Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by Suzaku with publishing handled by Eastasiasoft and Top Hat Studios, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is a survival horror/adventure set in the neon soaked year of 2083. Take on the role of Mei Lin Mak, a young woman who has been caught up in a century old mystery as she tries to escape the supernatural horror in the ruins of the Chong Sing Apartments. This title is available on the Nintendo Switch and Steam service. Links to both versions of the game will be at the bottom of this review.

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank Eastasiasoft for providing the copy of Sense: A Cyberpunk ghost Story that was used for this article. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions expressed within are my own.

Mature Content Warning: Sense has been given a rating of Mature in North America and PEGI 18 in Europe, this rating has been given due to some sexualized elements, violent content and disturbing themes. I advise that discretion is taken when reading this review or looking at material from the game if mature themes offends you or you are under the recommended age for this title.

Important Note: I want to highlight that there has been negative reactions to the content of this release, with calls to censor or remove the game from the Nintendo eShop due to the art used for promotion of the game. The publisher Top Hat Studios have refused to change Sense, which has led to vile threats and harassment targeted towards the developers of the game. I want to make it clear that I support Top Hat Studios and Suzaku and condemn the actions of those who have been harassing them.

Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review. I will be omitting the story section and moving directly into covering gameplay as I feel players must experience this first-hand, however, I will give minor details during other parts of my coverage.

Gameplay – Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is a suspense filled survival horror/adventure, with gameplay elements that are inspired by titles from the past including Clock Tower and Fatal Frame. As the protagonist Mei Lin Mak, you explore the ruins of the Chong Sing Apartments in the city of Neo Hong Kong, encountering spirits that will try to stop you as you seek to solve the mysteries and escape.

During exploration you will find puzzles that you will need to solve to proceed, these include collecting items and using them to progress through the environment. To interact with the objects and doors in each area, prompts will appear on screen allowing players to pick up and examine items, enter doors and even hide from spirits. During some events in the story quick time events will occur, showing a prompt on screen, success will lead to survival and failure will result in death.

Items and clues that are picked up will be added to the PDA, which functions as the player’s inventory and records all data that has been collected alongside other key items. The PDA can be accessed at any time and is the most important item that the player has available to them, using it as a map and allowing the player to check out the photos that have been taken with Mei’s cybernetic eyes. Photos that have been taken add to the suspense and tension of the experience.

There is a lack of combat in this game which adds to the horror atmosphere that the game attempts to build, this makes the protagonist feel vulnerable as they can only run and hide from the vengeful spirits. When running or hiding from a ghost that is trying to hunt the player, they have limited stamina to get away to safety. The player is able to hide from enemies when running away, taking refuge in rooms that are protected by a seal, activating a quick time event that will grant safety if successful.

If you are unable to escape from the spirits death is highly likely to occur, the only way to survive an attack from a ghost is to be in possession of a Jade Bangle, but these will be destroyed when escaping. When attacked with a bangle in hand, a quick time event will occur similar to taking refuge in safe rooms, with successful inputs allowing escape. Additional bangles can be found during the course of the game, however, they are limited and only two can be carried at once.

Aside from the apparitions that attack the player, there are also traps and negative actions that can cause player death if mistakes are made. When this happens Mei will be shown in horrific death scenes, with graphic injuries and body horror that is unsettling with the use of static effects to enhance the cyber horror aesthetic that the game is going for.

Death will throw the player back to a previous save point, which is depicted as televisions that use tapes to save progress when exploring the world. The save points require a tape to activate and are finite so managing the activation of save points is important to prevent excessive time loss upon death, but this can be alleviated by using the quicksave feature.  

The ghosts that are encountered by the player each have their own stories attached to them, which will unravel over the course of the game. After the player solves the puzzles that they are faced with, they have the chance to put spirits to rest, performing a ritual that is based in Asian folklore and making an offering to exorcise them. Each story section plays out in a manga style panel layout, using art rather than animated cutscenes to portray the events that play out.

The last thing I want to talk about is the way that the game references internet culture and the real world. This includes the use of memes and references to trends that have been prevalent online in recent times. The inclusion of real world references are used in a way that is not intrusive, they do highlight some negative aspects of internet culture (which is very relevant given the outrage caused by the promotional artwork for Sense) and the world as a whole, which I feel have been handled well.

Now with the gameplay aspect covered to a degree that I am happy with, I will be moving onto the other parts of the game, starting with the difficulty.

Difficulty – Sense has a simple difficulty curve, with the puzzles and encounters getting progressively complex as the story progresses. The main challenge to this title is the effective management of resources and planning ahead, if you aren’t careful when exploring thee world you may become lost and need to back track more than necessary. Poor decision making and lack of care during puzzle solving can lead to failure, wasting time and causing frustration.

Controls – this game features a very simple control method, separated into left and right sides of the controller. The left side controls movement of Mei, with the right side being used for actions, interacting with the game world and managing the player’s inventory. The game handles well, aside from a little inconsistency when trying to walk and run with the dash set as a double tap towards a direction. There are no input drops or lag in either docked or handheld play, making for an enjoyable experience.

Presentation – the art style for Sense has a very unique look to it, blending the bright colors of the neon cyberpunk design with traditional Cantonese folklore. There has been extra care taken to ensure that the visuals all fit the theme of the game, with the ruins giving an oppressive atmosphere that contrasts well against the bright colors that can be seen outside. The death scenes and ghosts have a static look to them, giving the impression that the events occurring may or may not be real due to Mei’s cybernetic eyes.

There are some elements of sexuality to the art that can be seen during play, including the use of hologram dancers and advertisements for manga that have exaggerated proportions in the early part of the game. This use of risqué fanservice doesn’t detract from the horror that will unfold later in the game, what it does do however is provide a false sense of safety and subverts expectations that the player may have at the start.

The overall performance of the game from a visual standpoint is refined extremely well, with smooth fluid animations and no issues with framerate or lag during play. The sound is atmospheric and creepy for most of the experience, using subtle atmospheric sounds that give a feeling of unease, where the main thing that can be heard is rustling of paper or footsteps. There is some voice acting that is employed, which I found to be performed well and used just enough to increase the feeling of unease present.

Final Thoughts – I went into this game as a fan of the titles that inspired Sense, expecting something entirely different than what was presented. I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere and attention to detail that the developers put in with the use of Asian folklore, which contrasted well with the advanced technology of the future setting. The gameplay is engaging and can create a lot of tension, especially during jump scares and chase sequences where the ghosts hunt down Mei as the player tries to escape.

The use of static and other effects adds an element of techno horror to the overall experience, making the player question the reality they are witnessing. This unease makes the death scenes, ghostly apparitions and echoes of the past that much more impactful in my opinion, showcasing a real love for the subject matter and titles that came before them. The helplessness and vulnerability of Mei as she is lost in the ruins of the Chong Sing Apartments ties the whole experience together for me.

The art and sound design all come together to create an oppressive, dark atmosphere that is a stark contrast to the bright neon lights that are seen during the opening and in the outside world. The overall quality of Sense is outstanding and I applaud the developers for their hard work. Suzaku haa created a title that subverts the expectations of the cyberpunk setting, releasing a game which I have absolutely no problem recommending to anyone interested in the survival horror genre.

In the end, I give Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story a final score of 5/5. This title is an atmospheric and tense survival horror experience, taking everything you think you know about the cyberpunk genre and turning on its head. The gameplay, story and presentation is expertly crafted, showing the love for the setting and influences that the developers have. If you want to check the game out for yourself, you can find links to both versions of the game below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

Link to Steam version (HERE)

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