So, before we even begin, I should reveal my biases and say that Dread XP is one of my favorite game studios for horror indie games. They’ve produced knock out titles like The Mortuary Assistant (my top indie game for 2022) and the ridiculous Sucker for Love: First Date.
And if you’ve played a few Dread XP games, you’ll know that there’s certain features you can expect. An enclosed environment, multiple endings, and a sense of tragedy and impending doom that hints at a great mystery. Amanda the Adventurer has all of this and more, lurking beneath its innocent façade.
Amanda the Adventurer Review | Childhood Nostalgia meets Demonic Mystery
You start Amanda the Adventurer with a letter from your Aunt Kate, a kindly investigator / librarian who’s vanished and left her house to you. But it’s what’s in the attic of that house that really matters.
Inside this dank creepy space is where we’ll spend the entire game. It hosts a variety of locked boxes, a television, and a VHS tape for a children’s show called Amanda the Adventurer. And there’s something very wrong with this cartoon.
A Mystery That Doesn’t Want to Be Solved
Once you pop in the VHS tape, you’re quickly introduced to Amanda, the spunky protagonist with a dead stare. And by her side is Wooly, a talking sheep who exudes the anxiety of a kicked dog. Amanda the Adventurer follows the style of Dora the Explorer, with Amanda asking you a question, then waiting for you to respond.
But here’s where it gets weird. Amanda and Wooly can really hear you, and you can really interact with them. If you take advantage of this to antagonize our adorable host Amanda, like I did, she’ll reveal a vicious and almost demonic anger. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s immediately a morbid slant to the show that only gets worse the deeper you get into the series.
And yet, on your first playthrough you’ll learn almost nothing about the story. You’ll have to complete the game several times, solving puzzles to get secret tapes, to have a better sense of the mystery behind the show and Amanda’s place in it. Even with all the tapes and all the endings, you’ll still have questions.
The way this was handled was a double-edged sword for me. I love games with multiple endings, with ample secrets and lore hidden in nooks and crannies. But it would have felt better if one of the later endings offered some closure while hinting at a bigger picture. That way, getting all the lore tapes would have been an accomplishment rather than an obligation.
With that said, Amanda the Adventurer’s story is layered and subtle, weaving together the player and Amanda’s reality in a way that felt seamless. The reveals are hard won and just obscure enough that I felt compelled to find the next tape, which led to me playing and finishing the game all in one sitting.
“Amanda the Adventurer’s story is layered and subtle, weaving together the player and Amanda’s reality in a way that felt seamless. The reveals are hard won and just obscure enough that I felt compelled to find the next tape, which led to me playing and finishing the game all in one sitting.”
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the clever storytelling scattered throughout the game. Certain titles in credits of the show, bits of dialogue, book titles, and articles all nod towards the idea of something insidious beyond the endings implied by the lore tapes. I won’t reveal anything, because the fun of these games is in crafting theories yourself, but the devil is in the details.
A Cruel God and the Sacrificial Lamb
We wouldn’t have a story if not for our main characters, Amanda and Wooly. And both offer something unique and tragic.
The writers crafted Amanda exceptionally well. As episodes passed, I hated her, pitied her, then wanted to save her. It’s difficult to write a character that can inspire such a gamut of emotions. It’s clear as the episodes progress that Amanda is more than a tyrant. She’s a terrified girl caught in an endless loop of episodes without a way to escape, forced to play out the same scenarios over and over. And the way she acts out and reclaims some modicum of control is by viciously abusing the only person left in her world.
Wooly, on the other hand, only inspires pity. He’s the straight man, the voice of reason, Amanda’s sacrificial lamb. Doomed to live out an eternity in a small box at the mercy of a cruel god. Or is he? It’s likely we’ll never know for certain who he really is (unless we get a sequel, which seems very possible), but it’s fun to theorize.
“Wooly, on the other hand, only inspires pity. He’s the straight man, the voice of reason, Amanda’s sacrificial lamb. Doomed to live out an eternity in a small box at the mercy of a cruel god. Or is he?”
And then there is a host of side characters that we never meet but are inexplicably tied to the story. Your Aunt Kate and Sam Colton, Rebecca’s father. We only get glimpses of these characters, but their fates add to the tragedy and mystery.
One Puzzle, One Tape, Repeat
The gameplay loop in Amanda the Adventurer is deceptively simple. At first glance it looks like: watch a tape, solve a puzzle, get a tape, repeat. And early on, the puzzles are as easy as you’d expect from a children’s educational cartoon. But as you delve deeper into the game, slowly extracting secrets and lore tapes for that coveted final ending, the puzzles get exponentially harder. You’ll have to experiment with the prompts of each video, pay close attention to anything that seems out of place, and fully explore the attic to solve each puzzle.
But where Amanda the Adventurer gets an impressed nod from me is the way they’ve integrated the gameplay loop with the episodes. Puzzles are directly related to the episodes in ways that might not be obvious, and occasionally you’ll have to pause an episode to solve a puzzle in an alternative way. Doing so will sometimes impact the episode’s environment (or vice versa) and reveal a lore tape.
My favorite detail might be the fact that Wooly is allergic to apples but loves peach pie. It’s the little thing that elevates this game.
Baal, Baal, Black Sheep, Have You Any Scores?
Childhood nostalgia is an old tromping ground for horror indie games and it’s easy to slip into corny or cliché. For that reason, I was initially hesitant when reviewing this game because, as much as I love Dread XP, I’ve seen some big misses.
But Amanda the Adventurer is proof that the sub-genre has teeth. Excellent writing, thoughtful puzzles, and clever world building have created a game that is genuinely fun and immersive. And I can’t give a game a higher compliment than fun. Even the character’s voice acting and animations felt perfect. Where it fell short for me was in its lack of closure.
I’m personally happy to theorize endlessly about games I enjoy, particularly horror mystery games, but Amanda the Adventurer never felt like it had a satisfactory end. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt a little cheated after spending so much time gathering all those tapes.
Despite that, Amanda the Adventurer offers a fun and creepy ride that perfects pacing and characterization, and it’s absolutely worth the price tag and the hours of sleep you’ll lose playing it.
AMANDA THE ADVENTURER
● Fantastic writing demonstrated both in the story and through characters.
● Subtle world building details scattered throughout the game.
● Puzzles that are challenging and integrate with the story
● Too many questions left unanswered.
● Lack of save files. I accidentally started a new game and had to do everything over again. Heartbreaking.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC.