Flick-screen and generally, if one was to be realistic, pretty boring and awful, Waxworks still occupies a festering hole in this writer's heart. Released in the early 1990s to a muted response, it's amazing that it's still available today on Good Old Games, a repository for generally excellent, well-loved and popular games. So why are they selling a grid-based horror title that's incredibly difficult and equal parts tedium and terror?
There's something compelling about it, even if a lot of your time will be spent perplexed and/or dead. The premise is you're trapped in your dead uncle's waxwork museum, which is being possessed by an evil force. A witch, or something. You have to enter the four major exhibits, completing the tasks therein and then deal with the final trial.
You do this via a flick-screen, grid-based interface that can be perfectly mapped on graph paper. If you're planning on playing without the assistance of walkthroughs, it's essential that you have a pen and said paper next to you in order to stop yourself becoming horribly confused and lost, especially on the Egyptian level.
The four exhibits are themed, the first and most boring being the Egyptian one. It's a case of bland sandstone walls repeating constantly, interspersed with the very occasional puzzle room or deadly spike or snake trap. Next up is a zombie-filled graveyard, which again needs a good mapping on the graph paper. There are more than just zombies to avoid though, with vampires and other ghoulish creatures waiting to snuff the life out of you.
Third is the poison gas-filled mine, filled with mutated miners and strange plant creatures, and lastly is the most interesting level, Jack the Ripper's London. Probably the toughest of all four exhibits, you've been mistaken for the infamous killer and it's a constant race against the pursuing mob in order to prove your innocence.
The obvious thing that makes Waxworks compelling is that it's really gory. There are loads of ways in which our hero can meet his grisly demise. Infected by spores, impaled on spikes, having his neck slit open by the Ripper and so on. It also rewards exploration with some nice locations to investigate, with a very tough level of challenge to keep you going.
There's definitely something there that makes it worthwhile even now, so many years on. It's tough to the extreme, but there's a lot of stuff to discover, interesting locations to find and because you die constantly, any progress is met with relief and a desire to keep pushing on.
It's archaic and stupidly tough, but it's also cheap and there's genuine tension when you're trying to avoid the mob in London or navigating the bone-chilling graveyard. 5 dollars on GOG.com, it's worth your while to check it out. If you do enjoy it, you should also have a look at Horrorsoft/Adventuresoft's previous title, Elvira 2, which has a similar feel to it. It's not as good, but it does have huge pixellated breasts in it, so if that's your thing, get downloading it.