As a young high school proto-hipster, I spent an awful lot of time with my nose in the mysterious dreamscapes of Neil Gaiman. If you had told me then that my favourite author would eventually turn his pen to videogames – my other favourite thing, incredibly cool and popular child that I was – I probably would have exploded from sheer excitement. Now we have just that: Wayward Manor, an adventure-puzzler from The Odd Gentlemen, boasting both Gaiman’s writing and voice as the manor itself.
As we start our tale, things aren’t going well for the Wayward Manor. The boorish Budd family have taken up residence inside and made themselves comfortable – far more comfortable than the manor would like. Without hands, though, nothing can be done about it: that is, until the orphan in their employ opens a chest, releasing a long-sleeping ghost who is promptly tasked by the Manor to poltergeist the Budds right out of there. Here is where the Gaiman charm comes to the fore: environments are suitably spooky and the Budds themselves are broad, horrid caricatures, the whole thing keeping an air of slapstick silliness even in its darkest moments.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the gameplay itself is incredibly shallow. Each set of levels focuses on one Budd and exploiting their particular fear. Manipulating the environment successfully – rattling plates, flinging bottles, opening windows – will all earn you scares. Make a successful scare or two and more options open in the room, your power bolstered by their fear; make six scares and the ghost can whirl the furniture around in a frenzy, sending them screaming into the night. Three ‘secret scares’ on each level offer an extra level of challenge, requiring precise planning and careful timing.
If there were more variety on display here, perhaps Wayward Manor would become a more interesting, replayable experience. As it is, assets quickly become recycled and stages take on a very samey nature. Lateral thinking is replaced with irritating levels of trial and error: fling a bottle across the room a moment too early, for example, and you may have to reset the whole level. There are no bosses, no real punishment for mistakes, no points to compete with others against Angry Birds-style. Though a few nifty twists on the formula do come, they arrive far too late and aren’t nearly enough to spice up a very bland formula.
What’s most damning of all is the length. Though the story is just the right length and the Manor’s disdain for the Budds pitch-perfect, the whole experience will be done with in barely three hours. Where games with bite-size levels usually make up for samey gameplay with a massive quantity of levels and a gradually increasing difficulty curve, Wayward Manor has a mere 27 levels. As for the difficulty, one thing speaks volumes: I beat the final level by mistake and I’m still not sure what it is I did while clicking around wildly. Though the spooky skeleton beneath is sound, there really needs to be a lot more meat on its bones for this game to appeal.
Ultimately, Wayward Manor is an exercise in disappointment. All the individual pieces of the puzzle are good and Gaiman’s writing flows as beautifully as ever, but the whole doesn’t nearly live up to the sum of its parts. Even at a $10 price point, such a short, unsatisfying product is hard to recommend. So if you do visit the Manor, maybe have a motel room ready to go once you finish your stay.
- Neil Gaiman writing
- Charming, cartoony art and characters
- Repetitive formula quickly grows dull
- Extremely short