Slayaway Camp is a terrific combination of simple logic puzzles and 80’s cult slasher flicks, a murderously fun puzzle game where the player slashes, stomps, and guts voxel teenagers by sliding the killer around each cliche trash horror setting. Blue Wizard Digital provides players with goofy, goretastic brainteasers that follow a simple yet clever set of rules, creating a unique and charming experience that is savagely adorable.
What is most impressive about this game is its ample creativity. Each level is presented as though it were an old trashy horror VHS sitting on the dusty, dirty shelf at your old neighborhood video rental store. A trailer plays prior to every level, setting the scene and previewing the gluttony of gore ahead. The puzzles are then set up like little dioramas, telling their own story through small background details. The player only has four options: slide up, down, left or right. It’s almost akin to classic ice block puzzles commonly found in JRPGS in that the killer can only stop when he hits a wall or an unsuspecting teenager. When he runs into the teen he will kill them, sometimes triggering a short cutscene illustrating how the blocky, helpless victim meets their demise.
As the puzzles progress, the variety of ways in which one can slaughter the teens expands. Seeing the same murder scene more than once is a rare occurrence. The goal is to kill all the victims and then enter a pentagram to warp to the next area—it’s a lot more adorable than it sounds. The interesting element at play that separates Slayaway Camp is that the teens will react to your actions, running away if the killer comes near or if someone dies next to them. Causing chain reactions of teens running, which then sets the player up to slide their way to murderous victory is how most puzzles are solved. In this way, the solutions are not just about the ways the player interacts with the puzzle, it’s about causing the pieces of the puzzle to interact with each other. As the game goes on, new elements are introduced at a good pace: land mines, pits with spikes at the bottom, and cops who will arrest the killer. These added layers of complexity are never overwhelming and always feel like a natural progression in gameplay.
The killers themselves are also expansively creative, drawing from every conceivable facet of cult horror. The addition of the soundtrack and excellently eerie sound design is what really makes this uncomplicated game a bit of an experience. The sound calls to mind both classic ominous horror film scores and familiar arcade fun. Slayaway Camp also includes cameos and voice work from various cult favorites, such as Mark Meer (Mass Effect), Derek Mears (Friday the 13th), and the Soska sisters (American Mary), and an original hair-metal soundtrack by Canadian rockers GNÜ TRUNTION. The tonality of it all adds to the joy of successfully solving puzzles and brings humor and cuteness to savage gore. Slayaway Camp attempts to please those who are nostalgic for 80’s trash horror, but also those who normally hate puzzle games, and ultimately succeeds in doing both.
Slayaway Camp was originally conceptualized as a roguelike game, but developers realized that sliding block games were incredibly tedious “unless they involved gratuitous murder.” Slayaway Camp has humble beginnings, formerly premiering as a flash game on Kongregate where it’s still available for free play. But after scoring rave reviews in its flash incarnation, Blue Wizard decided to bring the game to Steam. Game designer Jason Kapalka noted that “it appealed to a lot of hardcore gamers, who wanted a premium downloadable version with enhanced graphics and more levels, minus ads and other free-to-play distractions. Plus, targeting Steam allows us to make the game more extreme than ever”.
This game feels like it is built for a very specific niche of gamers. It’s so specific that I would recommend trying the free to play flash version on Kongregate before paying for the full Steam version. They are nearly identical for the first level, so getting that little taste before expanding to the full version might be a good time investment. Adding Slayaway Camp to Steam brings an additional content of over 200 puzzles, as well as making the levels more colorful and in higher definition. The steam version also unlocks an NC-17 mode that provides more insanity like censored shower scenes.
Slayaway Camp does exactly what it sets out to do: it makes you giggle and provides a vast series of fun logic puzzles. Its creativity, charm, and clear love for this specific kind of nostalgic film subculture make it worth playing for even the puzzle-game averse. Blue Wizard Digital is a relatively new studio formed by Jason Kapalka, co-founder of PopCap Games (Bejeweled, Peggle, Plants vs Zombies) and indie developers Nate Schmold (Cosmochoria) and Ido Yehieli (Cardinal Quest). Their goal is “to provide an outlet for ten years of pent-up violence and lust, with the goal of creating the sexiest violentest games ever.” With hidden gems like Slayaway Camp, it’s exciting to see what this studio will come up with in the future for indie gaming.