The 3 best and 3 worst Slender Man games

Beware the Slender Man. No, seriously: watch out for that guy, or you've got to start the whole level over.

Since his creation on the Something Awful Forums in 2009, the spooky specter known as Slender Man has taken a weird and rambling route through the back alleys of pop culture, being a party to works of art, scary stories, a feature film, and even a real-life attempted murder. It's no surprise that the creepypasta character has made many appearances in horror-themed video games — most of them short and free, designed simply to scare the life out of you in dark, sometimes poorly-rendered woods.

After the release of Parsec Productions' Slender: The Eight Pages in 2012, copycats created a whole cottage industry out of mimicking that game's formula, thereby establishing what a "Slender Man game" is expected to be. The games generally place players in a dark locale on the hunt for a number of items, armed with only a flashlight and a limited ability to run. All the while, they must evade the roaming Slender Man, an encounter with whom they'll certainly not survive.

Like all genres — and, in this case, exceedingly specific subgenres — there's games in the Slender Man mythos that are must-plays, and some that are so bad they have to be seen to be believed. We've got the best examples of both. Grab your flashlight — it's time for a walk in the woods.

WORST: Night Shadows

All Slender Man games are somewhat surreal experiences. After all, they do tend to plant you in an isolated location with an impossibly stretchy entity that can teleport at will and wants to basically eat you. For a baseline gameplay experience, that's strange and a little alienating, which makes it all the more impressive how outright weird Night Shadows turned out to be even by this subgenre's standards. 

Developed and published by Basilic Apps, Night Shadows takes almost every move it makes from the playbook Slender: The Eight Pages established: get in the woods, use your flashlight, grab some shiny things, run for your life. It's functionally a copy of what came before, so how could it turn out to be so inferior? The devil is in the details, and the details here are all strange

Buggy and lacking polish, Night Shadows is full of so many little wonky graphical and gameplay aspects — from cascading autumn leaves that fall impossibly from the sky, physical objects you can walk right through, and an odd green wavy effect alerting you to Slender Man's presence instead of the typical static buzz — that the game actually loops back around to being bizarrely entertaining, precisely because of its unpredictable design. Is it worth playing? Maybe eventually, just to see a buggy variant on the classic Slender gameplay. But for your first one-on-one game of high-stakes tag with the Slender Man? No, absolutely not.

BEST: Slender Man's Shadow

Why does Slender Man work so well as a video game villain? Stripped away from all the lore and details, he's basically a boogeyman with a relatively slick sense of style. Like many lurking monsters, he plays on primal fears of what might happen at those times when you're alone and feel a creepy presence. What if you turn around, and someone's there? Maybe better not to look … or is it?

Slender Man's Shadow gets to the very heart of what makes this particular monster so effective — as a gameplay experience, it's no frills, all thrills, baby. Among the first generation of Slender copycats, Shadow excels by paying close attention to everything the game that inspired it did right, with tighter controls helping to make the experience more rewarding. It's the rare copy that exceeds the original — a rarity in any case.

Developed by Dark Pathogen Studios, the game also provides a crucial amount of variety with its wide-ranging level selection, which call to mind classic arena-style first person shooters — except all you have on these battlefields is your wits, and your enemy is stronger than you in every way. 

A commercial game that's totally worth the $4.99 price tag, Slender Man's Shadow is one of the purest distillations of a Slender Man gaming experience that you could ever ask for. First rolled out in 2012, the game remains fun to this day, and probably will even if the Slender Man meme eventually dies. 

WORST: Five Nights at Slenderman

What happens when you combine a meme with a meme — does the collision create dreadful anti-meme, or a potent tonic of rare super-meme? This will be a test question, somewhere, eventually.

A classic example of two great tastes that taste sad together, Five Nights at Slenderman is exactly what you'd think it is: a mash-up of Five Nights at Freddy's-style gameplay with Slender Man-esque spooky tropes. As far as its inspirations are concerned, it does a disservice to both. While this concept could theoretically work as, essentially, an FNAF fan game, the game is instead sunk by its really rather rough design. 

