The best horror games are capable of instilling tremendous terror within you, but among these jumpscare-ridden experiences is a must-play subgenre of folk horror. Capable of playing on your imagination to bring its characters to life, folk horror is a rapidly evolving genre and there are a number of fantastic titles to sink into, and, Nordic folklore-inspired Bramble: The Mountain King will always be my first recommendation.
Bramble: The Mountain King puts you in the shoes of a child protagonist lost in a world of larger-than-life horrors, which is a trope shared with a lot of the best indie horror games. But, as you traverse its various, bleak landscapes, you’ll come into contact with a world of terror taken straight from a storybook, and while a lot of the stories you encounter within the game would’ve been shared with young children in real life - this game is definitely not for the same audience.
It's a wonderfully gory game and leans heavily into the horror side of its narrative rather than exclusively the enchanting Nordic folklore side. Although there are elements of whimsy dotted throughout the adventure, such as perching on the back of a hedgehog mount to cross a river or finding a family of gnomes to reunite within their sweet little village, you also witness the death of many, and developer Dimfrost Studio isn’t shy with the bloodshed.
With folk horror, you don’t want the truth behind the tales to be sugarcoated with unnecessary enchantment and the source material is what will hone in on the scary side of things, and that’s something that Bramble: The Mountain King encapsulates perfectly. You may go into it with the impression that it’ll be a rather charming, bewitching tale that walks you through some of Nordic folklore’s central characters such as Näcken, Skogsrået, and Pesta, but you’ll come out of it feeling like these characters are bound to crop up in your nightmares soon after.
The book was better
The main thing that I find absolutely fantastic about Bramble: The Mountain King is its willingness to help you learn the folklore that surrounds each monster and creature you encounter. Of course, a lot of these encounters will lead to some frantic googling in order to learn more about the myths behind them, but more often than not they will be entirely accurate in and of themselves.
For every boss in the game- a towering, grotesque enemy that will lurk in each new environment you explore - a small storybook can be found in another area that explains their backstory and encourages you to learn slightly more about them. Sometimes you’ll find these books prior to exploring a certain area which helps you prepare for the next battle, whereas sometimes they come after the fight and you learn why the boss became so aggressive. Subtle nods like this toward the original or ‘accurate’ side of folklore help make Bramble: The Mountain King such a gripping experience.
Although a lot of folk horror games use genuine folklore as a basis to build upon, I find it rare that accurate references and stories are shared to coincide with the content of the game. Usually, the real-life counterpart is simply used as a guideline for the stuff in the game, giving developers artistic license, freedom, and opportunity to create their own interpretations of these characters, stories, or places, be it through design or lore.
A perfect example of this would be The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, a folk horror set in rural England that contains a variety of real English folklore and stories curated by the developers. Although it feels compelling during its point-and-click content, there’s something about spotlighting the truth behind the game’s inspirations that helps to put it above the rest. You feel genuinely scared of the stories it rattles off because you know that they were passed down from generation to generation, whereas the faux tales created specifically for a game don’t have that same, compelling feeling.
Even though Bramble: The Mountain King is not a particularly long game, with the story taking you about 8 hours to complete, it still offers the opportunity to explore a world you might not otherwise. It brings Nordic folklore to life in an enchanting way that will stick with you and drive you to go back in after you feel like you’ve found all its secrets - just in case something has been missed, and it’ll have you searching for more information on its characters to develop a deeper understanding, which is exactly what you want from a folk horror game.
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Kara is an Evergreen writer at TechRadar Gaming. With a degree in Journalism and a passion for the weird and wonderful, she's spent the last few years as a freelance video game journalist, with bylines at NintendoLife, Attack of the Fanboy, Prima Games, and sister publication, GamesRadar+. Outside of gaming, you'll find her re-watching Gilmore Girls or trying to cram yet another collectible onto a shelf that desperately needs some organizing.