SPOOKWARE Episode 1 review: Dia De Los WarioWare
It’s kind of strange that a Halloween-themed collection of minigames managed to come out a couple of weeks before the upcoming WarioWare title. Or even that it came out a couple months before my favorite spooky holiday. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened with SPOOKWARE, which was released on August 26th. Or, to be more accurate, SPOOKWARE Episode 1 launched on that date. It’s one of 4 planned episodes, and quite entertaining in its own right. It chronicles the misadventures of three Skelebros – Lefti, Midi and Righti (aka left, middle, and right, according to where they sit). Generic names aside, they’re very silly and enjoyable characters, and they add lots of heart to a strange adventure. Mix in a bit of horror and the unknown, and you have a great mix for any gamer.
A Bone To Pick
I should note, when I took SPOOKWARE on for review, I didn’t realize it was an episodic format. That said, there’s a lot of content to be found in SPOOKWARE Episode 1. It features some 60+ mini-games and is split into 4 chapters (one of which is the prologue). Each chapter has a different focus, from solving a murder in one to creating a school band in another, culminating in running a restaurant. Those activities may sound mundane, but the way the game is written, there’s nary a moment that’s remotely boring. There’s a thread of absurdity woven throughout the episode, and it alternates between humor and horror regularly.
Though there are 4 chapters in this episode, there are only 3 tape trials. These are the end sections of chapters, and have the Skelebros challenge several minigames in a row. Your goal is to beat 9, and then the boss challenge after that. Each bro represents a life, so you’ll have 3 chances. And keep in mind, things speed up after the 6th win. I enjoyed these challenges, though I was a bit saddened there wasn’t one in the last chapter.
Can I Help You, Sir?
Title aside, SPOOKWARE isn’t all that scary, other than when the unnamed, deer-headed horror arrives to threaten the brothers on occasion. It’s unclear what their goal is, other than wrangling the Skelebros for some nefarious purpose. This creature also intimates that the events that occur in the game may not be as clear-cut as they might appear. They’ll also offer to make the game easier if you keep losing in the trials at the end of chapters. But since I never took them up on that offer, I’m not sure yet what their game is. I’m just hoping that it will be clarified in later episodes.
One of the things I most appreciated in SPOOKWARE Episode 1 was getting to know the Skelebros. They all have very distinct personalities. Lefti is anxious and brainy; Midi is the charming artistic kid; and Righti is gruff, brash, and full of unfounded confidence. They get by far the most development of any character in the game, though the NPCs are pretty crazy too. They range from gangs of milk drinkers to alcoholic cruise passengers and even martial artist masters of cuisine. And for you completionists, there are 20+ achievements in this episode alone. You’ll get a bunch just by exploring and talking to folks, and I managed 15 before I rolled credits.
A Multitude of Minigames
Though chapters are mostly linear affairs and revolve around fulfilling objectives, the minigames keep things fresh. Each chapter has different ones, and they’re utterly bonkers. You might be chopping watermelons with a guillotine, shooting hordes of undead, lockpicking with skeleton digits, playing funky beats, skewering eyeballs, defending against rogue sandwiches, and much more besides. Nearly all of the minigames can be figured out quickly, and almost all of them played very well. I only encountered one in the last chapter that didn’t seem to work properly, which told me to chop off someone’s fingers. Otherwise, they’re pretty streamlined and easy to parse.
One aspect that mixes up the minigames is the controls schemes. Though you’re nominally able to play SPOOKWARE Episode 1 with either a keyboard and mouse or gamepad, things start to get tricky quickly. Not only does each chapter have different types of minigames, but some work much better with a certain control setup. The cruise ship chapter even straight up tells you to use a keyboard and mouse, and they aren’t exaggerating. I was unable to complete even a simple minigame in that chapter with my gamepad. In the school chapter, you can use the gamepad, but you’re better off using the shoulder buttons instead of directional input for some musical challenges. And in the final chapter, I wound up using both setups. I would use my mouse to drag guests to tables at my restaurant and the gamepad to play minigames necessary to craft their meals.
I really don’t mind having alternate playstyles for a game. That said, I did wish I could play all the minigames with one or the other. The fact the last chapter had me rapidly switching between both was a bit of a hassle. Worse is when you play remix mode. You’ll unlock games after playing them, and can remix any number of them endlessly from the comfort of the Skelebros’ home coffin. Not only is this complicated by the different controls (since you can mix and match any games), but they accelerate way too quickly. I didn’t mind the speed increase in the trials at the end of chapters, but those only feature a handful of games. I wish that remix made the speed increases a bit more gradual, for fairness’ sake, if nothing else.
Regular Genre Changes
I know I compared SPOOKWARE Episode 1 to WarioWare. And while the similarity is unavoidable, it still does many novel things. For example, have you ever solved a Phoenix Wright-styled murder mystery in a WarioWare game? How about putting together a band and playing various musical minigames? The diversity of each chapter keeps Episode 1 not only fresh, but helps it stand out from a series it’s obviously inspired by. And honestly, I was very entertained by most of my time with this episode. It’s a lot of fun experiencing the misadventures of the Skelebros translated through the lens of minigames. There were only a few things that prevented it from earning a higher score from me.
Dusty Old Bones
For one, it can be tricky to navigate around each area. The brothers all amble about in a meandering pattern, and it’s very easy to miss key details such as doors or stairs. Also, in the cruise ship episode, I wish I could have viewed evidence I gathered before interrogating possible suspects. And though I don’t hold this last part against the game, I was perturbed I missed a handful of minigames in my time. Though I wasn’t trying to 100% the adventure, I got so close it was frustrating in retrospect. I’m sure a couple are in the sewers of Bonehatten, but I have no clue where the others are hiding.
Just The Right Amount of Crazy
Visually, SPOOKWARE Episode 1 is a treat. It’s a weird mix of Paper Mario craftsmanship and grindhouse visuals. It’s kinda grainy, occasionally wobbly, but still very compelling. I love how the brothers are color-coded, and most of the time, I loved what I saw on screen. When combined with diverse and surprising music, things get really great. And a special shout out to the audio cues used in the minigames. Every success is met with a loud “HELL YEAH,” while failures result in an “OH NO.” Sure, it sounded like my home was being invaded by the Kool-Aid Man, but I loved every moment of it.
Next Time On SPOOKWARE!
Honestly, I just wish I could have spent more time with SPOOKWARE Episode 1. I managed to roll the credits in just 3 hours, and though I have achievements to unlock still, I’d much rather wait for the next episode. My only question now is whether those subsequent episodes will be free downloads to owners of the game, or whether they’ll each go for a premium. Either way, SPOOKWARE is a game that’s quite entertaining and sure to appeal to fans of WarioWare. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too much longer for Episode 2.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: DreadXP; Developer: BEESWAX GAMES; Players: 1; Released: August 26, 2021; MSRP: $12.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.