Night Delivery is instantly distressing if you're vulnerable to old Japanese horror movies like Ringu, Ju-On, Pulse, etc. The $3 bite-sized indie game skips the theatrics and throws you straight into exploring the exterior of an exceedingly creepy multi-level apartment building at night.
Everything is seen through a grainy CRT screen filter that flutters with bleeding video signals and VHS tape noise, mimicking the vibe of late-90s J-horror impressively. (It's worth noting that you can turn off these effects, but where's the fun in that?) Behind you is a truck carrying a few packages labeled with room numbers corresponding to the apartment homes looming nearby, giving you a clear sense of direction right from the get-go. Sounds easy and relatively harmless, right?
Of course, it isn't. Night Delivery isn't your average Amazon Flex shift, nor is it your typical job simulator. At the start, residents are content with just creeping you the hell out; an angry, unpredictable bunch prone to random outbursts and strange behavior; but as you deliver more packages and meet more people, you begin unraveling a sad, macabre tale where you'll encounter possessed babies, blood dripping from unknown sources above ceilings, and of course, dead people. Standard J-horror fare, but executed with an old school, uncanny atmosphere of slow-burning dread and anxiety.
Knock knock, who's there?
Night Delivery is disarmingly quiet, to the point where the sound of wind blowing against a rickety old bike sent my heart leaping up my throat. In the first part of this roughly hour-long nightmare, it's that understated sound design that builds a surprising level of tension in doing mundane things like delivering packages, feeding a cat, and chasing after someone's renegade baby. Due to unpredictable ambient noise, there's a constant feeling of being followed, no matter how often you look back and see nothing.
Even waiting outside someone's door for them to accept their package can be incredibly tense. Sometimes it takes a few seconds before the door slowly creaks open, and other times it swings open forcefully with a high-pitched squeak. Whom and what waits behind each door varies dramatically, from unsettling to horrific. I won't spoil anything, but playing this game made me appreciate the new ubiquity of no-contact delivery in the age of Covid even more.
The elevator is my least favorite place to be in Night Delivery, and probably in real life for at least a few weeks, but it's a necessary feature as one of the stairwells is blocked. Most of the time, it's just the anticipation of something upsetting appearing when the doors to the elevator open, but other times you'll be right to anticipate something dreadful.
There are a couple of really good scares in Night Delivery, and one, in particular, was so brilliant I couldn't help but laugh as I caught my breath in a state of utter catharsis. Even after so much build-up, I can't imagine anyone anticipating the Big Scare, even if it feels a little cheap in retrospect. Again, Night Delivery costs less than a meal from the value menu at McDonald's, so don't go in expecting House Beneviento from Resident Evil Village and you'll likely be more than satisfied.
I will admit that after playing through once, I have no idea what the hell happened in Night Delivery, story-wise. Developer Chilla's Art says it's inspired by Japanese horror shorts, but Night Delivery's narrative is a lot more cryptic than your average J-horror's tale of a vengeful spirit with long black hair. You'll collect cryptic notes here and there, vaguely hinting at the player character's past and a murder mystery haunting the apartment building, but the notes are messily translated and incohesive. Maybe things will make more sense when I come back for a second playthrough, which you'll want to do anyway because Night Delivery has two endings, one of which is the 'good' one. Mine most definitely was not the good ending.
What Night Delivery does best is capture the mood of a classic J-horror on VHS, what it doesn't always do so well is… run on my PC? My client crashed twice in the 60 minutes I was playing. Thankfully, one of those crashes happened at the start menu, so I didn't lose any progress that time. The other time was about 15 minutes into the story, which sucked but could've been a whole lot worse.
I stumbled across Night Delivery in Steam's bargain bin, mildly intrigued by the J-horror vibes, but not expecting in the slightest to enjoy it enough to write 800 words, yet here we are. It's janky and prone to crashes, but at its core is a well-oiled escalator of tension where each landing is an increasingly frightening scenario, and a few shockingly well-timed surprises heighten the suspense. It's particularly effective if you were traumatized by Sadako and Kayako growing up (the sound of white noise on a TV chills me to the bone). But either way, for the price, Night Delivery shouldn't be missed.
Night Delivery is out now on PC.