by Jonathan Fortin
reviewed on PC
Haunting the Living for Fun and Profit
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Wayward Manor is the fact that it was actually released.
The game was penned by Neil Gaiman, who previously wrote the masterpiece comic series The Sandman, as well as such novels as American Gods, Coraline, Neverwhere, and Stardust. I feel obligated to mention that I adore Gaiman's work, and many of his books are personal favorites of mine.
The games industry is not always kind to authors. Snow Crash author Neal Stephenson tried and failed to get funding for a swordfighting game called CLANG. Jhonen Vasquez, creator of Invader Zim and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, once wrote a long blog post about how each time he tried to make a video game, it was canceled, causing him to suspect that the universe just didn't want him to make one. When Wayward Manor was announced, I half-expected it to be cancelled as well. I was quite pleased when I learned that the game would indeed be coming out.
Wayward Manor casts you as a ghost who is attempting to scare a family out of a dark and apparently sentient manor. The manor, which narrates the story and is voiced by Gaiman, does not like the family that inhabits it, and its sardonic comments about your victims earn quite a few chuckles. You'll genuinely want to help the manor get nice and empty, freeing it from the eccentric characters within.
A Fistful of Quirks
Some of the manor's primary intruders include Herkimer, father of the Budd family; Mildred, the mother; Patience and Fortitude, the twins; Theophilus, the grandfather; and Toombs, the butler. The Budds all have their own amusing quirks that you can exploit. For example, the twins love candy, and Theophilus walks around with a bow, shooting arrows at anything that makes a loud noise.
However, the way that the characters interact with the world - and with you, by extension - tends to be rather one-note. You attract the attention of Mildred by clicking on dresses, and scare her by ruining them; you attract the attention of the children by clicking on candy boxes, and scare them by splitting them apart; you make Theophilus shoot arrows by clicking on mounted lion heads to make them roar; and so on.
While the developers try to use the characters' unique quirks to create a sense of variety, your tools of fear are almost always the same. In virtually every stage you'll be dropping bottles onto people's heads, or opening windows so that the wind pushes objects. Since you're manipulating the same objects (and frequently in the same ways) over and over again, the puzzles quickly become repetitive. Ultimately, you're stuck in one room at a time, knocking down the same items, scaring the same characters in the same ways...over and over again.
Each stage offers “special scares” which are challenging to figure out, but even some of these are repetitive, such as “Make Mildred messy 4 times.” Others are extremely obscure. Virtually any “special scare” can only be performed in a single fashion, and it may not be remotely what you'd think. It's a smaller symptom of the larger problem at hand: the game doesn't offer you the freedom to scare the Budds your own way, and instead wants you to do things in a very specific fashion. However, it does not always communicate what or why or how. Because of this, the difficulty veers wildly. Several stages in a row will be a complete cakewalk, but then you'll abruptly come upon one that will seem impossible to solve, because it isn't clear what the game wants you to do. The scares either feel so easy that they're not remotely satisfying, or so obtuse that you wonder what the developers were thinking. Rather than logically figuring out what you must do, you end up resorting to trial and error, clicking randomly until you do whatever arbitrary thing the game expects from you.
In addition, the characters behave inconsistently. In one stage, Herkimer is embarrassed to be seen dancing by the maid, allowing you to rank up scares by having her see him dancing over and over. In another, he seems to have no problem with letting anyone see him dance. Sometimes you need a character to simply turn around, but she won't no matter how much noise you make behind her, even though the slightest noise would alert her in the past. These inconsistencies feel like arbitrary attempts at creating a challenge, but it just winds up being frustrating.
Games like this work best when they allow players to craft their own solutions. They don't present linear mazes of awkward puzzle-solving, but rather sandboxes, offering the player the chance to be creative. Unfortunately, Wayward Manor wants you to do things - its - way, no matter how illogical, obscure, or repetitive that way might be. There are multiple ways to go through each stage, but they often feel like branched linear paths, not true freedom.
Funny, enjoyable story
Unpolished, repetitive, and unresponsive, with awkward musical transitions