Spookware Screen 3
Dread XP

There’s a unique appeal in games like WarioWare that feels eerily appropriate for the modern day. With attention spans split between short-form content, brisk tweets, memes, and other kinds of nonsense, WarioWare fits right in with its eclectic mini-games, colorful characters, and unrelenting pace. The last game in the series, WarioWare: Get it Together!, released half a decade ago for the Nintendo Switch, leaving a vacancy in the already niche space for something to snag our increasingly fleeting free time.

Enter Spookware, a 2020 horror-themed game jam entry developed by Adam Pype and Viktor Kraus. Combining the inherent silliness and comic styling of WarioWare and microgames centered around horror references and frightening scenarios, it was an immediate hit among the incredibly tiny Venn diagram of fans it appealed to. Despite its incredibly short completion time — it was made for a game jam, after all — those who played it found themselves falling in love with the concept. A sequel, Spookware @ The Video Store, would even be distributed through the publisher DreadXP in the third installment of their various horror collections only a few short months later.

Finally, in 2021, Spookware would finally be released as a fully-realized game on both PC and Nintendo Switch. Bringing on a third developer to the team, Tibau VDB, led to the official formation of BEESWAX Games to tackle this project. A wider scope, plans for episodic additions, and more accompany a brand-new ten-dollar price tag. But will some new bells and whistles justify this cost? Let’s find out.

Spookware Screen 5
Dread XP

Spookware starts innocently enough with the same three protagonists featured in previous incarnations of the game. They’re a group of skeleton brothers, each with a simple but defined personality: Lefti, the shortest of the bunch, an intelligent but timid nerd; Midi, a subdued creative type with a talent for music and cooking; and Righti, the “cool” one of the bunch who frequently wears hats indoors. Get used to them; they’re going to be gibbering and jabbering through the entire game.

Our first portion of the game, the prologue, sets the basis for what’s to come. In the middle of a dark room, our three protagonists fall onto a purple couch from the heavens above as they “watch horror movies.” In reality, you will be playing a set of horror-themed microgames, with each skeleton on the couch acting as a visual representation of your remaining continues.

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If you’ve never played WarioWare before, it may be useful to understand what exactly a “microgame” is. Instead of a standard game, wherein a set of rules are established, and a challenge is gradually introduced over a long period of time, microgames are typically a single idea or task with the simplest of stipulations. Put X in Y, do X but not Y, avoid Y while doing X, and so on. The challenge comes less from the actual task itself and more from the context in which it exists. WarioWare assembles these microgames into extensive marathons. As soon as you complete a single task, the next one quickly starts, making the marathon a test of your reflexes and memory. This challenge is further increased through a strict timer that exponentially shrinks as more and more microgames are completed.

Spookware Screen 4
Dread XP

Spookware operates the same way, mostly. We’ll get into that in a bit. For now, all you have to do is just complete whatever task is assigned to you as quickly as possible. Should you fail to do a task correctly, one of the skeletons will go up in smoke, and you’ll have to repeat a microgame from the multiple ones available. Once all three skeletons are incapacitated, you’ll have to start all over. Complete nine games — including a unique “boss” game — and you’ll win.

Once the prologue ends, however, things take a pretty big turn. Having grown bored of watching the same classic horror movies over and over again, our skeleton trio finds themselves aching to explore the world. Leaving the confines of their home — a grave in the middle of an expansive tombstone — they head off on a road trip to find new experiences. It’s here where Spookware truly starts and where some divisive opinions may form.

The main content of Spookware isn’t microgames. At the very least, there’s a lot you’ll be doing in-between microgames that “isn’t” microgames. Split into multiple episodes, with up to three chapters per episode, Spookware plays more like a humorous adventure game for a majority of its short runtime.

A typical chapter finds our trio in a new location before inadvertently being given a large problem to solve. In the first episode alone, these can range from simply assembling a band for a school graduation ceremony, to solving a murder on a cruise, to managing a restaurant. Instead of playing rapid-fire microgames one after another, you’ll often be walking around, talking to NPCs, and occasionally playing a single game directly linked with the chapter’s theme. In the case of chapter one, you’ll often be playing a simple rhythm game with a pair of bongos. In chapter two, you’ll either be picking locks or bringing up evidence during important testimonials. Only when you’re on the verge of completing a chapter will you go through a marathon similar to the one in the prologue. Other than that, you’ll be completing simple puzzles and retrieving items for various characters.

