VGBlogger’s Halloween Indie Game Spooktacular

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So here we are, at the end of another long day of Halloween gaming goodness. As All Hallows’ Eve draws to a close, we leave you with a look at some of our favorite indie horror, zombie, spooky or otherwise holiday relevant games to come out so far this year. And there are a bunch of them.

Best of all, many of these games are discounted as part of the Steam Halloween Sale until November 3rd, which means you can find some great deals and stretch your Halloween festivities from one day to a full weekend.

Please enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

Outlast: Whistleblower:

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Last Halloween, Tim shared his fright-filled experience with Red Barrel’s torture porn horror game, Outlast. This Halloween, it’s time for a return visit to Mount Massive Asylum in the Whistleblower DLC, a slightly shorter but every bit as terrifying trip to hell. Serving as a prequel to the original storyline with some clever overlapping of events towards the end, Whistleblower puts you in control of the dude who tipped off freelance investigative journalist, Miles Upshur, to the shady things going on in the asylum. That’s where the story begins, with our good-intentioned informant sending off his message to Miles, getting caught in the act and subsequently being made to run the gauntlet of pure horror that his email pen pal is about to walk into.

The gameplay is identical to before. You must sneak through the darkness and run for dear life from deadly new inmates–a cannibalistic cook with a power saw, and a truly sick fuck who twists men’s bodies into his corpse brides–while using the night vision mode of a camcorder to light the way. If you are at all squeamish, the imagery of dismembered limbs simmering in a stockpot full of blood and entrails strewn across tables, floors and walls will only begin to turn your stomach. From there, the sight of psychotic inmates beating off on a pile of corpses, playing basketball with a severed head, or mutilating male bodies to look like women giving birth (see above) will bring up breakfast, lunch and dinner all at once and haunt your dreams forever. I didn’t think horror games could get any more sick and twisted than the base Outlast game. Boy did Red Barrels prove me wrong!

Among the Sleep:

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Most horror games (*looks above”) rely on hyper violence and all out terror to achieve their goal of scaring gamers into crapping in their shorts. First-person horror adventure Among the Sleep is completely the opposite, using the innocent perspective of a two-year-old player character to tell a heart wrenching tale about a real nightmare that no child should have to live through. The game plays on the childhood fears of the monster under the bed or in the closet, but actually has a deeper meaning behind its storyline. As you explore the surreal world through the eyes of a child, in the background arguing, banging, breaking glass, lullabies and other sounds happening in the real world hint at a troubled family situation as it is perceived by a baby’s imagination.

This brilliant form of allegorical storytelling is perfectly complemented by the game’s mechanics, beginning with the bang-on movement physics which capture the teetery locomotion of a youngster still learning to walk upright. The CTRL key is used to switch between walking and crawling, and if you run on two feet for too long the baby will actually stumble over to all fours. Obviously the little fellow isn’t tall enough to reach most things in the environment, so drawers need to be pulled out and chairs need to be nudged to create stepping stools to climb onto tables or grab door knobs. Instead of having a flashlight, the F key is pressed to have the child hug his talking stuffed animal friend, Teddy, and watch as the warmth of his snuggly embrace generates an amber glow to light the way ahead. These days, some people might call this game a “walking simulator,” in so far as there isn’t much actual gameplay–you walk/crawl through the world and solve very rudimentary item collection and environment puzzles–and the game only lasts a couple hours. But there is something very powerful about the atmosphere and delivery of the story that tugs on the heart and lands a strong punch to the gut. Adults with children of their own should find this game especially moving.

