toshio and Sayaka together, forever. All Toshio has to do is lure his friends to the top floor where the Entity resides.
Soon enough the others enter the building in search of Toshio. And that's when the fun begins...
As Toshio, you borrow the all-seeing eyes of the Entity to summon minions and corral your classmates upstairs towards their doom. If they escape, they bring back a mob to demolish the haunted tower and it's game over.
You must keep watch and place monsters in the path of your victims to send them running deeper into the building, but they won't always flee without a fight like the cast of Scooby Doo. Turns out everyone is a student at the International Esper Laboratory and their latent psychic powers come out at full force when backed into a corner. The Entity gives you 30 types of creatures to play with, so expect a few to be torn to shreds by mental energy blasts along the way.
While the visuals suggest a Survival Horror title the gameplay is more of a Deathtrap Simulator with the player cast as an agent of evil. The closest modern analogue I can think of is the Deception series, where you harvest the souls of those foolish enough to enter your castle as tribute to your Dark Lord. More recent entries offer slapstick gag traps to alleviate the mood, though you won't find anything so lighthearted in Produce.
Here's a lineup of some of my favorite critters. Are they any good? Who knows. All of the relevant in-game values are hidden from the player. What starts as a puzzle game of deducing the movement and behavior of the characters quickly devolves into a guessing game. When you set a monster, do you have it: materialize in a mist? Swirl into being from the corners of non-Euclidean space? Teleport suddenly from thin air? These choices effect how the characters respond, though it's never clear exactly how.
This minutia matters not simply for strategic reasons, but also because the ants running around your terror colony have weak hearts that can only take so much stress before they burst like a sewage pipe. Don't scare your friends to death. The Entity needs them delivered ALIVE.
Once your classmates scurry up the 20th and final flight of stairs you are treated to the game's first and only cutscene. The steamy thumbnail seen below was the first peek many players had of Produce when it was reviewed in the August 1987 issue of monthly PC magazine Beep. People bought the disk expecting a porn game--after all, that's what developer Macadamia was famous for. Instead they came home with something far more disturbing.
The Entity makes good on its word. In a grotesque sequence straight out of a Cronenberg film, It absorbs Sayaka into the house to live forever as a part of It. Toshio was tricked, and by extension so was the player. Sayaka's heartbeat slows to a stop, the credits roll and the screen fades to black. We're left to ask ourselves--what did I have a hand in? What have I produced?! That's a terrifying thought to have after sinking hours of your life into something, hours that you can never get back.