Bizarre, occasionally obnoxious combinations are at the core of any classic point-and-click game, but Wailing Heights brings some sense to the nonsense by requiring you to write songs about its cast of daisy pushing personalities. Set in a kind of town centre for the dead, you play as Francis Finkelstein, the Scouse songwriter behind 60s sensation The Deadbeats’ hits. When the final living member bites the dust, you’re invited to the eponymous city – except the problem is you’re not supposed to enter if you're still alive.
This is a bizarre game, but it will feel familiar for fans of Tim Schafer romps of yore. While it doesn’t have anywhere near the same scale as a Day of the Tentacle, the similarities are there, as you wander around comic book-inspired settings, interacting with an increasingly kooky crop of characters. The key is that, with the right lyrics, you can possess different souls – and so the game becomes about learning the likes and dislikes of its cast, so that you can occupy them and progress the plot. It’s all rather silly, but it’s hard not to smile at rapping Scottish ghouls.
The problem is that you’ll spend a lot of time backtracking through the relatively small world. Once you’ve gained access to different characters, you can only toggle between them when they’re in close proximity, so you’ll find yourself completing a small portion of a puzzle, before returning to another soul, switching, and then travelling all the way back to finish it off. While the setting is, as we mentioned, miniscule, the cumbersome controls and often slow movement speed make it more of an irritation than it should be.
It’s clear that a lot of thought has been invested into the project, though. The cast is split across different horror archetypes, with the werewolves brought to life as rowdy Irish alcoholics, while the vampires are cell-phone obsessed hipsters who hang out in a trendy coffee shop whinging about the bands on stage. At times it’s laugh out loud funny, on other occasions it falls flat – but there’s an enormous amount of effort that’s gone into the artwork and the original soundtrack, which blend together nicely to create a cohesive presentation style.
Sadly, the release far too quickly runs out of ideas. Some of the puzzle solutions are as obscure as you’d expect them to be, but with the scale of the game quite small, you’ll stumble on the answers quite easily as there are only so many people you can meaningfully interact with. And while this does cut down on frustration, it can start to feel like you’re already solving puzzles before they’ve even been presented to you, meaning that you’ve merely got to grit your teeth through the tedium of actually implementing your conclusions, rather than thinking about what to do next.
Wailing Heights’ presentation is perfectly in-tune, but its gameplay is out of time. While it neatly repurposes some old point-and-click tropes, it doesn’t quite have enough quality to match the ambition of the classics it’s so clearly inspired by. There are some laugh out loud moments and some real ear-worm audio, but it’s not quite enough to demand front-row seats for The Deadbeats’ reunion tour.