Why aren't you any fun, Wayward Manor? You're the result of a collaboration between a successful indie studio in The Odd Gentlemen -- responsible for the really rather good The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom -- and one of my favourite authors: Neil Gaiman; you have a promising set up that sees players taking on the role of a ghost and attempting to frighten an unwanted family out of the eponymous house; you look like a mix of the works of Tim Burton and Henry Selick...
So where did it all go wrong?
Let's break it down. Wayward Manor is a point and click puzzler set across twenty-five stages, each of which see you peering down into various rooms of the grumpy manor, itself rather wonderfully voiced by Gaiman himself, and manipulating various items and fixtures and fittings in each of these rooms to scare the unwanted family member currently inside. Six scares are required before you can summon the ghoulish energy to unleash a torrent of spectral energy that'll send the whole chamber rattling, and force your victim to flee in terror.
The manner by which you go about amassing those six scares differs in form, but not in function. The game basically revolves around you clicking the left-mouse button for everything, but timing and angles are key. Sending a mouse scurrying in front of your unsuspecting mark at just the right time involves precise deployment, as does dropping a bottle from the rafters as your target passes by. It's simple stuff, but the game restricts your abilities slightly. In each room, there are three tiers of interactive opportunities, expanding as you build up the scare count and amass more power. In the first level, you can only throw bottles around, then your influence spreads to the window shutters, and after that all bets are off.
That all sounds relatively straightforward, right? Indeed, it is, presenting a quirky puzzler that would seem ripe for pick-up-and-play fun, its gameplay extended by virtue of challenges that dare you to complete levels in a certain fashion, what with there being more than six ways of scaring your subjects in each room.
Unfortunately, Wayward Manor fails on a number of counts.
The first would seem to be the most simple: clicking. For a game that revolves around using one button, Wayward Manor does a good job of making interacting with objects an utter nightmare. The click detection is not the most responsive in this game, and the click boxes around would-be interactive objects are inconsistent to say the least. Some are delightfully generous in their spacing, others are all-too finicky. It's annoying because the puzzles themselves are really rather easy, and although you can stick around for the challenges, referred to here as "Secret Scares", the chances are you'll pick up a whole bunch of them accidentally anyway.
Which leads me to ask who this game is for. The presentation and the puzzle difficulty point towards a younger audience, but the mechanisms simply don't work smoothly enough for that to be viable. As it is, I found myself asking whether or not I was doing something wrong or if it was the game's fault. Most of the time, it was the clunkiness of everything thoroughly ruining any sort of flow. And then there's the repetition. Bereft of anything approaching a cerebral challenge, it quickly becomes something of a slog. There's nothing to be ahd for your troubles going back and unlocking the Secret Scares, either, so if you weren't having fun the first time around, I wouldn't expect it to get any better the second.
It's a real shame because the creepy cartoony style of it all fits with Gaiman's writing and his slightly cheeky, knowing tone. It's deliciously macabre, with the characters all sort of looking like warped variations of Mr Potato Head, and that sot of makes the whole package even more disappointing because the potential here is clear as day. The atmosphere created by Gaiman's turns of phrase, the fitting sound work that seems as if it's been plucked straight out of a homage to The Nightmare Before Christmas, the idiosyncratic animations and appearances of the Budd family themselves -- aesthetically, Wayward Manor comes so close (the fidelity and detail notwithstanding) but mechanically it's a mess in execution.
Sadly, even the story can't save it, and though there are snippets of brilliance in there from Gaiman, this is surely one of his weakest works.
- Some great voice acting, sound work, and art
- A good premise...
- ...Poorly executed
- Too repetitive
- Too easy
- Too mechanically borked
The Short Version: For a game that bears the name of a remarkable writer, Wayward Manor ultimately proves rather unremarkable thanks to clunky mechanics, repetitive puzzles, and a story that seems a little too thin.
Developers: The Odd Gentlemen