Costume Quest 2:

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Trick or treat. Smell my feet. Give me something good to eat. Costume Quest 2 embodies the mischievous childhood spirit of that old Halloween song and the holiday itself more than any game on this list. Double Fine’s Halloween-themed JRPG adventure continues the story of trick-or-treat heroes Wren and Reynold, who must now jump backward and forward through time to save the holiday from extinction at the hands of a maniacal dentist hell bent on ridding the world of candy. This sequel tosses a few new tricks into its pale of treats. For example, health doesn’t regenerate between battles, so you either need to visit a fountain checkpoint or snack on 25 candy pieces to restore health. Also, the Battle Stamp system has been thrown out entirely in favor of a new system of equipping Creepy Treat Cards. Now, instead of sticking each individual character with a passive ability stamp, up to three Creepy Treat Cards can be taken into battle and used to enact various powers, buffs/debuffs and reward boosters. The only catch is that each card requires a cool down period of a set number of battles before it can be used again, so immediately after every battle you’ll have to spend a moment swapping cards in and out of your battle deck. (You don’t need to use cards, but they certainly make life easier in combat.)

Honestly, though, these things just seem like changes that were made for the sake of making changes. I didn’t find that they made the game any better or worse, just a tiny bit different in subtle ways. By and large, Costume Quest 2 plays just like the original. You go door to door in various environments, doing fetch quests for NPCs, and trick-or-treating to either trigger a battle or score a sweet stash of candy currency. The turn-based battle system, though tweaked and streamlined a bit from before, still involves pressing a button to attack, and then following up with QTE-style prompts to determine the effectiveness of the strike, eventually charging up enough energy to unleash a special ability unique to each costume. The costume lineup is new–out go the robot, knight, pirate and statue of liberty, in comes the wizard, clown, superhero and hot dog suit–but many share similar if not outright identical exploration abilities and are cosmetic changes more than anything. Indeed, more of the same sums up Costume Quest 2, a charming, sharply written 6-8 hour RPG-lite romp that can grow a bit stale if gobbled up in large helpings, but is a joy to play if snacked on in bite-sized pieces.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter:

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No HUD. No map. No waypoints. No real order of progression. From the onset, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter makes it clear that it does not want to hold your hand. It wants you to lose yourself in the idyllic world of Red Creek Valley, meet its characters and figure out its mysteries on your own. And man oh man is it easy to lose yourself in this game; it is one of the most immersive, visually stunning virtual worlds you’ll have the privilege to visit in a video game. I literally spent the first hour essentially accomplishing nothing while I snapped screenshots as if I were playing a photography sim–a nice diversion until I figured out what I was supposed to be doing to advance the story. At times it can also feel like a lot of tedious walking and backtracking. This lack of direction and the total lack of explanation will be a turn off for some, and a turn on for those who enjoy the freedom to set the pace and achieve a true sense of discovery.

The core of this supernatural investigation thriller involves the story of a young boy named Ethan Carter, who sends a letter to a pulp private eye–that’s you, the player–indicating that he is in some sort of danger. From there–I don’t want to spoil things any further, as this is the type of game you need to experience with as little foreknowledge as possible–you discover an abandoned community of houses in the woods and a series of gruesome murder scenes that must be reconstructed. The investigation process involves inspecting the crime scenes, finding pieces of evidence and returning certain items to their original position, at which point you can “touch” the victim to trigger a sort of spiritual recreation of the event and proceed to put the events of the murder into sequential order. While there are only a couple actual puzzles to solve, the crime scene recreation mechanic is really unique and helps to engage you with the events of the story. As long as you aren’t turned away by the potential for a lot of aimless wandering, I honestly cannot recommend this game highly enough.

Deadly 30:

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Contra meets Call of Duty “Zombies” mode in Deadly 30, a 2D side-scroll shooter that has you fighting for survival over 30 days and nights of undead invasion. By day, you can venture from the safety of home base to explore adjacent environments, scavenge for resources and search for survivors to fight by your side with minimal zombie resistance. By night, the zombies come out to feast on your brains in full force, so when the sun starts going down you better jet back to base to begin setting up turrets, barriers and other defenses using the scrap you just collected in an attempt to survive until dawn, or else you’ll most likely be a goner. But don’t worry, progress is saved at the beginning of each day, so when you die–and you will die, trust me–you don’t have to restart the 30-day survival run from day one. Although it’s a bit bland and generic to look at–and it’s a bit disappointing that there isn’t a co-op option for other players to take over for the AI companions–this is a really fun game that has a satisfying difficulty and unlock curve and is great to play for short spurts for a quick zombie apocalypse fix.

