WAXWORKS / Accolade / Amiga

Waxworks is the final of Horror Soft's quartet of idiosyncratic gore-splattered adventure-RPGs. Whatever deal they struck with Elvira was apparently up by this point, so she's no longer even serving company mascot duty, but the game nevertheless comes off as the best of the bunch. It still has some of the same design problems that have tripped them up all along, but not nearly as many, and the game shows better polish and the benefit of experience gained from the previous titles.

The setup is some hastily-written mumbo jumbo about how you're the descendant of a family cursed long ago by a witch, so that every set of twins born to it will have one evil twin that goes out and does unspeakable crimes against humanity and etc. To break the curse, your uncle sets up this Waxworks which somehow serves as a magical portal to the past, where you have to relive the events of the good twin stopping the evil twin ... it makes no fucking sense at all, actually, but the plot isn't integral to the experience surprisingly. What it breaks down to is that the Waxworks serves as a hub level, akin to the movie studio in Elvira 2, which ferries you to the thematically very different levels. There's four worlds you have to traipse through, tracking down the evil twin of that time period - ancient Egypt, some sort of mine infested by plant monsters, a giant graveyard, and London where the evil twin in question is Jack the Ripper.

Each of the Waxworks is self-contained, and once entered you get trapped in it until completion, and don't carry items or experience between them. The prime point of interest of the game is that each has varying gameplay - the graveyard is a smaller combat-heavy environment, the pyramid and mine are a little lighter on the combat but more sprawling, mazelike and filled with traps and puzzles, and London is the really odd duck in that there's no combat whatsoever until the very end, and you spend the whole time finding clues to track down the Ripper whilst dodging the police and angry mobs roving the streets (who will kill you on contact as you look exactly like the Ripper.) The downside - no auto-map and samey textures everywhere means that, at least for the pyramid and mine, you're expected to bust out some graph paper and draw maps in the oldest of old-school styles. And as it turns out, the giant mazes are actually padding to disguise what is really a rather short game - each level can be completed in between 20 to 30 minutes if you know exactly what you're doing, and then the final waxwork that opens up after you beat the primary four literally only takes about two minutes to complete.

I felt the combat here worked the best out of all of Horrorsoft's games. It's basically a hybrid of the systems used in the two Elvira games. You get the enemies using varying swings that you click on the right part of the screen to parry akin to Elvira 1, but you also have the emphasis on equipment and positional damage of Elvira 2, as well as some spells at your disposal. As with Elvira 2, you have to identify the weakest body part and go after it to kill the monster, but there's more of a strategic effect to going after other limbs. Attacking the arms of the guards in the pyramid causes them to miss nearly every time, and the limbs of the zombies in the graveyard will fall right off after a couple of good hacks. In the mines, you can avoid hacking it out with the plant monsters by simply using your handy screwdriver to poke out their multiple eyes. It's still a bit clunky and random at times, but I had a lot less complaint with this system than I did with the previous two.

Unfortunately there is still one lingering major problem from previous games, and that's Horrorsoft's predilection for thoughtless/mean-spirited fuck-overs. You can still miss items, misuse items and do things that cause progress to become impossible, but there's no indication that you're irrevocably screwed and you're left wandering around like a dope forever.

Waxworks' chief appeal is the same as the Elvira games - lurid, colorful graphics with plenty of blood-and-guts. The guts haven't aged well, though; the game made a splash in its time, but in light of modern standards it now just looks like what it was - one of the designers friends laying down for a digitized picture and then having red gore drawn over them in post-production kind of hastily. Still, the animation of some of the monsters here is pretty fluid and impressive - the climactic battle with the Ripper in the London chapter is the high point. Waxworks is still a rough play, and gamers who can't be stuffed with drawing maps and sussing out obtuse puzzle solutions won't get very far with it, but it does show some significant improvement from Horrorsoft's previous work. Too bad it was the last one.

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