Straightforward puzzles and tight timers are essential in microgames, forming a minimalist game design that captures attention spans with a nonchalant ease. These unmatched and intuitive party games offer an even playing field, and it’s a foundation that SPOOKWARE understands intimately.
SPOOKWARE – Episode 1 creatively carries those ideas into a new, perfectly mismatched era focused on narratives. It’s a unique, yet familiar experience that leaves me wanting to play more. SPOOKWARE pays homage to inspirations like WarioWare, Ace Attorney, and Parappa the Rapper by carefully sculpting a funny, intensely resonant, horror RPG adventure around some truly bizarre miniature games.
Originally a microgame jam developed for DreadXP’s Dread X Collection 3 horror pack, BEESWAX Games’ SPOOKWARE is back with a fully realized corporeal form. In Episode 1 you play as three personable skeletons, Lefti, Midi, and Righti, who love to marathon scary movies in their basement. The trio has decided they want more from life (erm, death?), so they leave the graveyard looking for adventure, and each of them receives a main character moment in three distinct areas.
They first travel to Gruel High, where Righti embarks on a mission to become the school’s bongo champion, and all of the microgames are rhythm based. The second is Bonne Cruise, a vacation getaway turned murder mystery. Lefti has to rise up and become the ultimate sleuth, solving Phoenix Wright-style microgames to crack the case. The final area is Bonehattan, the big apple, where Midi is head chef of a restaurant maintained by cooking microgames. This is only episode one, but it already showcases a fantastic and varied collection of quick, repeatable challenges while also telling a sweet tale of three quirky brothers.
The art style is a careful graphical balancing act between cutesy and hyper realistic, horror-inspired gore (think the uncomfortably detailed close-ups from SpongeBob or Ren and Stimpy). During the cooking arc, you need to find recipes around town so your restaurant doesn’t go under. Someone on the street tells you their signature recipe for skewered eyes, but in order to learn it you need to pass a microgame of piercing and stacking bloodshot eyeballs with a stick. It sounds gruesome, but the visuals are actually tasteful, and never go overboard in trying to shock or scare you.
SPOOKWARE‘s microgames are absurdly solid, but some of the most fun comes from moseying around its 2.5D world and having conversations with the undead locals. In the overworld your troop of skeletons is cut out and pasted on the screen like paper, hopping around as you traverse the town. Your walks are paired with sensational synths and some banging percussion that nested in my head for days and days after playing. SPOOKWARE has the kind of soundtrack you want to download immediately — which I tried doing, but sadly it isn’t officially released yet.
The exchanges with other characters are always playful, and casually help build out SPOOKWARE‘s realm. When I was walking by Gruel High, a student blocked off a path to an area, so I approached them and they said “You can’t walk by here I’m taking PATH-BLOCKING 101 and this is my final assignment,” so I just turned around and explored another hallway. Through only a couple lines of dialogue, SPOOKWARE paints a clear picture of its NPCs. They’re all well written, calling back and attaching to other conversational threads seamlessly, making a comfy, comedic quilt you want to get lost in.
I’m so happy that such a referential and inventive microgame jam has become something way more wide-reaching, prancing through genre and style with ease to make a project that is incredibly special. SPOOKWARE – Episode 1 is the first step for BEESWAX GAMES, and man, it’s a refreshing microscopic gaming amalgamation that people should absolutely have on their radars. It has me buzzing, and I can’t wait for the next episodes to drop.