The Last Door:

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With a storyline drawn from the macabre realm of authors like H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe and a retro style throwing back to graphic adventure classic Maniac Mansion, The Last Door is a chilling episodic adventure game about a man’s journey into the dark depths of Victorian England, incited by a mysterious letter he received from an old classmate. It’s amazing how powerful and evocative a game with archaic pixel art graphics can be. It may look like something drawn in MS Paint, but there is a distinct style that manages to cut through the low-res blur and establish a rich and compelling world that’ll suck you right in. (Unless you are a total graphics snob.) Frankly, many big budget AAA horror games could learn a thing or two from the strong storytelling and audio design crafted by developer The Game Kitchen. The point-and-click gameplay is rock solid as well, with puzzles that make sense as well as an intuitive interface for inventory management and item inspection. It would be easy to expect the fuzzy visuals to obscure interactive hotspots during exploration, but somehow everything manages to be clear and easy to identify.

Neverending Nightmares:

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Even though it has a stylized ink/pencil-drawn black and white aesthetic rather than cutting edge hyper realistic 3D graphics, the graphic tone and imagery on display in Neverending Nightmares comes pretty damn close to matching Outlast. Inspired by the developer’s own battles with mental illness, Infinitap Games’ side-scrolling psychological horror adventure is like a demented spin on the ground hog’s day phenomenon. As Thomas, you literally play through a never-ending series of nightmares. You wake up, wander the hallways of your house, reach a stopping point usually ending in some morbid scene of murder or suicide, and then wake up again to wander a slightly different layout of similar-looking hallways and rooms. For around an hour, you repeat this wake up to die loop, watching as the surroundings steadily deteriorate, the environment changes from a home to an insane asylum, and your inner demons begin to manifest as grotesque monsters. Pop-out scares are peppered throughout this journey into a deeply troubled mind, but it is the dark imagery and the eerie sounds of toy box music, spectral moans and laughs, and other bumps in the night that make the tension so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Neverending Nightmares does have multiple branch points and endings, but it still isn’t a long game. And yet given its subject matter playing from start to finish in a single sitting is still tough to manage. Watching a video game character stab himself, rip veins out of his arms and die in many other gruesome ways is a lot to take in, even in a short period of time. In the end, the game proved gripping enough that I couldn’t stop until I had finally reached the end of the nightmare. It’s not “enjoyable” in the traditional video game sense of the word, but Matt Gilgenbach’s bold attempt to visualize and create awareness for mental illness deserves praise and attention. And to be played, of course.

Three Dead Zed:

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Who says zombie games have to be brooding, apocalyptic bloodbaths? While there is still plenty of blood–albeit more cartoony and comical in effect–to be seen, 2D platformer Three Dead Zed is a lighthearted zombie game about an undead test subject capable of morphing between three different forms. Each form offers a different set of acrobatic skillz: Zed’s standard zombie form jumps a moderate height, climbs ladders, pushes switches, picks up small boxes and munches on enemies; the on-all-fours crawler form leaps to much greater heights and distances, wall jumps, moves much faster and is smaller to fit under tight spaces, but also has low defense and can’t attack at all; and the she-hulk form breaks through walls, crushes enemies, lifts large objects and has high defense, but can’t get enough height to jump over even a piece of paper. Cycling between forms on the fly to overcome hazards and reach the tinfoil hat wearing kittens that await rescue at the end of each stage makes for a fun and funny puzzle-esque platformer that’s a slightly less demanding take on the hardcore twitch style of hopping and bopping made indie-famous by Super Meat Boy. You will die a lot, don’t get me wrong. The die and retry loop just doesn’t feel as punishing.

Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror:

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If you’d rather avoid all the blood, guts and jump-out scares and play something more cerebral for Halloween this year, Poltergeist is definitely worth a look. Presented almost like an old tycoon simulation game (control is limited to using a mouse cursor to make selections from a horizontal menu across the bottom of the screen and interact with the environment), this is a puzzle game in which you, as the spirit of a man determined to keep anyone from living in his former house, have to figure out the best way to scare would be homeowners away. At your disposal are an array of ghostly powers which allow you to manipulate household objects, make furniture levitate or fly into another room, create noises to lure targets into groups and so on. Each target in the house has an emote floating in a bubble over their head as well as a different number of health points corresponding to the number of times they need to be frightened before they’re sent scampering out the door. The catch is that at the beginning of a stage, you are given a limited ability loadout to work with. If you run out of powers and even a single person is still in the house, you fail and have to start again.

Thus the game becomes one of careful strategy as you systematically strike fear into the hearts of anyone who dares to set foot in your not-so-humble abode. Adding another layer of nuance and challenge, targets eventually get wise to your haunting ways and begin bringing in ghost hunters capable of thwarting certain methods of inducing terror. There are even boss stages requiring the house to be cleared of all living beings until a specific person is left all alone, ready to be subjected to an extra-special “Boo!” This is such a clever and well executed game.

Nightmares From the Deep: The Cursed Heart / The Siren’s Call:

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Artifex Mundi makes the best hidden object adventures. Although still designed for casual play, they’re just so much more ambitious and sophisticated than the typical hidden object games found across the web on dedicated casual gaming sites. They are adventure and logic puzzle games as much as they are hidden object games, meaning there is more thought involved than clicking to a new area, solving the hidden object scene, moving on to the next area, solving the next hidden object scene, and so on. Even the hidden object scenes require solving little puzzles to piece objects back together, unlock compartments or clean objects off before they can be collected and scratched off the list. Or you can avoid the object hunting entirely by playing games of Mahjong to solve the hidden object scenes. For some not-gory-at-all Halloween chills, the two Nightmares From the Deep titles in the Artifex Mundi catalog are particularly great choices, as they have a sort of cheesy, creepy atmosphere and fun storylines dealing with undead pirates and cursed mutant fish people. (The Cursed Heart falls more into the spooky side, The Siren’s Call takes itself the less serious.) And yep, they’re in the Steam Halloween sale, so you can get them dirt cheap for the next few days.

Depths of Fear: Knossos:

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Has there ever been a stealth rogue-like horror game inspired by Greek mythology? If there has, I’ve certainly never seen, heard of or played it. Until now! Played from a first-person viewpoint, Depths of Fear plunges you into the Minotaur’s labyrinth below the ancient city of Knossos as Theseus, son of Poseidon, on a quest to slay the deformed offspring of King Minos and put an end to the child sacrifices made to the beast. Progress in the game is made in two ways. In order to slay the Minotaur, you must venture into the chambers of mythological creatures such as Centaur, Manticore, Griffin, and Hydra and defeat them to gain the medallions required to unsheathe a magical sword. In the meantime, or once you’ve completed the story, you can enter an endless maze of dungeons to see how far you can go before dying, rerunning the randomly generated lair to reach deeper levels, bank more gold to spend on new gear at Daedalus’ shop, and find books to earn favor with the Gods and gain their mighty powers by praying at shrines.

Given the game’s low budget production values, rash of glitches, clunky combat and inconsistent stealth detection, you’d think it would be a total snooze, but after a while the game sort of grows on you to the point where it becomes inexplicably hard to quit. I don’t know, maybe it’s just the mythological setting and the sense of fear that builds in the torch-lit darkness as the sounds of Cerberus whimpering and howling, Saytr’s hooves click-clacking on the stone floors, and Medusa quietly slithering up from behind to lay on her stone gaze tickle the eardrums and send shivers up the spine. For me, the flaws only made the game an imperfect guilty pleasure gem, and I’m always looking for more of those. This is definitely a game that will appeal only to a niche audience willing to overlook a lot of serious problems, but give it a try and maybe it’ll win you over. Shoot, it’s barely over a dollar at the moment, so what’ve you got to lose?

