Wayward Manor, author Neil Gaiman’s first foray into gaming, is a game to unite a family with varied gaming skills. An indie, point-and-click puzzle and adventure game for PC, Wayward Manor places you in the role of a ghost trying to reclaim his New England mansion from a peculiar family by discovering their fears and scaring them away. Each charming level is gratifying for even hesitant gamers, with extra, challenging achievements to keep the more avid gamers of the family entertained.
Expectations and Imperfections
As a Neil Gaiman fan, I hoped for a deeper, more engaging storyline. The game lacks sophistication in graphics and has weak gameplay. But I saw the imperfections as charming in some ways, akin to Gaiman’s early Sandman titles. In the first Sandman, I remember the dialogue as choppy and the story as incomplete, but as a whole the series allowed me to watch Neil Gaiman mature as a writer, and the graphic novels improved as the series progressed. In this first game attempt, Gaiman’s Wayward Manor has similar choppiness and an unfinished feel, yet there is a sweetness that gives me confidence that his launch into the gaming industry is not a lost cause.
As a hardcore adult gamer, I had high expectations, but this game wasn’t meant for me. I see this game’s audience as teens or even younger children, an age group that would appreciate Gaiman’s novel Coraline—mature enough for a little eerie humor and wit, but without an adult gamer’s expectations of complicated controls.
You’re a ghost, so of course your job is to haunt. Each member of the Budd family has unique fears, and it is up to you to tailor your hauntings and ultimately make the Budd family flee from your home. The Budd twins love candy and are afraid of healthy food, the family’s maid is afraid of messes, and the youngest boy is afraid to come out of his hiding spot under the table. These and other simple conflicts keep the levels changing but do not increase in excitement or difficulty until the final levels in which you have the satisfaction of seeing the Budd family flee the New England Mansion.
In each level, you interact with one (or more) of the mansion’s appalling tenants. You use your ghost-telekinesis to knock bottles off of shelves, open windows, and generally cause mayhem just by clicking. The gameplay is kind of clunky, to be honest. For example, an hourglass shows up when nothing is loading, and the game crashes if you try to alt-tab out of it. But it’s simple, fast-paced, and easily accessible. By clicking on any item with a ghostly green aura, you make it rattle, open, move, crash, or otherwise react to your supernatural potential. While it’s probably possible to complete many of the levels by random, effortless trial-and-error clicking, the levels are intended to show you increasingly intricate haunting techniques that require precise timing or clever tricks. These include trapping a maid in a mousetrap the moment she steps over the device and maneuvering a ball of fire from a Tiki statue to an intended target. Each level also includes three achievements of varying difficulty, adding complexity and challenge to the gameplay.
Wayward Manor is a fun, spooky game to play with children. Because the levels are short, it is easy to take turns clicking and it would be natural to sit side by side, alternating suggestions for ways to scare the mansion’s residents. The game is simple enough to be enjoyed bykids or teens new to gaming and by family members who want to bond with children through gaming, but who may not have the experience to handle more challenging games. For anyone who wants to be a gamer but is too intimidated or still lacks the skills to play through first-person shooters or massively multiplayer online games, Wayward Manor could be a good first step.