Classic horror films typically follow a predictable format: teens arrive at a location, killer shows up at said location, murder ensues. Fans of the genre don’t turn to Jason and Freddy for nuanced storytelling and deep, interesting characters. Slayaway Camp attempts to be an ode to those classic slasher films in the form of an isometric puzzle game with adorable voxel art. Yes, I said adorable when referring to characters that decapitate, burn, and otherwise maim every teenager, camp counselor, and police officer in their path.
Much like classic platformers, Slayaway Camp starts off simple and adds new and interesting mechanics with each level. The goal of each level is to murder all of the teenagers and reach the end point. The challenge comes in the way your murderer moves. Skullface, an obvious homage to Jason, moves like a rook in chess. He can move up, down, left, or right and once you press that direction he will continue moving that way until he reaches a wall or a victim. If he happens to run into a teenager he will do what murderers do best and swiftly dispatch the shrieking teen. While the early levels focus around knowing where to slide and where not to slide due to environmental obstacles such as water or holes that will cause a game over, later puzzles employ more challenging features. Eventually you’ll be taking on police officers, SWAT teams, and even using teleports to complete your dark deeds.
One of the things that Slayaway Camp does well is introduce new mechanics in a simple and effective way. The first time you come across a light switch, there's nothing to do but go after it because it’s the only direction your character can move. This trains you to notice that when the switch is hit, characters can’t see the killer and won’t run away. This type of smart level design is apparent through the entirety of the game, from your early days at camp to your final days in space. Isometric puzzle games like Hitman GO, for instance, require mechanics that keep the game feeling new from level to level, and Slayaway Camp pulls that off well. Mechanics like scaring teens to block other teens from escaping, utilizing bookshelves to murder to barricade victims, and flipping switches on and off to both scare teens and be stealthy depending on the situation keep the levels feeling fresh.
Like any good puzzle game there are endless ways to fail and Slayaway Camp makes it easy to learn from those failures. Killing teens in the wrong order or making the wrong move at the right time can lead to teens escaping or leaving you with no path to get to the exit. The game offers an easy way around this with the introduction of a rewind button that will quickly restart the level. Much like the introduction of new in-game mechanics, the rewind button makes Slayaway Camp feel like a learning process rather than a brute force puzzle game where you just need to get the timing right. It’s all about conserving your moves and making sure you’re killing the right teen at the right time. While it might be tempting to slash away on anyone in your path, that often leads to there being no way of getting out of the level. The smart level design comes in to play here and it’s often beneficial to change the camera angle to a pure isometric view for a moment to get the lay of the land and plan your attack. There’s a reason those killers always catch up to the teens in movies, they plan their attack and execute it. And probably use teleporters.
Perhaps the most surprising strength of Slayaway Camp is its homage to slasher films in its style. Aside from Skullface, you can play a myriad of familiar murderers like “Jimsaw” to everyone’s Saturday Night Live reject, “Rupert S. Pumpkins”. On occasion, your puzzles will be briefly interrupted by cinematic murders. While the usual kill is a stomp or slash, some kills will activate five second scenes that feature a range of murders from ripping a heart out to feeding someone to a wood chipper. Additional kills can be purchased by using the games in-game currency and additional killers can be bought in the same way. After collecting your favorite kills and killers, and after completing a movie, which is typically a set of levels, you can go back in as any killer and play the deleted scenes or NC-17 scenes. These are typically scenes that are a bit more challenging than the first set of levels and are a welcome addition to keep the murders coming.
That being said, one of the biggest downfalls that hits Slayaway Camp is that it overstays its welcome on a few occasions. While levels only take a few minutes to complete, at most, there can sometimes be one too many levels per movie and at times the difficulty seemed to ramp out without cause. I found myself walking through latter scenes of a movie while getting stuck on earlier levels. While you can use in-game currency to get a quick walkthrough of how to win, getting stuck on those early levels feels frustrating and using your hard earned money for that just feels wrong. Money is another strange part of Slayaway Camp.
You don’t actually get coins from beating levels; you get them from the timing-based mini games in between levels. These mini games that involve hitting A or spacebar at the right time to perform a cinematic murder give you a few coins. Weirdly enough, you get a special movie early on that can be used to grind coins but even then you’ll be replaying it dozens of times to get enough coins for a killer or a new murder. It’s an obvious free-to-play type model that will certainly be utilized in mobile markets but feels out of place and odd on the PC. Using a movie to grind out coins to get a new killer just feels like a waste of time as the murders you’re trying to accomplish are few and number so you end up seeing duplicates far too often.
It’s worth noting that Slayaway Camp also has a phenomenal sense of style to it aside from the slasher aesthetic. The main menu is an old VHS rental shop and you pick the "movie" you want to play from the shelf. Entering the options menu brings up a VHS-style menu, not as good as Galak-Z’s but still worth noting. Each movie also comes with an over the top cheesy opening featuring a narrator who basically just gives up towards the end of the series that goes from the original Slayaway Camp all the way to Slayaway Camp X which, of course, takes place in space. The nods to endless horror sequels, strange stand-in killers, and never ending teens to kill are greatly appreciated. It’s a fun, knowing game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, like any good horror movie should. It also helps that the voxel art style makes it all look so cute that you never really feel like the murderous rampage you’re going on is inappropriate or gore-filled. Instead it just feels like someone who has had enough of voxels going to town on some characters.
Overall, Slayaway Camp hits the mark when it comes to being an homage to classic slasher films. It is cheesy, filled with murder and crazy kills, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. While the puzzles can be challenging early on and easy towards the end, they are still fulfilling to complete and that sense of accomplishment doesn’t go away at any point. While it would’ve been nice to see some additional kills and hear some additional lines of dialogue from the narrator, it still works for what it is. Slayaway Camp is one of the best homages to classic slasher films and should be an easy buy for any horror buff looking to pass the time.