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After spending a few minutes wandering around Candlelight Studios' The Empty Inn, I was left wondering where all of the idiot townsfolk had gone off to. You know, the guys who say things like "Bandit hideout is to the north.", "Welcome to Cornelia", and the dreaded "Watch me dance!". Nobody was there! And my little candle seemed to be dwindling, but it was all right since someone had scattered matches everywhere. No big deal. But then the matches grew further apart, and the dark crept closer. And closer. And the something started moving out there in the shadows. With a siren on its head. The Empty Inn, while showcasing some neat pixelated creepiness, brings more humor to its horror than you might expect from its screenshots. For anyone looking for a lighter game to enter into the genre, you've found it.

The Empty Inn throws you into an empty inn (Really? No kidding.) from the start, periodically flashing messages from some other being inside daring you to find him. Doing so is simple enough, involving wandering around the inn looking for keys that unlock doors that lead deeper inside. These keys can be just about anywhere, so leave no drawer unopened and no toilet lid down in your search. Luckily, there are matches in many of these hiding spots to keep your candle lit with as well, helping you stay safe from the other things that lurk in the house.

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Your candle is what keeps you alive, and that thing drains quickly. Matches are everywhere, as I said, but they're finite, so you need to wrap up your exploration in a hurry or you'll run out. The game isn't overly long or complex, though, so you'll likely easily find your way out before your candle has burnt out. Much of the game is divided up into individual floors and areas, and everything you need to complete an area is contained within it, so it doesn't take long to find what you need and escape. Honestly, you can just keep hammering away at the search button as you walk and you'll find everything with ease. You'll burn through discovered matches faster, but you'll also complete the game within minutes.

As you progress, you'll keep getting messages to goad you further on in your search. These blocks of white text reminded me of the kinds of things you'd say in campfire horror stories as children, being a little corny. If this had been a more serious horror game it might have been a tripping point, but given the game's lighthearted nature, they worked well. You'll still read some strange-sounding stuff, but it fits right into a world where some of the ghosts wear alarms on their heads.

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Sometimes this text shows up in regards to some of the game's few puzzles as clues revealed through notes. Clues may be a bit too subtle a word, though, as the game pretty much just outright tells you the solution. The final puzzle, one that might have been tense solving through trial-and-error while my candle flickered, was explained to me in specific detail from a note I'd found. The game doesn't have all that many puzzles, more often relying on pure exploration in the dark to entertain me, so it bummed me out a bit to have its puzzles turned to busywork by being hand-fed the solutions.

Exploration with a dwindling candle is fun, though. As your light meter drains, the candle reveals less and less, although it never shrinks down to nothing. You can still see a little bit as it wears out. Still, navigating in the dark is enjoyable and just the tiniest bit creepy (thanks to a small handful of light scares). The lighting effect is quite nice as well, fading subtly to shadow on the outside of the circle of light.

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When that candle wears out, prepare to have a run-in with one of the weirdest hauntings I've ever seen. As far as I could tell, this thing looked like a cartoon ghost with a siren on its head, and when it got close to you, that siren would start blaring as it chased you through walls and across the inn. You can always see where it is in that top-down view, so it's easy to avoid, and even if you do have a run-in with it, you can take three hits before having to reload your save. It's pretty funny to look at, and solidified the humor of this horror title. It just cracked me up every time I ran into it, and I could tell Candlelight Studios had fun with its design.

Music and design did give it some sharp atmosphere, though. The sounds in the game are subtle, with near-silent music playing throughout the game. It's quiet, but very eerie, punctuated by the occasional creaking floor and weird, out-of-place voice or sound. Those footsteps you're hearing aren't yours, and who is it tht keeps calling out to you in the dark? The inn itself is also naturally creepy in its RPG pixel-art goodness. I'm used to towns filled with morons in this art style, and wandering a lonely building in the dark here seems that much creepier because of it. It doesn't quite reach Sweet Home's level of horror, but it does do an excellent job of making things a little frightening.

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It won't take long to get to the end of The Empty Inn, and you may not have even run into its dangerous ghost by the time you hit that ending, but the game does provide a fun, lighthearted horror experience. The music and art lend it a creepy atmosphere, even as ghosts topped with sirens do everything they can to break up that atmosphere. With a few fun scares and the constant danger of running out of light, it's a great starting point for those who want to get into horror games but are a bit nervous of being frightened.

The Empty Inn is available for free from Itch.io. For more information on the game and Candlelight Studios, you can head to the developer's site or follow them on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.