I admit, I’m a fan of campy horror movies. The cheesier, the better. For my most recent birthday, I dragged my significant other to a screening of the 1981 Troma classic, Graduation Day. Now, I wouldn’t say Graduation Day is a great film, but it’s fun. A masked killer stalks a high school track team, taking them out one-by-one. As fear builds within the team, the deaths become more inventive. Slayaway Camp captures the essence of classic 80’s horror films like Graduation Day, but it combines campiness with an interesting slider puzzle mechanic. There’s gore, oh there’s so much gore. But when the murders are played out with Minecraft-style block people, it only comes across as adorable.
Thematic as can be, the Slayaway Camp menu is a VHS movie store. You start the game with the movie, Slayaway Camp 1, and your objective is to complete all 10 scenes of the film. Every scene is its own puzzle grid, and in Slayaway Camp 1, those scenes all fit within the traditional teens-out-camping horror theme. With completion of a movie, another one unlocks. Every movie reveals a new killer and new components to add to the puzzles. Does your killer cut electricity before murdering? Does he make phantom phone calls?
You begin the first movie as the killer, Skullface, voiced by none other than Mark Meer of Mass Effect fame. Much like Jason Vorhees, Skullface was the victim of a camp prank, and his primary goal is revenge. Character controls are simple, you just pick one of four directions to move your killer, and he slides across a grid until he hits a wall, victim, or some other obstacle. The difficulty increases as new puzzle mechanics are introduced, some of which include water hazards, police officers, and electric fences.
After every movie scene is resolved, a bonus Kill Scene round begins. A slider moves quickly back and forth across the screen, and you simply click while it’s in the Kill Zone to win. A gory Kill Scene is then displayed, and you are rewarded bonus coins that can be used to make in-game purchases. 25 coins will reveal a hint during a movie scene, and another 100 coins will unlock a full step-by-step walkthrough. The coins can also be used to unlock new Kill Scene fatalities, including killer bees and hedgeclippers.
Achievement hoarders will enjoy the dozens of achievements available in the Steam version of Slayaway Camp. Each purchasable fatality for use during the Kill Scenes is its own Steam Achievement. Each movie you complete rewards one, and many of your in-scene murders can unlock other achievements.
I found myself fairly smitten with one particular killer, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to play as that killer through all of the movies if I wanted. The developers leave plenty of room for flexibility for cases such as this. You are able to turn off specific Kill Scene fatalities, for those days you only want to watch victims die by lawnmower over and over. Now, if gore isn’t for you, Slayaway Camp allows you to select a PG version of the game during the first puzzle. There’s no blood and no violence in this version. When your killer attacks his victim, he simply hops on him, and the victim is turned into a skull. Instead of the super gory bonus kill scenes, the PG version shows your killer using his weapon to hit a target. You still get the bonus coins, but don’t have to subject yourself to the gore if it isn’t your thing.
Although you may be able to turn down the gore in the PG version of Slayaway Camp, the death screams remain. They perfectly capture the overacting found in many of the 80’s films the game is designed to emulate. As I played through Slayaway Camp, my partner played a board game behind me. As I killed more and more victims, he couldn’t help but giggle at the agony of their screams. The sound design in this game is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. The music is even better. Close your eyes and you are in Sleepaway Camp or My Bloody Valentine.
For dedicated fans, there’s an email list to sign up for. Each month, the developers will send you a Killer Kode that you can use to unlock a limited edition monster. Some are holiday-themed, and others are just odd. It’s a fun bonus to thank players for following the progress of Slayaway Camp, and a smart way to keep players coming back to the game.
Overall, Slayaway Camp is an entertaining gem for fans of the horror film genre. It captures the best parts of cheesy horror movies and seamlessly combines them with sliding puzzle mechanics. It’s a unique and refreshing find at a time when most new indie game releases appear all too similar to the rest.
A PC review copy of Slayaway Camp was provided by Blue Wizard Digital for the purpose of this review