Bark at the Moon – A Review of Howl
I really enjoy puzzle games and solo board games for similar reasons. It’s all about figuring out the best move and how to do better every time you fail. I was sent a code for Howl, a turn-based video game that feels like a board game. Let’s talk about the game play and if I wolfed it up.
Howl describes itself as,
Howl is a turn-based tactical folktale set in medieval times. A sinister “howling plague” has ravaged the land, turning all who hear it into feral beasts. You play a deaf heroine plunging into danger in search of a cure.
Now, I didn’t catch that the heroine is deaf, but it makes sense. The plague only impacts those who can hear the howls of the monsters, so it makes sense. The gameplay is relatively simple: You start on a spot, you move via a grid and try to reach the end. Each level has a bonus for making it to the end in a certain number of moves and for defeating all of the enemies. However, these do not have to be done on the same attempt, which I found nice as it meant I could focus on one goal and not try to do both at the same time.
At the start of the game, the game play is quite simple. Each round is 6 turns, and on a given turn you can move which is displayed in the game as a scroll of paper with a wax seal at the end. The art is gorgeous and gives the game a really strong storybook feel.
After the first level, you start to encounter the enemies in the game. They are formulaic and predictable, and there’s an undo button built in which is great for trying out different moves and seeing what the enemies do. There’s also an option to have their moves and attacks shown as you plan your turns for those who don’t want to keep doing and undoing moves.
As the game progresses, you gain access to different weapons and abilities, like Smoke Bombs and Exploding Shots. These give you many more options for a given level, which means the solution becomes more and more complex with each new ability. You’ll also have to beat a level just to come back later once you’ve gotten a better ability to get both bonuses for completing it in time and for eliminating all enemies.
This video game feels like a puzzle and like a solo boardgame at the same time. The music is lovely and reminds me of the slower, almost haunting music from Firefly. The gameplay is colorful but dark in all the right ways. The levels go from very easy to daunting quickly, and the push to be perfect for a given level is high. I have enjoyed the 10 or so hours I’ve put into this game. I am not a fan of “come back later with new abilities” in a puzzle game, but maybe I missed an opportunity or combination of abilities to perfect an earlier level. The game is a perfect example of a moreish game – just one more level, just one more try, just one more ability. It can get repetitive, which is where the new abilities come in, so it doesn’t get too stagnant.
I don’t know how long the full campaign takes, and I don’t think after it’s finished there is much replayability, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We all have plenty of games on our backlogs, so playing one that has a finite end and allows us to go onto the next game is good.
If you enjoy puzzle games or storybook aesthetics, Howl is certainly worth a look. I was given a code for the game, but at $15, it’s not a bad price. I wish there was a demo so people could try it out themselves, but I think that about most games. (Shock, I know, the demo guy wants there to be demos…). If you are a completionist, this game could hook you and keep you entertained for the entire playthrough. The game is available on Steam, Epic, Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox.