If ever there is an encyclopedia entry for “Fun Little Game” then a picture of Wayward Manor should be displayed right beside it. It will only take you 3-4 hours to complete, it is filled with endearing little graphical and auditory flourishes, the plot bubbles along nicely but without getting in the way, and one can come away feeling as though they have had an amusing – if short – experience.
And that’s all good. The game is pretty good. But the more I played of Wayward Manor, and tried to understand the creator’s original intent, the more I felt that it could be much better. One difficulty of writing any video game review is maintaining the proper respect for the vastly different levels of funding games receive and recognizing their limitations. But it’s too easy to allow this to devolve into making excuses, and so instead of merely excusing Wayward Manor‘s faults (and unclaimed possibilities), I will examine them with the admission that it is, all things considered, a “fun little game.”
In Wayward Manor you play as the ghost of a house trying to rid itself of some bumbling, Victorian inhabitants. Each has a distinct personality- the snotty twins, the vain mother, the buttoned-up father, the adventurous old Major, etc- and as the “ghost” the player must exploit their personalities by “haunting” objects in the room to cause them distress. By spilling a vile fluid on dresses the mother is wearing she can be scared, by causing rats and tentacles to pop out of the walls the maid can be terrified, and so on. The puzzles are physics-based but play on the psychology of the family, and more complicated scares (especially scaring two inhabitants at once) are encouraged. Six scares advances one to the next stage, and each scare is accompanied by a sort of “gothic doo-wop” sound cue that remains satisfying the whole way through.
I’ll give developer The Odd Gentlemen credit for an interesting idea, but even though the process is amusing it also feels under-developed. I found myself wanting to find out a bit more about the characters through my actions rather than through tooltips, and that many (arguably the majority) of the scares come from simple collisions rather than the more interesting psychological interactions also struck me as tiresome. I felt as though the point of the game, the real reward that made sense, was more knowledge about the characters themselves, which would have served to deepen the gameplay. Instead, one is given nearly all of the information at face, and it never feels as deep or complex as the fundamentals of the system suggest.
Mostly this is disappointing because the game’s story is written by Neil Gaiman (who some of you may know as “Neil F****** Gaiman!”), and so expectations are high. High not only because of the man himself, but because this is a game which lends itself to well thought-out characters, and it’s hard not to notice that the developers are constantly shying away from the fact. I would love to replay this game with a deeper knowledge of my victim’s minds, and consequently execute more complicated, elegant scares, but the point feels moot. Sure there are some achievement-style “secret scares,” but they’re pretty blaise and often miss the point, frankly.
If I know that the maid is a vegetarian and the Major is a hunter, would it not be perfect to have a stuffed bear lurch at the old man, resulting in his blowing its head off, resulting in the maid fainting with horror? And if the Major is in love with the maid, shouldn’t that make it all the more interesting? The theory that such interactions are possible bubbles under the surface here, but is never properly explored.
And so I return to the issue of production value, because its difficult to tell whether this is a case of can’t or won’t. I would like to think that with a couple more million at their disposal the developers could have qualitatively upgraded this system, could have exhibited more subtlety and imagination, and that the re-use of doodads and scares was earnest corner-cutting to provide the best possible experience. So I give this “fun little game” the benefit of the doubt. But I can’t but feel as though its the demo for a bigger, better, experience.
- Fun soundtrack
- Interesting vision
- Promising mechanics
- Underdeveloped mechanics
- Clear objective limitations
- Sparse characters