Halloween may have already passed in a sugar-induced blur but that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about spooky stuff, right? Sunshine Manor is actually a prequel to 2016’s Sunshine Camp, although you don’t need to have played that. It has all the hallmarks of a creepy good time: a weird mansion, a mystery to solve, some demons and even a cult! It’s all wrapped up in a rather nice visual style, too, that harkens back to the 8-bit days. Hell, it even has a dog you can pet! What more could you possibly want?
A lot, actually. This review is going to be short because there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to Sunshine Manor. It feels like an 80s game and I don’t mean that as a charming compliment to its admittedly quite pretty visual style. No, I mean it’s barebones with a lot of basic gameplay mechanics.
The titular Sunshine Manor used to belong to Mr. Aitken, A.K.A. Mr Sunshine, a man who made a bargain with supernatural forces in order to make his ailing kids show popular His motives were pure enough – he just wanted to bring happiness to children the world over, to give them something to look forward to. Of course, when you start making deals with the Devil it’s always going to come back and stick a red hot poker up your backside, and so predictably Aitken’s rise to fame goes awry and he winds up murdering quite a few people before vanishing. Only his rotting house is left as a reminder of Aitken’s fate.
You play as Ada, a young girl out with a couple of friends on Halloween who dare you to spend the night in the manor. As soon as you step foot inside the crumbling ruin everything goes wrong, your friends are dragged off and an evil presence begins to make itself known. There’s a mystery to solve, and since you don’t have a stoner and his dog hanging around it’s going to be up to you to figure out what’s going on and help the unfortunate ghosts trapped within the walls.
The story is mostly nonexistent past the intro which doesn’t even take enough time to properly introduce Ada or her friends. For the rest of the game, Ada gets only a few lines of dialogue, as do the ghosts you encounter. There’s never enough to flesh anyone out or make them less transparent, and the story only reappears in the last 15-30 minutes of the 3-hour story mode. It’s not worth the wait, either, as the ending doesn’t provide a satisfying conclusion.
As haunted houses go, Sunshine Manor is a pretty chill place to be. It’s lacking in scares or even threats. I think even Scooby and Shaggy wouldn’t have a problem spending the night within its decaying rooms. The game describes itself as a blood-soaked horror RPG, but after beating the short story I can firmly say that none of those descriptors fit. It’s not particularly blood-soaked, there’s very little in the way of horror and I have no idea why RPG is even in there, although I suppose you could argue almost any game is an RPG. What you’ve actually got is a game where you spend the majority of your time ambling back and forth between rooms in order to pick up items and deliver them elsewhere. It’s like an RPG fetch quest, except it’s contained to just a couple of rooms.
On occasion, a demon might get in the way, a terrifying prospect. Well, it would be if they did anything. A few simply charge back and forth across large, empty rooms where you have heaps of room to sidle past without a care in the world. A couple of others spin themselves into a whirlwind and are defeated by…standing there and waiting to hit them with your magic attack or just walking past. Your single defensive/offensive ability is a blast of magic power that covers a small circle around you and which takes a good couple of seconds to recharge. In the right setting, this could be a powerful gameplay mechanic that forces you to use the ability smartly or pushes players into tense situations where they are desperately waiting for it to recharge before the enemies get them.
I do like the idea that the mansion is shrouded in darkness. You have a circle of light around you, leaving the rest of the mansion in shadow. But there’s very little hiding in those shadows, the only real threat being a monster occasionally appears and runs at you. That’s easy stopped, though, and over the course of my 3-hour playthrough it only appeared 4 or 5 times.
Scattered around the mansion like ghostly candy are the trapped souls of those who died at the hands of Aitken, and to beat the game you need to rescue them. That means leaping over to a demonic realm where the mansion is replaced with a creepier version, complete with big skulls and weird colours. Here you get a little more in the way of gameplay mechanics, like a few crumbling platforms or getting to control a submarine. But these little alterations do little to make things interesting; the platforms are a doddle, and the spikes which could destroy your precious sub are so far apart as to be laughable.
For such a short game there were a number of bugs and glitches. The Steam Achievements weren’t working for starters, and the Steam Community tooltip that pops up in the corner constantly bugged out and wouldn’t leave. Likewise, the Nvidia GeForce tooltip wouldn’t display properly and wouldn’t close. And because the Steam overlay wouldn’t work properly with Sunshine Manor I couldn’t take screenshots. Hmm.
During one area whenever I died the screen would go black and nothing would happen, forcing me to Alt+Tab out and close the program. At another point, I loaded a game and two rocks appeared in my inventory, an item I needed anyway, but I could only actually use one of them while the other simply stuck around in my pockets. Annoyingly, I couldn’t pet my good boy doggo companion because I apparently had a rock in my hand. And yes, I did mention a dog, the shining highlight of this entire game.
If you happen to pick up an extra rock or two there’s no way of getting rid of them, meaning it can actually become impossible to complete the game if you don’t have a save from early enough.
Also, bringing up the menu doesn’t pause the game. What the hell is up with that?
Look, there’s no way I can be honest about Sunshine Manor without sounding cruel, so I’ll just say it: it’s boring. Most of the time you’re traipsing from room to room in order to grab an item. Enemies can be walked past, the few boss battles aren’t fun, the story is nonexistent and I spent most of my time wishing I wasn’t playing Sunshine Manor.