Howl Review

Christopher Nolan was once quoted as saying that his films needed to be watched on Imax, that was the intended way of experiencing what he put together (he has since relented on this a little but that is a story for another time) and that he was horrified to see people watching his films on the back of an aeroplane seat, or on a phone.

As much as I am loathe to agree with an auteur of films made for the most annoying people, I do agree. Some art can be improved by the medium they are delivered. In Howl’s case I think I would go in the opposite direction though.

The plot of Howl centres around a hunter working her way through a world that is suffering from a werewolf infestation.

The presentation of this is really well put together. The art style has a painterly affect that looked like I was poring over the yellowed pages of a medieval tome. The animation of each of the characters makes the ink dance on the page and adds to the ‘sinister fairytale’ monologues that play over each new advance of a chapter.

Howl’s chapters are split into discrete vignettes – with the main character needing to get to the exit. In between her are obstacles and werewolves. The actions are turn-based but are executed at the same time. The hero has 6 actions, movement, shooting one of 3 arrows, a shunt, or a special ability. The enemies will also setup their own. Once triggered, the hero moves, performs actions etc, while the werewolves go through their moves. The trick is to try and anticipate where the monsters are going to move and kill them before they kill your hero. Get the exit alive and the hero will safely move on to the next area. As Howl progresses more variations on enemies are introduced and the levels vary in size and complexity. The usual stuff one can hope for from a game that wants to escalate.

Howl also adds replayability by adding ‘par’ scores – a maximum number of moves to make it the exit beating the par awards stars. There is also a kill count that are skulls awarded for dispatching werewolves. These are needed to unlock later challenges and skills. Sometimes it is not possible to hit par and kill count at the same time, so it requires the player think around what they need to tackle.

It is nothing new, but thoughtfully applied here.

Howl is rock solid, I guess my real critique of this game ties back into my original paragraphs. Howl feels like a game that would thrive on being consumed in bite-sized portions on a handheld device rather than blown up on a big screen on a console.

The piecemeal delivery of puzzles just feels designed for a Switch, Steam Deck, or phone. It is a crying shame that the phone gamescape has been routed by Free-to-Play titles. Instead, on a big screen I found myself dipping into this game in a way that felt at odds with its short vignettes. I was playing 10 stages at a time and finding that, for all the variety it threw at me, I was getting kind of bored.

That is the rub; Howl is good game, with a fresh look, I think many will enjoy it, I just wish I was playing it on a screen and format that suited its style.

Conclusion

Solid puzzle game, with a lovely ink style. Howl is a short, bite sized bit of fun.

This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.

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Good
  • Unique art
  • Solid puzzles
Bad
  • The form factor of the Xbox seems like the wrong place for it
6.8
Okay
Written by
AJ Small is a games industry veteran, starting in QA back in 2004. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made. He can be found on twitter (@badgercommander), where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.

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