Playing the viral analog horror sensation Amanda the Adventurer is like watching an interactive version of Dora the Explorer on a really, really gnarly shroom trip, and it's every bit as terrifying as that would actually be.
I was alerted to Amanda the Adventurer by a GamesRadar+ news story that warns, "This horror game may look like a kid's TV show, but please don't show it to your children." Intrigued, I downloaded the free demo on Steam, but it wasn't until I played through the full game a few times that I found myself utterly bewitched by its characters and the many disturbing theories floating around online about what real-world or paranormal horrors are plaguing them.
A quick but important word of warning on that front for those interested: there is a lot - I can't stress this enough, *a lot* - of explicit animal cruelty in this game; in fact, it's one of the central themes, so definitely approach it with some level of caution if you're particularly sensitive to that sort of stuff.
Not for the faint of heart
The entirety of Amanda the Adventurer takes place in the dark attic of a house you've just inherited. A hand-written letter that appears at the start of the game asks you to investigate a video-tape but says, "once you watch it, there's no turning back." Well, it turns out the attic is full of video-tapes, and each one is an "episode" of what initially appears to be an off-brand, but still kid-friendly, Dora the Explorer.
The titular young girl and an anthropomorphic sheep named Wooly host the show, and again, at first everything seems right with the world here. Amanda and Wooly seem happy, healthy, and ready to bake a delicious apple pie. The only hints of the shitstorm to come manifest in Wooly's subtle reservations about using a knife and an oven without parental supervision, but he puts those aside when the fully baked pie comes out of the oven and the video ends with both characters smiling and waving at the camera.
Unfortunately for all involved, Amanda and Wooly's situation escalates drastically from this point on, with each subsequent tape raising more alarm bells than the last. It doesn't take long before it's clear that this is unequivocally a full-throated horror experience without a whiff of levity or even comic relief, despite the cartoony look. Just from watching the first couple of tapes, it's obvious that there's an unhealthy, possibly abusive dynamic between Amanda and Wooly, but the much more unsettling mysteries driving the story's momentum don't fully reveal themselves until later in the game.
Even after several playthroughs, I'm still left wondering exactly what happened to our haunted protagonists, and I'm not the only one. A perfunctory Google search yields dozens of recent posts from Redditors sharing their theories, some more believable than others. To be clear, there are several endings, but most of them left me with more questions than answers, as well as a lingering dread left over from a few truly haunting scenes.
This is absolutely one of those games that benefits from you going in completely blind, so excuse me for side-stepping story spoilers so carefully. What I will say is that the game explores some really dark themes, including the aforementioned abuse toward animals, as well as child endangerment, terrorism, demon possession, and straight up death. If those don't scare you enough, the main antagonist is genuinely terrifying and knows exactly how to get your heart in your throat.
A puzzling ending
The gameplay elements definitely aren't Amanda the Adventurer's main selling point for me, those being the increasingly challenging - and often very cryptic - puzzles you need to solve to get access to new video-tapes. As the puzzles grow in complexity, you'll need to really bust out your magnifying glass and explore every square inch of the attic, not to mention the tapes you've already watched, to solve them.
There are a few big caveats to my recommending Amanda the Adventurer. If you can't handle blood, particularly when it comes from an animal, this isn't the game for you. Likewise, if you like your games to end with definitive answers to all of your questions, you'll probably be unsatisfied no matter how many times you clear the game. As mentioned earlier, there's a lively theory-crafting scene online, but your mileage may vary in terms of how much satisfaction you find there.
Otherwise, Amanda the Adventurer is a startlingly effective horror game deceptively wrapped in the aesthetics of an old analog horror game and retro children's TV shows. Its puzzles are deep and clever, the imagery and creature design are nightmare-inducing, and best of all, the writing and story are compelling to an almost intrusive degree. There's a reason streamers are playing this humble little indie game over and over, fans are talking about it day after day, and I'm still wondering when I'll start having nightmare-less, full nights of sleep again. I suppose, in retrospect, this is as much a cautionary tale as it is a recommendation, entirely depending on your appetite for the macabre and the mysterious.
Amanda the Adventurer is out now on PC. For other recommendations, be sure to check out our Indie Spotlight series, and you keep track of more exciting releases on the way with our round up of upcoming indie games.