The puzzle game genre is one that has been seeing quite a bit of innovation lately, especially with the number of titles that are being released in recent years. They feature different mechanics and ways to play, and a lot of them have turned out to be fun distractions. The rest that don’t exactly fit that description though are still pretty interesting, but they don’t seem to be hitting the same chords as some of their counterparts. Such is the case with this game, which is novel in concept, but does fall a bit short.
Developed by The Odd Gentlemen and published by Moonshark, Wayward Manor is a puzzle game that puts the ghastly and haunting into the players’ hands. The game is set in a 1920′s Victorian Gothic pastoral estate, one that haunted house stories are usually made of. You play as a ghost recently freed from a chest in the attic that served as your prison. To make the most of its newfound freedom, the ghost decides to scare up the denizens of the house by moving things around, as ghosts usually do to make their presence felt.
As the ghost, you are able to make some objects in the level move in order to draw the attention of whoever you’re trying to scare. When you get to hit them with something, you earn a skull that levels up your ghostly powers and lets you move more objects. You then scare the subjects some more until you earn all of the skulls needed and gain full power, upon which you get the big skull to appear at the center of the screen. Upon clicking it, you make everything in the room stir and swirl, scaring the wits out of whoever is in the room. There are also three achievements that you can go after in each level, so you can replay and try to get them, ranging from breaking certain objects and doing things in sequence.
The concept does look good on paper and should work well enough. However, there’s no other way of putting this, but the puzzle work here is clunky. Perhaps it can be said that there is a good bit of trial and error, which is apropos for puzzle games anyway. However, one of the key points in puzzle games is that you can look at a puzzle carefully for some time and somehow get an idea on how to solve it. That’s not really the case here as you still need to know how something moves and where it goes.
It can be argued that it gives the game a sense of discovery with every puzzle, but it’s also a cheap way for players to repeat puzzles. But then again, when you do something like break a glass bottle, why would it ever regenerate? It can be said that the challenge is in finding out the certain sequence that works best in each level and being able to time each action properly, but it can be solved just as easily with random clicking anyway. The concept may be novel, but the execution is rather ham-fisted.
There could have been a lot of promise in this game, especially with the person doing the narration. But then again, it’s not really as good as expected for something associated with Neil Gaiman. It is said that the story is written by him and draws inspiration for Coraline, but it looks more like a half-hour blurb written on the side during a coffee break. Also, while his voice acting does well in setting the atmosphere, the repetitive sound effects can slowly take you out of it.
It doesn’t even look that good. The lighting and particle effects aren’t that bad and the environmental design is serviceable, but the character models are far from charming. This game pales in comparison to other games with ghostly themes. There’s Murdered: Soul Suspect, which was not bad for what it does and has good production value. There’s also The Novelist, wherein you played a ghost eavesdropping on a small family in their household.
It’s not absolutely terrible, but it’s not the best puzzle game out there, or the best ghost-themed game for that matter. It could use a release on mobile platforms, in which it could perform better due to its format and style. Wayward Manor is just what it says on the title — quite wayward.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 4/10