Exploring The Wide Dead World
HIGH Hearing how baby skeletons are born.
LOW The rhythm-based minigames.
WTF “Since you’re wearing a deerstalker cap, would you mind solving this murder?”
Warioware’s microgames were a revolution in design, boiling entire concepts down to a single mechanic to be employed in just a few seconds while stripped of all context or narrative. It was a thrilling development, perfect for the kind of satirical construction that series offered, but also a great way to handle minor interactions. Now Spookware has arrived to pick up that Warioware design baton and run with it.
An adventure title about three skeleton brothers trying to find their place in the world after getting tired of sitting on a couch and watching horror movies all day, Spookware follows them as they get into one scrape after another, resolving every conflict with a set of microgames.
The microgames are, as one might predict, something of a mixed bag. Most are horror themed — assemble a skeleton, throw body parts into a pot, saw someone’s head off — and they’re playfully grotesque, and packed with references to the horror films that the characters are obsessed with.
Spookware has three chapters, with each one centered around different types of minigame interaction. The first level has the brothers trying to assemble a school band by playing bongos, so all of the activities are built around alternating button presses. The second is about solving a mystery, so the player will have to play memory games, assemble jigsaw puzzles, and other brain-teasing activities. In the final chapter, the brothers must learn to cook by moving characters quickly and carefully around screens. Changing up the mechanical design every hour ensures that things never get stale during its brief running time.
Unfortunately, Spookware leads with its worst set of minigames, starting its players off profoundly wrong. Many of the two-button bongo-themed activities have unclear controls and baffling fail states. There are also two different ‘play these same notes’ games that are far too strict about timing, which wouldn’t be so bad except that the punishment for failing three times means having to start the whole thing over again. There’s no ‘easy’ mode either, although if players fail enough times in a row they’ll be able to remove one of the games from the group Spookware randomly draws from, which isn’t as good as an ‘unlimited lives’ casual mode, but it’s acceptable.
Things get much better after the first act, though. The mystery and cooking levels have more interesting plots, the writing is sharper, and I found the minigames both more playable and less repetitive. Spookware improves right up until the point where… it stops abruptly.
With just three levels taking a little under an hour to beat each, Spookware can easily be completed in a single sitting, and as a result, feels somewhat unsatisfying. While each act is fairly self-contained, there’s a continuing story thread that keeps getting teased throughout, and is in no way is it resolved when the credits roll. More content is supposedly coming — the map screen has a bunch of extra acts greyed out and listed as DLC — but right now Spookware only feels half complete.
Spookware takes a proven, winning idea and skillfully employs it to build an engaging adventure. Despite the rough start and sudden ending, its winning attitude and cheeky comedy still make it a worthwhile experience. I wish I could recommend it without reservations, but until the rest of the levels are released, consider this a review on only half a game.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Beeswax Games and published by DreadXP. It is currently available on PC. Copies of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game was not rated by the ESRB, but it contains Violence, Mild Blood, and Alcohol Use. Yes, it’s a horror-themed Wariolike full of gruesome imagery, but honestly it’s not that rough at all. I’d say it’s perfectly safe even for younger teens.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has no spoken dialogue, and all information is provided via text. Players cannot resize the text. I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. Each section of the game uses different controls – players can use the keyboard or a joystick to move the characters around, and when the game starts, they’re expected to use the thumbstick or keys to move objects on screen, buttons or keys to interact with the world, and in one section, all minigames require use of the mouse.