It's no secret that the games in the FNAF franchise are essentially dressed-up versions of a Red Light/Green Light children's game. What makes them work so well despite this is the profound sense of atmosphere they possess, with the characters and places of the FNAF games drawing you in and then freaking you out. When you take that careful kind of design ethos out of the equation, and replace the freaky original characters and environments of FNAF with what is essentially a scratchy visual filter and some clip art, all you're left with is an unvarnished jump scare engine that loses the unique aspects of both the FNAF franchise and Slender Man games. There's a decent idea at the heart of this one, maybe — but game-breakingly bad execution.

BEST: Slender: The Nine Pages

After a few years of Slender copies duplicating themselves by the dozen, the verdict is in: you can't really do a whole lot with a Slender Man game. Static when he sees you? Got it. Look away to get away? Guess it makes sense. Innovations come along every once in awhile, to varying but rarely great effect. Want to take Slender Man to outer space, making for an experience that's like Marble Hornets meets Jason X? That's fine, but it doesn't quite work. Okay, how about we add a gun, then? Ah, turns out it loses something. 

The lesson is that sometimes the best idea is just a great execution of a classic formula, and Slender: The Nine Pages is a perfect example of that principle in action.

Despite the almost deceptively suggestive title, this game is not in any way related to Parsec Productions' formative Slender: The Eight Pages, but it does improve on that game's design in many ways. As with the lousier game Night Shadows, the devil is in the details here. Unlike that game, however, The Nine Pages does everything right, adding little touches like more interactive environments to provide just that little extra bit of verisimilitude. The music is eerie, the visuals sharp, and the sense of horror palpable. By getting the small things right, The Nine Pages makes for an atmospheric and involving experience that's among the best (and scariest) executions of the Slender Man game formula that we've seen yet.

WORST: Slenderman The Demented Demon

The result of a tri-yearly game jam called Ludum Dare, in which developers put together a full game over a weekend with the help of their wit, tyranny of will, and dirt-low standards, Slenderman The Demented Demon is basic beyond belief. We'll say this, though: unlike the other Slender Man games that all more or less follow the same template, Slenderman The Demented Demon is a radically unique and different experience. But good lord, at what cost?

The arcade-style gameplay of The Demented Demon is as intuitive as can be, following you in the role of Slender Man as you stalk the woods like Jason Voorhees, slaying as many multi-colored variations of a single brown-haired victim as you can over the course of about 75 seconds. Moving about the woods in your suit and tie, you collide with as many fleeing victims as possible, instantaneously reducing them to a bright blood spot, no further input required. The best, and maybe only good thing you can say about the game is probably that its controls are pretty responsive — and that it's also just kind of funny to look at.

Made by a developer named Divitos, Slenderman The Demented Demon has no illusions about its quality, with the dev notes calling it "a living fossil." In the words of the developer, "It's probably best if you don't play it."

BEST: Slender: The Arrival

Finally, the fully-realized version of the game that started it all. A follow-up to and pseudo-remake of the influential Slender, this full-fledged commercial horror game from Blue Isle Studios is the biggest production that the Slendy character has been involved with this side of the Sony Pictures movie

As might be expected, Slender: The Arrival is just about the most polished game in the entire digital Slender Man oeuvre, sporting a lot more gameplay variety than its fan-made freeware contemporaries. While the atmosphere and vibe remains the same — you're all alone with a flashlight, and boy are you in trouble if the Slender Man catches you — the player's goals and the enemy's behavior are frequently changing depending on what level of the game you're on, keeping things tense throughout the playthrough.

While many of the other Slender Man games essentially amount to one-note, adrenaline-spiking experiences best played with a roomful of friends passing the controller around, Slender: The Arrival actually tries to draw you in to an affecting story, adding personal stakes and specificity to what can often feel like a boilerplate experience. While it's far from the best general horror game ever made, it's a must-play for fans of the Slender Man subgenre, and the most ambitious take on the new urban legend that we've seen in gaming yet.