Slayaway Camp is a horror-themed puzzle game with heart. Literally, hundreds of hearts ripped still-beating from the chests of its voxel victims. But it also contains devilishly difficult puzzles that are crafted with so much care that it’s hard not to swoon at the sight of each level’s delicately designed kill room. Developer Blue Wizard Digital has poured their love of scary movies, brain-jolting puzzles, and players themselves into this amazing, oddly perfect mix of a game, and the result is an instant classic.
Slayaway Camp’s horror film theme is front and center from the very beginning of the game, which shows you the intro to the first Slayaway Camp “movie” narrated by a grisly voiceover of doom. It’s the last day of summer 1984 and the maniac killer Skullface is loose in the camp, hell-bent on murdering every counselor in sight. It’s the player’s job, as Skullface, to exact his deadly revenge on the campers who disfigured him just one year prior, forcing him to hide behind the skull mask (and murder).
Vengeance takes the form of a sliding block puzzle in which you can send Skullface in any direction, but he will only stop moving once he runs into an obstacle. Usually that obstacle is a wall of some sort, but he’ll also stop if he runs into a victim, whom he’ll proceed to slash to bits. The goal on each level is to kill every counselor and then escape via the satanic portal that appears once Skullface’s bloodlust has been temporarily sated.
This sounds like a relatively simple task, but the complexity of the levels and the obstacles within ramps up quickly. For one, potential victims will run away from Skullface if he murders someone next to or slides within one block of them, forcing him to adjust course and nab them at a different location. Hazards like lakes and campfires can be used to drown or barbeque the condemned counselors, but Skullface can also meet his demise if he slides into one. Cops show up and, despite imitating their horror movie counterparts with limited cunning, will capture our killer if he lands in their direct line of sight.
The amount of obstacles and murder methods introduced over the course of Slayaway Camp is astounding and one of its greatest strengths. While Blue Wizard has done a phenomenal job of creating levels that simply utilize sliding puzzle challenges at their core—getting trapped behind a wall, using victims as stopping blocks, figuring out the exact path to take to end up at the final destination—the real joy of Skullface’s rampage is in its sheer variety. Besides the few early stage aspects we’ve already mentioned, you’ll be able to topple bookcases to crush victims, land mines to blow them up, tall walls to hide behind, short walls to terrorize, light switches for shadowy sneaking, and craterous pits for body dumping. There are very horror movie-appropriate objects like pairs of phones—running into one rings the other, attracting anyone nearby—that bring to mind “The call is coming from inside the house!” The dumb cops are later replaced by slightly-less-dumb SWAT, and there’s even a special type of visitor you don’t want to kill. And this is a still a short sampling of what’s in your available arsenal.
As you progress through the levels and unlock more of the items mentioned above, the complexity of the puzzles grows. It’s not due to the amount of objects you have to contend with—stages will often focus on one or two of the items or hazards—but in their devious placement within the world. The exit portal you have to reach after murdering everyone may be surrounded by mines, so you’ll have to purposely scare your victims into those mines to clear a path for your escape. A light switch may be stationed right across from a SWAT member’s laser sight, requiring you to block it off with a fallen bookcase or an un-slain body. Every corner of the room may be filled with water, forcing you to bounce off victims to stay away from the deadly edges while simultaneously not scaring them all into that water lest you lose your squishy safe havens.
To put it mildly: Slayaway Camp is hard. We found ourselves stumped on even fairly early stages, cursing our inability to kill that last jerk in the corner no matter how many times we tried. But Blue Wizard has acknowledged this difficulty with a number of player-friendly inclusions. For starters, you can zoom out from the isometric perspective to a flat, overhead view at any time and you can actually solve the stage from this viewpoint, which is such a seemingly simple, but critical, inclusion.
