REVIEW: Take the writing of Neil Gaiman, the game design expertise The Odd Gentlemen, the studio behind the beloved The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom, and a cartoony gothic aesthetic reminiscent of Coraline or an animated Tim Burton film, and what do you get?
If you said “a comic horror masterpiece,” you’d sadly be wrong. Wayward Manor has all the necessary ingredients to earn that label, but somewhere in the baking process something went wrong.
The end result is a game that, though it shows potential, ultimately fails to deliver on its promises.
In Wayward Manor, you’re a nameless, formless ghost, the former inhabitant of a manor that’s been infested with the annoying Budd family.
At the behest of the manor itself, who doubles as the game’s narrator (voice acted expertly by Gaiman himself), you set about trying to scare this family out of your home. Have you seen Beetlejuice? Wayward Manor is eerily similar to that.
In order to get rid of the Budds, you have to scare them by solving puzzles that involve clicking on various objects to activate certain effects.
A bottle sitting aimlessly on the rafters can fall and (hopefully) hit a Budd on the head, for example, while opening a window lets a breeze in that can move objects around - ideally, to a more useful location.
Each Budd has their own quirks and fears. Nothing upsets the hopelessly vain Mildred Budd more than getting her clothes messy, so finding things to spill on her is a surefire way to push her buttons, while Theophilus Budd is a trigger-happy hunter who can easily be tricked into shooting things he shouldn’t (including himself!)
There are eight characters in all (well, nine, but two of them are twins who function as one as far as gameplay is concerned), with different levels involving different configurations of them.
With a setup like that, there’s potential for a wildly fun game, but in practice, Wayward Manor is anything but.
The puzzles are poorly designed, typically relying more on trial and error than on any sort of problem solving, and despite the variety offered by the range of characters (or targets, if you prefer), it all gets very repetitive, very quickly.
Making matters worse, the controls are clunky, despite being quite literally a one-button game. The left mouse button is all you’ll use, and yet, objects often have to be clicked numerous times to get them to activate.
Presentation is left wanting as well.
The cartoony aesthetic is nice, but it doesn’t make up for poorly modelled and animated characters that look like something out of the PlayStation era. Sound effects seem creative and nifty at first, but are severely overused to the point that I played much of the game on mute.
Each particular object has its own sound that plays every time you click on it, and a lot of these objects you’ll be using frequently, back to back, from level to level.
The one exception to this is the narration. I’ve never known Neil Gaiman to be a voice actor, but he’s a perfect fit for the house, bringing it to life in a way that the rest of the game just can’t live up to.
At roughly two hours long, Wayward Manor achieves that strange position of being simultaneously too long and too short.
The Budds seem like an interesting bunch, but there is so little time for plot development that none of them really get fleshed out.
And as for story developments, they are quite literally reduced to “then this happened” moments due to the short running time.
However, the tedious gameplay meant that even at two hours, it was a slog that had me frequently checking the level select screen to see how much longer I had to play for to get to the end.
Neil Gaiman and The Odd Gentlemen both have great records behind them, so their union should have been the making of a masterpiece. Instead, they delivered a game that doesn’t come close to living up to that promise.
The only thing being scared away by the Wayward Manor’s ghost is this reviewer’s patience.
From: The Odd Gentlemen
Platforms: PC, iOS