DreadOut:

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Here’s another flawed, obscure gem that’ll either terrify you with its sluggish pacing and awkwardly stiff animations, or strike fear into your heart with its suspenseful ambiance and seriously creepy creature designs inspired by Indonesian folklore. (Shoo, demonic pig-beast. Get away from me, creepy hairstylist chasing me with scissors. Leave me the hell alone, dreadlock lady with piercing red eyes.) Throwing back to the PlayStation 2 era–dated graphics and all–of pure psychological survival horror, when games like the early Silent Hills and especially Fatal Frame were at the top of the genre, DreadOut takes place in an abandoned town, in particular a school where supernatural beings now haunt the hallways after a past incident of mass possession amongst the student body. Playing as a student from some other school named Linda, who stumbles upon the town while on a field trip and is left stranded all alone following the disappearance of her BFF and fellow classmates, you creep through the nightmarish institution of higher learning equipped with naught but a smartphone as a light source, switching between third-person exploration and a first-person view while using the phone’s camera as a photographic weapon to Pok√©mon snap sinister beings out of existence–and into your picture gallery and achievement collection.

DreadOut sure doesn’t make itself immediately likeable, as the game gets off to an excruciatingly slow start that just makes you want to stop and go play something more instantly gratifying. But given enough time to work into the story and actually complete the dreadfully boring trek through town and into the school, a compelling old school survival horror goosebump-raiser can be found lurking on the other side. Of the games I played during the process of putting together this feature, this one consistently raised the hair on my arms more than any other and even made me jump in my chair a few times. If you’re particularly into Asian horror and consider yourself a fan of older titles like Fatal Frame, Kuon or Siren, I think you’re going to dig this game. Just be aware that the game is not yet complete. Like Double Fine’s Broken Age, only the first act of the game is currently playable (it’s around two to three hours), with the second act to be added later as a free update.

Devil’s Dare:

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Hey, Secret Base. The last 30 years of pop culture called, and they want their references back. A nostalgic love letter to retro gamers and fans of classic horror flicks, Devil’s Dare celebrates and pokes fun at all things geek culture since the 80s. In the vein of genre all-timers like Double Dragon, Final Fight and Streets of Rage, the game itself is a true-to-its-roots brawler which has you and, if any are around, a few local co-op buddies (sorry, no online co-op) saving the day after the Benny Arcade 20XX video game convention is overrun by zombies. But all hope for humanity is not lost. A red Navi-like fairy (Hey! Listen!) grants each of the four survivors with the unique powers of an iconic character. In terms of weapons, combat styles, abilities and visual likenesses, the four heroes are obvious tributes to Link from Legend of Zelda, Raphael from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Terra from Final Fantasy VI, and Gilius of Golden Axe fame (plus two other unlockable bonus characters). And who do these parody heroes fight against? Well, beyond the generic zombies and a variety of smaller enemy types you might recognize, the boss baddie lineup is a who’s who of American action/horror villains–Jason, Terminator, Alien and The Fly, to name a few. But the references don’t stop there. If you pay close attention, you’ll spot the dead bodies of other iconic characters in the stage backgrounds as well as a litany of subtle references in the names of ability upgrades and achievements. Even certain mechanics are clear tributes to older games, namely the way weakened enemies flash a “Finish Him!” prompt over their heads, leaving them briefly vulnerable to a special attack Fatality. Sound familiar?

Playing the game, I was reminded of the recent comedy film This is the End, in which actors like Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and James Franco play as themselves and watch as a laundry list of cameo actors and actresses are killed during a parody apocalypse. Only in Devil’s Dare the make-believe apocalypse has befallen the united universes of famous video game characters, and somehow a wormhole has opened to unleash titans of Hollywood horror. Fortunately, even if many of the references sail clear over your head, as long as you like beat-’em-ups you’re going to have a blast. The game’s challenging without resorting to a lot of the cheap AI tactics the genre has been known to suffer from, and it has a permadeath system balanced out by the ability to pile up cash through good performance to pay for increasingly expensive continues. The level progression can be played in any order, and during replays the levels do change when selected in a different order from the previous attempt. Adding to the replay value, the four characters also have distinct play styles and special powers, so you have to adapt your pugilistic strategy depending on the role. When stripped down to its fundamentals, Devil’s Dare is a stellar representation of the genre. All of the referential humor is merely a cherry on top of the bloody sundae.