There is a rewind button that lets you undo your last move as many times as you like, meaning you can undo just one move or ten depending on how many times you hit rewind. There’s also a quick restart if you realize you’ve made a complete mess of the scene and don’t want to rewind all the way back to the beginning. The fast forward button offers a hint for 25 coins, which usually indicates something like “You’ll have to lure that cop away,” or “There’s a special someone you should save for last.” You can also unlock a full video walkthrough of how to complete a level for 100 coins; these purchasable hints and solutions are permanently unlocked in case you replay a level later and forgot what they were. Finally, you can skip any level anytime for free, ensuring you’ll never be stuck on a stage even if you’re a penniless predator.
Thankfully coins are not hard to come by, though they are easy to spend. There are a number of fun extras available to distract you outside of the puzzle challenges themselves. The menu is designed like a dilapidated movie store, with metal shelves holding your collected gorepacks, killers, and movies. Gorepacks are the special kills your murderer conducts on the final victim of each level. These are special close-up cut scenes that include a meter-stopping mini-game that awards bonus coins if you land in the red kill zone. These kills range from throwing a cleaver between a victim’s eyes to siccing a hive of bees on them, and the gorepacks allow you to pick and choose which kill types you want activated. The killers shelves hold all of the murderers you’ve unlocked, from Skullface and his variations to the stars of Slayaway Camp sequels and the special psychopaths you can earn only from the eerie Mystery Box, like the aptly creepy Rupert S. Pumpkins.
The movies are the stages themselves, arranged into specific movie groups. Each movie contains about 12-15 scenes and each scene is a standalone puzzle level. Slayaway Camp is the first movie, but when you complete all of its scenes/stages you’ll unlock Slayaway Camp 2: Return to Slayaway Camp. Every movie you complete unlocks the next in line, which has a different theme and killer protagonist. There are currently eleven movies available, with a variety of settings ranging from an amusement park to an office building, so you won’t be spending all your time murdering camp counselors. Each movie has its own VHS tape complete with box art and descriptions on the back which are as hilarious as the rest of the game, fully embracing the ridiculousness of endless horror movie franchises with lines like “…they thought the nightmare was over. But they were wrong. The nightmare was only in the middle.”
Although we love reading the VHS blurbs and perusing our killer collection, Slayaway Camp’s throwback menu does make replaying levels a bit of a chore. You have to pick the movie, choose to replay it, then scroll to the level you want within the CRT level select screen. The movie then continues in order from that level, so if you’re jumping around to complete previously skipped stages you have to exit the movie and redo those steps for every level you want to play.
On that topic, we’re also not sure how much replay value the game has outside of simply completing each scene. While you can collect new killers and use anyone you want in each movie, they’re merely aesthetic changes (albeit fantastic ones). The addition of killers with unique powers, like being fireproof, would open up new solutions on specific stages and a reason to replay even finished scenes. There is plenty of content in the base game already with over 150 scenes to tackle, so replayability of levels is not a huge concern: we simply found that by the time we’d played all the levels and used all the killers you unlock automatically, our bonus murderers had been unintentionally benched.
These are utterly minor quibbles about a game that is a delirious joy to play. The levels are filled with references from horror movies (like the Friday the 13th breathing that accompanies the exit portal’s appearance) to other video games (we saw that cake in the Portal level). Each scene is like a meticulously detailed dollhouse, with miniature decorations that infuse each stage with its own character: the basketball scoreboard that reads “Home 0 / Visitor 99,” barely-noticeable pigeons pecking city sidewalks, a checkered throw over the back of a homey armchair, a tiny x-ray of a voxel person in the surgery center.
Every aspect of the game feels minutely considered, like the fact that the skulls of victims you’ve killed remain in the level and will be kicked around as you pass by or the way still-alive characters shake and glance around nervously once they’re aware of your presence. The inclusion of hints, full solutions, and level skips; tons of achievements and leaderboards; and optional gore sliders to reduce the blood and carnage indicate Blue Wizard was truly thinking of all their players when they created this game. It worked: this Valentine’s Day, we’ve given our heart to Slayaway Camp.