reviews

Review: Slayaway Camp – Butcher’s Cut for PS4.

Blue Wizard Digital has just released the console version of their indie puzzle title Slayaway Camp on PlayStation 4.  Launched last October on Steam, the title has also been ported to iOS (February) and Android (June), but it now comes to Sony’s console in an expanded and very pretty edition as Slayaway Camp: Butcher’s Cut.  AIR Entertainment was given a review code for the title and I was fortunate enough to nab it.  Here’s what’s up.

I’ve played Slayaway Camp on my iPhone 6s+ so I knew going into the PS4 version that the game was a blast already.  Slayaway Camp is a wonderfully self-aware puzzle game full of comedy, challenges, unlockables and an unfathomable amount of murder.  Yep.  Your initial character in this game is Skullface, a would-be Jason Voorhees with a skull mask subbed in for Jason’s hockey mask.  To solve the puzzles, you simply have to move Skullface around the level in the right directions in the right order to kill teenagers, police, security guards and anyone else who stands in your way, then go to the exit – an evil pentagram symbol.  The catch is, Slayaway Camp is a Sokoban-style game and when Skullface starts moving in any direction, he won’t stop until he hits a wall or kills a victim.  Remember all those pain-in-the-ass ice levels in platformers a couple generations ago?  Well, take those, make them awesome and you’re headed for Camp.  It won’t be long before you’re accidentally setting Skullface on fire, blocking his exit by knocking over bookcases, drowning him in the sewers and being caught by the police.

Thankfully, the game has an incredibly forgiving and limitless rewind mechanic.  If you make a wrong move, tap L1 and it does a VHS fast-motion scrub back to your previous move.  You can also start the level over with a press of L2 or buy hints with coins (coins that you earn from killing fools, naturally).  But c’mon, you don’t want to buy hints.  Buying hints makes Skullface cry.

The game is presented in an isometric view and each level is a grid of large squares.  Skullface can move up, down, left or right.  The art style is extremely fun – characters are very clearly enormous cubes with teensy arms and legs, animated cartoon faces and (optionally) gory, violent deaths.  Think Minecraft meets South Park with kills like Happy Tree Friends and you’re not far off.  Making the characters so blocky helps the player visualize the level and how to proceed.  It also causes things like sticking garden shears into a character’s face seem adorable instead of offensive.  I have a 7-year-old who doesn’t like scary movies and she thinks Slayaway Camp is hilarious.  Anyway, you’ll quickly get an eye for the puzzle mechanics of the game because of the enjoyable presentation, which is good because these puzzles get tricky.  Before long, players will find themselves working their way stealthily around levels to approach victims from a specific side so Skullface will stop, kill them and be in the perfect spot to go to his next target.  Other mechanics – such as touching a phone to make another phone in the level ring, which attracts a victim; or maneuvering next to a victim to make him or her run away in fear – add variety and complexity to the game.

slayaway camp ps4

Speaking of variety, you’ll unlock dozens of killers throughout the game, plenty of which are modeled after killers from horror films and television.  A guy with a brown hat and claw fingers wearing a red-and-green striped sweater named Frederick?  A red-headed doll with rainbow striped shirt and overalls?  Evil clowns?  They’re all here.  In addition to killers, you can buy “gorepacks,” which are stylish end-of-level cutscene kills that are as funny as they are bloody.  And it doesn’t hurt having a pro-wrestling-inspired narrator enthusiastically saying things like “murderlicious!” when they happen.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is in its aesthetics.  The main menu is presented like a video store, with “movies” unlocking as you progress.  Each movie is a set of 10 to 15 levels, generally speaking.  As I mentioned earlier, the game is wonderfully self-aware and a real love letter to horror films – especially ’80s slashers.  The title itself is an homage to the classic (and disturbing) Sleepaway Camp, though slasher fans will recognize tropes like camp counselors with glassy red eyes who think about nothing but food, intro videos with pitch perfect trailer narration (“They thought it was safe to go back to camp…but it wasn’t”) and scenes set around woodsy campfires or in large log cabins.

slayaway camp 3

A couple nice touches include the sheer amount of game you get (maybe 100 levels, dozens of killers, dozens of kills, etc) and the names of the trophies on the PS4 edition – virtually every single one is based on a horror or horror-inspired movie, which earns bonus geek points.  Hellraiser, Cabin in the Woods, Fire Walk With Me – great stuff.

I will admit, some of the puzzles in the game have gotten the better of me.  I’m a decently smart guy all in all but I ended up completely stumped on some levels.  Of course, you can always replay older levels to grind for coins and buy more hints or solutions, but that tends to dampen the experience for me in any puzzle game.  I had to look up two puzzles in Obduction and one in each of the The Room games on iOS and I can’t bring myself to for Slayaway Camp.

Overall it’s a terrific game and well worth the asking price, don’t get me wrong, but occasionally I got frustrated with some levels.  But maybe that’s on me?  Slayaway Camp: Butcher’s Cut gets a 9 out of 10.

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