Full Mojo Rampage:

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Move over, Binding of Isaac. There’s a new contender for the roguelike shooter crown, and I’d say it’s got poor Isaac beat. Full Mojo Rampage from Over The Top Games puts a refreshing voodoo spin on the isometric twin-stick shoot-’em-up, placing you in control of a voodoo doll-like character armed with a magic wand to blast away skeletons, ghost chickens, spiders, Frankenstein monsters, ghouls and other creepy-crawlies you would expect to find lurking in lava pits, dungeons and bayous. My favorite thing about the game is the way the customization system is so cleverly tied in with the whole voodoo theme. Rather than equipping different types of medieval armor and weaponry, voodoo pins offering passive stat and inventory upgrades can be stuck into your character before embarking on the next adventure. Also during the pre-quest setup, you are able to choose from a wardrobe of unlockable voodoo masks (for cosmetic purposes only) as well as pledge your devotion to voodoo gods known as Loa, each offering a unique loadout of one passive ability and two active powers with cool down timers. (Some of the secret masks even crossover with other indie games like Super Meat Boy, Guacamelee and Minecraft, which is a nice touch of fan service.) During missions, random ability drops called mojos allow for in-progress stat customization.

Even if you fail a mission–and you will fail, because despite its cute aesthetical vibe this game is pretty tough–experience points and loot contribute to a persistent character progression. Procedurally generated levels and boss encounters keep the game fresh on each attempted playthrough–though after a few hours the game does show a rather limited variety of fetch quest objectives and map tilesets. Full Mojo Rampage nails–or pins, I should say–pretty much every aspect of good roguelike design, and it only gets better when a buddy tags along in co-op. Plus, the whimsical spooky music just makes you want to break into a bad karaoke rendition of “Monster Mash.” So there’s that.

Wayward Manor:

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From The Odd Gentlemen, bakers of the scrumptious pie puzzle-platformer The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, comes Wayward Manor, a quirky puzzle adventure which turns you into the Rube Goldberg of poltergeists. The gameplay is in the same ballpark as the Poltergeist game we’ve already talked about–you play as an unseen angry ghost masterminding the plot to scare people out of a haunted house–but the methods of accomplishing the like-minded goal is less about strategy here and more about just having fun figuring out different ways to manipulate props to generate fear and panic amongst the household of screwball characters that look like Picasso and Tim Burton teamed up to design a collection of vinyl toy figures. (They’re strange and ugly, yet somehow adorable.) Each level is populated by one or more occupants and furnished in a different layout, the objective being to click on objects with a green aura to sucker those of the human persuasion into traps that’ll frighten them out of their britches. You can cause bottles to fall on their heads from the rafters. You can open windows to let the gusty winds blow through and push objects to the other side of the room. You can make paintings spring to life and let out a good “Boo!”

It’s all very simplistic and one-dimensional, but sometimes good casual fun is all that’s needed, and that’s where this game hits the spot. The real fun is actually in replaying stages to pull off the “Secret Scares,” which require the use of specific scare tactics to achieve. (Each Secret Scare is even linked to a Steam achievement.) I think the main disappointment some folks will encounter, given the involvement of author Neil Gaiman, is the minimal storytelling. Gaiman’s narration is well done, conveying the limited narrative material in a quaint style that meshes well with the slapstick nature of the puzzle gameplay. But short cutscenes between chapters don’t exactly let Gaiman cut loose on delivering the truly memorable yarn that I’m sure many fans and pre-sale backers were expecting. It’s also worth noting that the game is a tiny bit rough around the edges as far as things like occasional animation hitches and some minor audio miscues. Still, Wayward Manor is a jovial haunted house romp. Just keep your expectations in check, and don’t take the game too seriously.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!