Review: Slayaway Camp

Summer is the best time of year. The sun, the warmth, the escape from the weekly grind of high school, all of it. What better way to make it even greater by running off to camp, surrounded by like-minded teenagers that aren’t even a little bit obnoxious, annoying or in desperate need of a slasher to thin the herd a bit. Slayaway Camp is a lovely summer getaway where teenagers can run, play and get eviscerated by a maniacal serial killer in the great outdoors, and the best part is that you get to be the psycho.

Which is maybe a little more violent than a casual block-sliding puzzle game would normally be. Slayaway Camp merges the family-friendly fun of puzzling out a solution in what amounts to an invisible maze with a slasher flick that drenches the experience in buckets of blood. Not in a Manhunt/Hatred way, of course, but in a cute, blocky style like the classic Fisher Price Little People except squared off, or maybe very low-poly Weebles. The simple cartooniness makes the kids great fun to kill off, because terrorizing something that responds like an actual person is far too harsh, but stab a machete into the eyball of an ultra-simplified overdramatic teenage shoebox and that’s just funny.

Each set of levels of Slayaway Camp is a series of scenes playing off an old video cassette, found racked up on the crappy tin shelves of run-down video store in exactly the way terrible slasher movies should be discovered. Each “scene” is a puzzle with the goal being for a demented psycho to kill all the kids and then reach the exit, which is a glowing pentagram painted on a floor tile. The level is a grid, and when you point your killer in a direction he/she/it slides until it hits an obstacle, whether that be a wall or victim, with the killer stopping on the square beside its target. If that target is just a wall then nothing special happens, but if it’s a teenager then things can get quickly interesting.

While the kids are basically standing around waiting to be slashed to ribbons, they’re not blind. Slide the psycho up beside someone and they’re going to run away in a straight line, if possible. It doesn’t take too long for puzzles to start using the herding mechanic as a necessary process to organize the board. Scare a teenager to have it run away, where it may stop right beside a friend. Slide over and slash one to ribbons and the other runs away, maybe straight into a spiked pit or campfire. Additionally, because your resting point is on the square beside the person you’ve splutched into a squirmy pile of goo, you can use this to align yourself with otherwise-inaccessible areas. Sliding in a straight line is nice but what if there’s a target that has no direct access? Scare a teenager to a new spot, figure out how to get the killer so its angle of approach leaves it standing lined up with the next target, and feel both clever for figuring out the process and gratuitously satisfied with the terrible carnage you’ve unleashed.

And then things start getting properly tricky. Police show up and will arrest you if you land on the single square that’s their target, while SWAT members have laser-sights on their rifles that prevent you from stopping on the row of squares they’re sighting down. Phones show up in pairs, and hitting one dials the other to call over anyone in range. Outhouse and bookshelves can be pushed over to not only squish the unfortunate victim behind them but also rearrange the access lines through the level.  Electric fences fry anyone, teenager or psycho, who runs into one, lights can be turned on and off if you can get to the switch so that the kids won’t run away if you do horrible things right next to them, etc.  Each new movie adds a new wrinkle to the levels, and clearing the tenth one involves juggling multiple tricks, traps, and behavior patterns in order to massacre everyone on the level.

After every level a mini-game pops up that earns coins.  Hit the button to stop the moving cursor at it travels over the read part of the line and you get a bonus kill, plus a little cash to spend in the store.  You earn in the range of 100 coins per game, and items cost 1,000 – 2,000 apiece.  There’s also an unlockable movie that’s all kill-game, letting you grind for coins if you want.  The coins buy new kill moves, which play from a random selection every few eviscerated victims, as well as new killers if you don’t want to play as the new one that’s unique to each movie.  The rewards are a lot of fun even if the game itself is too simple, and the ridiculously over-the-top kill animations prevent it from bogging down the puzzling.

While the puzzles are very clever and Slayaway Camp‘s gory sense of humor a lot of fun, it’s unfortunately fairly buggy on release.  They’re getting patched but controller support on the menus is iffy at best, and certain bonus levels simply don’t load.  The first patch just came out the same day as this review is being written, so maybe the occasional inescapable credit-roll that just keeps repeating is gone, but it’s hard to say.  The game runs smoothly, and never completely crashed, but a few weird issues (like a psycho who disappeared after a particular kill) require exiting and reloading the game.  The bugs are being squished at speed, so if you’re reading this in a few weeks from publication maybe things are better?  At the time of this writing, however, you need to manually push the mouse cursor off screen every time you use the menu.

Closing Comments:

Slayaway Camp is a brilliant and funny block-sliding puzzle game that’s drenched in good-humored gore.  The screams of the teenagers, police, office workers, beach bathers and other victims punctuates each kill as you unravel the specific set of moves necessary to complete each level.  The main game’s ten movies have an initial set of regular levels, harder deleted scenes and a set of levels that use all the unlocked mechanics once you’ve beaten the game, for about 200 puzzles total.  There’s a lot of clever content in Slayaway Camp‘s massive collection of puzzles, and its smart level design is equally matched by a dark but affectionate slasher-flick tribute that gives the game its unique and brutally cute identity.