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Thursday, September 16, 2021

[Review] ‘SPOOKWARE’ Takes You On a Delirious Microgame-Filled Road Trip Through the Afterlife

Perhaps my favorite thing about BEESWAX’ GAMES’ SPOOKWARE is how it takes the crumb of an idea (Wario Ware but spooky) and runs with it to the point that it becomes something else entirely.

SPOOKWARE started life as a brief microgame collection on itch.io, grew into a whole segment in one of DreadXP’s  Dread X Collections, and now it’s a fully-fledged adventure game that just so happens to have microgames baked into it. It wasn’t at all what I expected from it, and I’m utterly delighted about that.

In this iteration of SPOOKWARE, we have a story, and that story concerns a trio of skeleton siblings (Lefti, Midi, and Righti) who one day decide to do something other than sitting in the basement watching old horror movie tapes. They’re going on an adventure, a road trip in fact, and it’s going to be bloody weird.

The game opens in very much the same fashion as the Dread X Collection slice, with the brothers sat in front of their TV, watching horror movies, only these horror movies are actually the microgames and the player must beat ten of them in a row, with less than a handful of failures allowed before it’s restarted. This opening gauntlet sets out the stall for what to expect from the microgames. They’re initially puzzling, sometimes quite tough under pressure, and wonderfully silly. If you begin to find some are blocking your path to progression, then you’re offered the chance to cut out one of them on the next attempt, which is honestly a godsend for a relative relic like me whose trigger finger has got a little rusted with time.

After that salvo is done with, the game begins to show what else it has to offer in the form of the skelebro’s surreal road trip. The first stop is to high school, where the brothers feel they need to get an education. Happily, a series of events transpire where they can graduate the very same day, if they can piece together the school band and perform at the graduation ceremony. Of course, the brothers aren’t actually musicians, and armed with nothing more than the power of middling bongo skills, they face off against each band member needed for the big performance. The WarioWare formula to microgames starts to shift here, as a bunch of quick rhythm games becomes the norm when facing the other musicians. The player has to tap the bongos in time to the beat set by the musicians.

While the high school does feel like the warm-up for what’s to come, it really helps bed in the tone and humor SPOOKWARE is going for. The visual style is, much like its core concept, a spin on a Nintendo franchise, in this case, Paper Mario. The characters all have the visual style of doodles scribbled on a bit of paper, while the backgrounds are more three-dimensional and anchored in realism (with a slight VHS-style fuzz filter). 

The microgames take this cobbled-together look even further with a massively D.I.Y. style that made the original concept stand out so well. It’s a really endearing mixture that calls to mind the crude late-night animated madness that used to crop up on my TV every weekend or that early stapled-together kind of internet animation, ensuring I felt almost nostalgic for something that didn’t actually exist before now. The madcap music that accompanies it is a perfect fit too.

It’s also several kinds of funny. There’s oddball humor, sharp wit, stupid puns, and the outright farcical in SPOOKWARE’s story. The key story hooks alone are absurd in the best way, with the current episodes not only taking you to high school, but also dumping you into a cooking show, and in my absolute favorite part of the game, sneaking onto a cruise liner where because of a hat, the boys end up having to solve the murder…of a skeleton.

Why is this my favorite part? Well, it’s the riff on murder mystery games (The Great Ace Attorney has a case much like this) that lampoons the drawn-out drama of such things, and pokes fun at its own internal silliness (a skeleton got murdered. A skeleton!), but it’s the microgames where you present evidence in true Ace Attorney style, and the writing that surrounds them that really elevates this piece of the game. It’s the funniest thing because of how stupid and melodramatic everyone involved is about it. 

The skelebros have little life experience outside of what they’ve gleaned from watching countless horror movies, and it’s fun to see them awkwardly navigate the strange situations the outside world presents them with by utilizing that knowledge as a sticking plaster.

There are three more episodes of SPOOKWARE to come, and I look forward to seeing where Lefti, Midi, and Righti venture to next, and most importantly, see what absurd situations they find themselves in.

SPOOKWARE is available now on PC via Steam and itch.io



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3683284/review-spookware-takes-delirious-microgame-filled-road-trip-afterlife/

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