I will admit, I only bothered to look at this game due to its very cool graphical style. Though, on watching the gameplay video and reading the main synopsis present on the store page, I became fearful of a very real possibility. Namely, that hiding behind an excellent artistic direction is a shallow, and probably irritating, gimmick driven “game”. Not unexpectedly, I’m obliged to report that my suspicions proved accurate, but also that my discoveries come with several reservations.
First, the gameplay itself (and this should be obvious from the accompanying trailers), is minimal. The goal is to slowly raise and lower your balloon in tune with the weather patterns, which push you left and right, to varying degrees, and land at some designated point. As the game goes on, you’ll have to contend with the added complexity of doing this several times per level, and occasionally even drop things down holes or bombs on unsuspecting flying spiky balls. Playing with a standard mouse, this gets boring, and at times irritating, though mostly due to the slow nature of your balloon and having to wait
for your chance to fail again. Chances are, you will have to reset levels several times due to popping or floating too far off-screen. This is where the gimmick comes in, and the developers clearly hope that people haven’t learned from every other throwaway peripheral and gimmick that console makers try to push down our throats. By using your mic, you can control the balloon with your voice. Or any manner of sound, I suppose, so long as you can easily fluctuate it. This is also where my first aforementioned reservation comes in. If you can entertain yourself for hours on end by making stupid noises in the dark, than by all means, play and thoroughly enjoy The Howler. If you’re considering this as a fun diversion for you and your drunk friends, ask yourself this – when was the last time you were able to keep a group of drunks quiet for more than 5 seconds? If you can’t answer that question, than you’re better dusting off the ol’ Kinect for another go around of drunk digital soccer.
Now here’s my second reservation: the art design. It is superb, often ranging from the melancholy to the downright foreboding. And of course, the Wolf. It really bothers me that such a fantastic art style is wasted on a game like this. Given that this mediocre excursion could be beaten in little more than hour (provided you’re forced to reset as often as I had to), than I would seriously consider recommending this title given you have a fondness for such things. If you can forgive, or at the very least tolerate the gameplay, than you may have a better time than I did, if only for the joy of viewing the set pieces. Know, though, that for some reason the game is limited to a small window (surrounded by a large black border in fullscreen), and cannot appear to be changed. While this keeps the art crisp and clean, I am disappointed that I couldn’t have a closer look at some of the better murals.
The Howler is based off of a book, and you’ll see a direct link to it on Amazon.com in the game’s menu. It’s a shame that there is absolutely no exposition or plot to the game’s events, offering only a quick phrase explaining your mission for whatever group and off you go!
. Perhaps it might have alleviated the boredom of the actual gameplay mechanic to have given it all a more defined purpose. In any case, The Howler is something you probably shouldn’t even bother playing in the first place. Unless you really think you’re going to enjoy making stupid noises into your mic for an hour, or absolutely refuse to use google to find the game’s sublime artwork, I’d recommend you at least find a better mobile port to spend your time on.