Welcome House is one of those games I have spent literal decades trying to find. Like any obscure Japan-only Playstation game, I first heard of it in a glowingly written spread in an issue of GameFan magazine, and I was convinced that I needed to some day play this game. The problem is that it wasn’t sold in any import dealers, and even if it had been, there was no way I would have been able to afford the ridiculous prices imports were being charged for (would you like to spend over a hundred bucks on Dragon Ball GT for the Playstation, you fucking idiot?). Another problem is that, due to Welcome House being an extremely obscure game, the ROM for it would not appear until maybe half a decade ago. Even then, when Welcome House 1 got dumped, it was only the compromised Saturn port that was extremely buggy due to Saturn emulation being absolutely terrible back then. I did eventually find the original PSX version years back, and a couple weeks ago, I finally finished it!
What is Welcome House? Well, Welcome House is a game where you explore a mansion, solving basic puzzles and discovering the secrets within it. That sounds very much like Resident Evil, but it is actually more in line with a 3DO game that was pretty unknown until recently called Dr Hauzer, mostly due to the lack of combat and the backgrounds being rendered in real-time rather than prerendered. But Welcome House separates itself from those two games by using themes of slapstick comedy, rather than horror. Keaton Paxman, the protagonist, can charitably be described as a complete fucking dope. If you have him investigate an open window, the window will slam shut on his fingers. He’ll slip in oil spills every single time walks past them. He’ll get so spooked by a dog that he walks into a rake. He’ll fall from tall heights like Wile E Coyote. Keaton will literally be flattened into a paper-thin form of himself on multiple occasions. Welcome House does not take itself seriously in the least; the sequel would even add a laugh track to Keaton’s suffering.
In a purely mechanical sense, you could easily describe Welcome House as being no different than say, a point and click adventure, or even a short text adventure. Keaton is trapped in a mansion full of comedy traps while visiting his uncle (full name Uncle Parkinson), because it’s April Fools and Keaton’s Uncle felt like fucking with him. That’s the story: you are trapped in a mansion, and the goal is to leave. Simply explore and solve basic puzzles, like putting a key into a door, or putting an object into another object. There’s a distinct lack of plot; no cutscenes aside from the intro and ending, and NPC’s don’t even show up until the very end of the game. Just Keaton walking around what is honestly a pretty nice house; aside from a couple of rooms, this home wouldn’t be all too different from a regular mansion. While there is the moving platform room, and the room with moving walls that will crush you, everything else is so normal: bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, then the most opulent things you’ll see are an outdoor swimming pool, a bar, and a room with a large fish tank and a regular sized TV.
A moment that sticks out to me is finding three vinyl records. These serve no purpose when it comes to game progression. There are no puzzles to be solved with them. What you can do with them is play them on the jukebox in the bar. Two of these songs are classical arrangements, and the third one is Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera” in its entirety. It’s like the game is giving you a break from all the puzzles and navigation, letting you chill out in a relaxing space while listening to music. It’s cool that there’s a room that’s essentially only there for you to hang out in (also searching behind the bar gets you a key).
Yeah, this a game with a defined goal and obstacles to overcome to get there, but playing this game felt like I was just a dude walking around a big house. It’s probably because there are no stakes: no enemies, no time limit, no game over state. Reading about Welcome House as a kid tripped something in my brain, and playing it many years later tripped it again. I spent a lot of time as a kid in big empty homes, due to my parents’ jobs, and they would drag me along sometimes. Being the only kid in a large building for hours at a time while your parents built or cleaned up parts of it would get really boring really quick. So I would wander around using my imagination, pretending that I was finding secrets and solving a mystery. Of course, there was little to no furniture, as nobody actually lived in these homes yet, so my imagination would have to work some overtime, but that was how I passed the time. Welcome House reminds me a lot of that time, except that the mansion in this game is this lived in, cozy space to walk around in.
Mechanically speaking, Welcome House isn’t all that different from other “search the mansion” games of the era, aside from using goofy comedy instead of manmade horrors beyond your comprehension. It’s a small adventure game that ends before it wears out its welcome. But the cartoon aesthetic and the almost realistic mansion makes it unique. Definitely worth the decades-long wait to finally play it.