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  • Writer's pictureRoberto Nieves

Review: Howl

A story begins as a story. Something that is seen or heard. It is then written down or recorded. Over time, a story is passed down time and time again. Soon, a story can grow as big as a legend, and the tale becomes larger than life. This is the dark and hopeful world of Howl.

In a medieval land, fowl beasts roam the land. Their cursed howl echoes through the woods. Anyone who hears it is transformed into a hideous feral beast. A lone woman takes to the woods to find out what is happening and why. Deaf, she pays attention to the world around her and trusts in her instincts to survive and find a cure. Howl is an interesting hybrid of a tactical game and a puzzler. A creative and immersive experience that puts players on a grand adventure against darkness.

The Howl of the Plague

A plague has swept across the land. Any human unfortunate enough to hear the sound of the plague transforms into a wicked beast. There is no known cure. As this plague sweeps across the land, a lone traveler embarks on a harrowing journey to find her brother. In a twisted form of fate, the prophet is deaf. Using her senses, she sets out to find her brother and perhaps find a means to end the plague.

Howl immersed me with its watercolor illustrations that feel like a fable passed down through generations. There is a softness and fluidity that evokes a sensation that Howl was told through various illustrations in annals of history. It's a remarkable presentation that surprises and amazes as the game goes on.

A journey of great danger

Actress Samantha Dakin (Xenoblade Chronicles II, Strike Suit Zero, Ace Attorney) provides a calming yet concerned narration of the adventure. She is poignant and precise in her words as if to be a witness and convey the emotions of the protagonist on screen. Samantha underscores the gravity and unsettling changes that the plague has incurred. The narration encourages the drive to face danger head-on while reminding players of the tragedy that has unfolded.

Between her narration and the visuals, Howl goes to great lengths to immerse the player in the tale. The smoothness of the audio and the soft visuals go to great lengths to immerse the player into the world. You can almost feel the unease in the area as beasts track the player, but also the softness of wind and the trees as one makes their way through the forest.

Use your mind and wits

Gameplay is an interesting twist on the formula of turn-based strategy. Players map out actions for the lone warrior in a combination of strategy and puzzle-solving. Traditional movements are introduced, such as wait, movement, and using the crossbow. Learning how to master each step is the key to survival, though there is an easier guided mode that helps players stuck on certain levels.

The player does have special abilities. A magic push pushes enemies into the woods and can eliminate enemies. There is a crossbow with limited ammo that can knock enemies into different tiles and eliminate them as well. Each stage does get progressively harder with newer enemies and tougher foes. Howl challenges players to either eliminate all enemies or sneak by with no injury. In some cases, the best way to go about the challenge is to use stealth and avoid enemies whenever possible. The gameplay does have its changes throughout the journey but maintains the basics all the way through.

All about the journey

What I enjoy most about Howl is that it is an emotional narrative adventure with interesting gameplay, but it keeps things understandable. The game wants players to be invested in the journey and story but not be stressed out with puzzle-solving and mechanics. Some fantasy games can throw a lot at the player, especially these days. However, Howl stays to an emotional story and invites players to either enjoy the story or participate in some challenge.

I could safely say Howl is a relaxing yet still engaging kind of game that wants players to experience a story of bravery in darkness. It's a relatively short adventure, but its presentation and gameplay kept me in the loop throughout its journey. It's a heartwarming story and one that is striking.

Howling good

Howl could set the benchmark for these styles of games that are remarkably and emotionally immersive but simple in their gameplay mechanics. While Howl doesn't reinvent the wheel, it's certainly a memorable ride I won't soon forget.

Howl was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch OLED thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up by Homerun PR.

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