As much as I fear death, if being a ghost is anything like the experience of playing one in Wayward Manor, bring on sweet, sweet oblivion instead. Even Neil Gaiman, who penned this cutesy yet underdeveloped spectral tale, sounds trapped as he takes on the role of the titular house and narrates his own weary words between levels, begging you to help him evict the tenants from his property. The caper is charming and comically creepy at first, as you attempt to startle a burglar named Benny, learning to drop bottles onto the ground in order to make him investigate, and then provocatively possessing nearby statues so that he might, in a rage, charge headfirst at them. But though you’ll later have to prey on the maid’s quivering around rodents, the mother’s fear of grime, and the grandfather’s terror of the dark, the novelty is done in by the repetition. Simply put, ghosts have no real freedom, and while the game pretends to offer you a variety of ways to get the perquisite number of scares in each level, all of your haunts are variations on the same theme.
There’s only so many ways to terrify a cat, so to speak, and Wayward Manor is too limited to foster real creativity. At best, the optional “secret scare” goals force players to set up rudimentary combinations of Rube Goldberg devices to eke out the eeks, but the often unresponsive controls and awkward animations discourage any real experimentation. Ultimately, the game feels like a dodgy and disappointing cross between the gloomy antics of The Cave and the Zen-like monotony of Little Inferno.
Worse, the fundamental puzzles are a sheer disappointment, especially given the involvement of the Odd Gentlemen, whose recursive The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom was a twisty treat. The gameplay is little more than that of a glorified pop-up book, in which you click ectoplasmic objects and see what happens to the hapless residents. Even when provided with the late-game ability to cheer up certain guests as opposed to scaring them, you’re still only clicking objects to do so. (And that’s assuming the game-breaking glitches don’t interfere with this: While running the game, certain glowing objects refused to respond, forcing a restart.)
In all honesty, I still have no idea how I beat the final level, as I just clicked the screen until something worked. That speaks to something far worse than simply “wayward” level design: It practically expresses contempt toward the audience. Couple that with low-resolution graphics that look at least a decade old, a disengaging and slight musical score, and the brief two-hour campaign and it’s clear that the production values are closer to those of a hovel than a manor.
Wayward Manor is now available from Moonshark. To purchase it, click here.