Spookware Screen 1
Dread XP

It’s important to be upfront about this. Several negative Steam reviews highlighted that, having previously played the original incarnations of Spookware, an expectation was made that the full release would resemble those incarnations more closely. An option of a “remix mode” is thankfully available for those who want something closer to WarioWare. Microgames completed in the main story can be freely replayed in this mode through the skeleton trio’s basement after a chapter is successfully completed.

That’s not to say that the adventure portions of Spookware are somehow bad. As mentioned, every chapter is themed around a central idea, meaning that each one is thoroughly different from the last. Chapter three is especially interesting, framing its microgames underneath a simple management simulator that sees you waiting tables, taking orders, and timing these actions to manage customer relations. Chapter two utilizes the microgame format with brief interrogations, prompting the player to bring up discovered evidence at the right time to solve a crime.

This is all done with some terrific aesthetics on top of everything else. The soundtrack, composed by Viktor Kraus, has some absolutely fantastic tracks to accompany the horror-lite vibe the game exudes, with a mix of high-energy tracks and a relaxing ambiance strewn throughout. “Metal Steed,” “Restaurant Rush (Phase 3),” and “LaBonne Cruise” are some personal favorites, as the soundscape for each chapter varies drastically due to their unique settings. While not amazing in a technical sense, the game’s visuals showcase some interesting combinations of photographs, low-poly models, and a strange “jittering” effect that all coalesce into a pleasing treat for the eyes.

Spookware Screen 2
Dread XP

The game’s story is similarly pleasing. Spookware‘s plotting often relies less on asking “why” and more on “why not,” opting to place you in fun scenarios for the sake of it rather than wholly justifying it. Chapters do somewhat connect to each other through their endings, as hamfisted and silly as these connections admittedly are. There’s also a loose narrative formed between these chapters, as our skeleton trio is seemingly being stalked by a mysterious cloaked figure in their dreams. Episode two gives you a lot more to work with in terms of this character, but that’s all that can be said before venturing into spoiler territory.

It’s not a perfect game by any means. The game’s text bubbles will occasionally overflow, leading some text to clip out of the box they’re meant to be contained in. A visible newline character (“\n”) can be found in one of episode two’s microgames. I did run into a bug where chapter two initially refused to unlock after completing the preceding chapter. Returning to the basement, then to the chapter select screen, seemed to fix it. Other than that, performance remained solid throughout, with no major complaints to mention.

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I should also mention how the game controls — while it’s optional to have a full mouse and keyboard for the various microgames, it does feel like the game was designed with this control scheme in mind. Episode two makes extensive use of the two, with frequent typing tests making up a bulk of chapter five’s microgames. While I didn’t try either the Steam Deck or Switch version of Spookware, I can’t imagine a thumbstick would give you a similar degree of accuracy.

Spookware Screen 6
Dread XP

The last thing to mention is how much there is to do in Spookware and how this may affect your final decision to buy it. You see, Spookware isn’t actually finished. Episodes one and two are fully playable, as well as the prologue and the remixed microgames. But episodes three and four and the epilogue are locked behind a DLC label. No, you’re not going to have to pay to unlock the ending of the game — Spookware is simply being released in episodes. Episode one coincided with the game’s release in August of 2021, while episode two, distributed for free to all owners of Spookware, released in September of 2022. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that a ten-dollar purchase may take a while to feel completely justified.

But what’s already here is pretty fun, leaving you wishing for more instead of wishing it was over sooner. While I originally received Spookware as part of a larger bundle, I would feel comfortable recommending it at a small discount, if not at full price, for others. There’s clearly a lot of effort underneath its cutesy visuals and horror-tinged microgames. As part of DreadXP’s expansive catalog, it represents a level of creativity and passion you won’t typically have elsewhere. If you’re aching for a slightly-spooky adventure with an ungodly amount of skeleton puns, Spookware is an easy recommendation.

Spookware is available on Steam, Itch.io, and Nintendo Switch. A direct purchase on Itch.io will also come with a complimentary Steam key.

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