Of all the ways to re-interpret a slasher movie in a video game form, "tile-based puzzle game" probably wouldn't even appear on most people's lists. Everyone wants to recapture the horror of the perennial slumber party classics: the skulking villain stalking in the shadows, seemingly able to pop up wherever. The frightened, powerless campers, desperately attempting to survive as their friends are slowly picked of. While in many of these games there may be puzzle elements present, a lot of the time they're elements on top of the horror, and not the main mechanic.
Slayaway Camp goes the other way, wrapping a puzzle game with horror elements. While the game's developers were clearly well-versed in the movies they're picking for reference, it becomes more a parodic window dressing than the main focus, far more lighthearted and comical instead.
Yet for as lighthearted as Slayaway Camp is, you're still playing a game where you're a masked murderer leaving a pile of bodies in your wake, with additional "gore packs" you can buy to increase the kill animations at your disposal. Minigames at the end of a level give you a chance to land a meter in a kill zone, and hitting it right gives you an extra kill animation and some extra cash.
Honestly if it weren't for the cutesy aesthetic, man, Slayaway Camp game could be considered as graphic as some of the more over-the-top fatalities in most blood-thirsty Mortal Kombat games. People are decapitated by paper cutters, eaten by sharks, ripped apart by demons, squished by, um.... giant Easter eggs. The characters are blobby cube people with cartoon faces, which helps sell the game as more cute and humorous than just grotesque. Even as you beat a dude to death with a saxophone, it's removed enough that it doesn't feel as ridiculously explicit as it sounds.
The fast pace of the puzzles work well, too. As you're a Jason Voorhees type, you just slice through people and remorselessly move along. The mechanics are simple, but the game slowly starts to layer in more rules. So, when you start, it's just a matter of navigating and killing in the right order. Obstacles are slowly introduced, though, like the ability for victims to run away, cats that have to be saved, and cops that can catch you and stop your rampage.
I was EXTREMELY glad when the new mechanics started popping up – when the game first started, I assumed it would be a shallow, boring little thing that would only engage you if you just LOVE slasher flicks so, so much. New layers of activities meant you had to slow down and plan instead of just dashing around willy-nilly, changing the game from empty murder rooms to actual PUZZLES. That only made it more engaging to push forward.
On the other hand, Slayaway Camp's types of puzzles aren't my favorites, because I only rarely felt a lot of satisfaction from getting through them. The game has its moments, and I really appreciate that it fits the thing I've been harping on lately of how puzzle games need to grow and expand so that it doesn't feel like they're just the same thing over and over again. But with over 300 levels, not all of them can be winners.
Mostly, Slayaway Camp breezes by, handily aided by the fun little references it has peppered all over the place by people who really know their stuff. The first episode sets you up as a Jason Voorhees type killer; in episode 8 you're in Manhattan, and in episode 10, you're in space, like in 8th and 10th installments of Friday the 13th movie series Aside from these direct references, you get other horror classics on top of that. My Gory Valentine, Faces of Killed and so on. Honestly, this is about half the fun of the game – it would be great if they had tied the puzzles in with the plots of the movies a bit more (that 8th episode has you playing as a giant killer hot dog instead of Jason type himself). In the end, as long as the puzzles are worth it, it doesn't matter.
But like I said, it just doesn't really feel to me like the puzzles are that worth it. They're quick to restart, and I appreciate the system that lets you step back by moves, but the actual puzzles still bounce off of me. I wish I liked it more but all the design and aesthetic work can't hide the fact that the game is still more or less about sliding tiles around. It's fun in bursts but wears off pretty quickly, and can be a little frustrating with the isometric perspective not quite letting you see everything you need to. I had multiple puzzles I spent forever on, only to realize a place that looked like there was a wall didn't actually have one, making the solution dead simple and I felt like an idiot more than anything. This is why I feel the game's mobile roots are kind of the best platform for it – keeping it confined to quick plays you can put away when you get a text and then open up later.
The game is also somehow $15! Which is EXTREMELY steep for a mobile port that's also available for cheaper on other platforms – even if you get all the DLC of the PC version. Sure there are a lot of puzzles here, but the game still got that look and feel to it that reminds you of its origins. Visual glitches here and there, and a UI that feels like it's not really designed anything but touch, especially not for controllers.
As a puzzle game, Slayaway Camp does the job, but isn't anything special – it's really saved by having such a fun look and idea to it. A puzzle game about being a Jason Voorhees type is just an awesome hook, and spotting more horror movie references has enough thrill to keep you going. The game may not have the meat to really get its hooks in you from a puzzle perspective, but this fun little love letter to slasher movies is definitely worth a look to gorehounds with a soft spot for the genre.