Review: Hotel Transylvania (Nintendo DS/3DS)

Hotel Transylvania
Developer: WayForward
Publisher: GameMill Entertainment
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 09/25/2012

To say that platformers are my least favorite genre is an understatement. I’ve never understood the appeal. All that jumping around with very vague (if any) story. Nothing about the genre has ever clicked for me. So then you’re probably wondering why I agreed to review Hotel Transylvania. Well it’s not just because of the time of year coupled with my name. It’s because WayForward made it. WayForward not only makes quality games on a regular basis, but they’ve repeatedly made platformers that I ACTUALLY really enjoy like A Boy and His Blob and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, both of which have awards from us come our annual GOTY time. They’re also behind the upcoming Silent Hill: Book of Memories, the first Silent Hill game I’ve been excited for in almost a decade and Sigma Star Saga, one of my favorite games for the venerable GBA. So with all this in mind, how could I NOT give Hotel Transylvania a try?

Let’s Review

1. Story

I haven’t seen the film Hotel Transylvania yet, but I do have to say that there HAS to be more of a storyline than in the video game version. Characters are just thrown at you without any explanation of who they are. The game assumes you have seen the film and are familiar with everyone. The plot of the game is simply that Quasimodo thinks Johnnystein is secretly a human, so he kidnaps him and plans to cook him. Johnnystein’s friend. Mavis, who is also the daughter of Dracula and celebrating her 118th birthday tries to get him back, but is ensnared into a series of fetch quests by her father and other monsters. After doing two dozen or so of these quests in a two-three hour span, you finally are able to rescue Johnny and the game ends very abruptly. That’s seriously all there is to the story, a two-three minute set up and then a lot of running around Dracula’s Castle doing fetch quests and occasionally gaining powers.

None of the characters or personalities were ever really explained. Again, the game assumes you have seen the movie and doesn’t even try to focus on story. It’s just, “Go jump on platformers and stomp on the heads of monsters!” This is very disappointing considering WayForward is usually quite good with plot. Sadly there is little to none to be seen here.

Story Rating: Dreadful

2. Graphics

Hotel Transylvania isn’t going to win any awards for graphics, but what’s here is decent. The visuals are in line with what you would expect for a licensed platformer, although at times I did feel that I was looking at a late gen GBA title instead of a late gen DS one. This is due to the backgrounds not having a lot of detail to them. In fact, sometimes the background is just pure black and nothing else. Character models however look quite nice. There isn’t any real re-use of character models except for a zombie bellhop which comes in two colours and everything is very nicely animated. You can definitely see this when your main character shifts into bat or mist form and back again. I was also impressed by the animation in the second to last boss fight where Mavis and Dracula hug. Especially well done for a 2-D platformer. Characters look enough like their movie counterparts that fans of the film, especially children, should be satisfied with the visuals.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

I really liked the music in Hotel Transylvania. Each track was catchy and had a spooky but upbeat feel to it. I was surprised that there wasn’t any voice acting considering this was a movie based title. All you get is the occasional grunt from Mavis or, when she dies, a horrible shrill scream that will make you want to mute the game entirely. It’s that annoying. Unfortunately there’s no way to shut it off and so I ended up playing the game on mute most of the time unless I got to a new area or boss to sample what there was to hear. Sound effects were middle of the road. You got a groan here and there when you killed an enemy, the creaking of a grate when you opened it and things like that. Again, nothing that will blow your mind, but what’s here fits the game well enough and those looking to play a licensed platformer based of the Hotel Transylvania movie will be sated, if not impressed.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

Hotel Transylvania plays like your basic platformer mixed with a little bit of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Mavis runs all over Castle Dracula performing fetch quests, stomping on the heads of enemies and learning new powers after boss fights all to save Johnny. One button is your jump and as the game goes on, you’ll earn the ability to freeze opponents, run up walls, shoot delayed blast lightning bolts and eventually turn into mist and/or a bat. For the most part everything works okay. There are some detection issues with wall running. About a third of the time the game just didn’t acknowledge the use of the power, which is automatic, and I would plummet to my death. This is the most annoying aspect of the game that you’ll encounter. As well there is some delay between pressing the button to transform from mist or bat into human and it actually occurring, which can get you killed if you’re trying to land on a moving platform. This will cause you to die on a regular basis. Speaking of the forms, it’s odd that you can only be in the bat form for a limited time before you automatically transform back. Yet, if you hit the Bar button (right shoulder), you transform back without any problem. If that’s the case, why not have it for an unlimited duration like the mist form? It doesn’t make too much sense. The game also auto-saves as you leave each location in the castle, but some locations like the wine cellar and labyrinth or ten times bigger than the usual area so if you die here (and you will) be prepared to have to go through the entire experience again.

Be prepared for a lot of backtracking throughout the castle as that is the crux of the game. This is one of my biggest pet peeves out of any game genre and Hotel Transylvania is more guilty of it than ten Metroid titles put together. If you’re fine with backtracking for fetch quests than this shouldn’t bother you but I guess I wanted a little more substance to the whole experience.

In all, Hotel Transylvania plays…okay. Wayforward has made far better platformers before and this one does have control issues scattered about. It didn’t drive me nuts like most platformers, but I was getting frustrated with the controls in areas where things performed far too slowly (or not at all) and caused me to die rather than failing due to my own incompetence. Middle of the road here.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

5. Replayability

Hotel Transylvania is a VERY linear game. The core experience should only take about three hours or so, which translates into about $10/hour. The good news is that you can unlock eight extra bonus levels and a bunch of art stills as you progress through the game. For example Bonus Level 1 really tests your ability to use the bat form and land in some precarious situations. I was happy to see there was so extra content, but even with the bonus levels, you’ll probably only get about five hours of the the game before you’ve seen and done all there is to do in the title. Still, it’s rare you see actual bonus levels tucked into a platformer and it does increase the replay value of the game. I was happy with what was here, even though I never have need to go back through the core game again.

Replayability Rating: Decent

6. Balance

Hotel Transylvania is a pretty easy experience. All but the last two boss fights bit you against a triad of prepubescent werewolves where you have to jump on them or shoot them in a progressively growing degree of difficulty. Of course, it’s NEVER very difficult and you should be able to get through the game without losing a single boss fight. You’ll mostly die from bad jumps or enemies that are off screen that jump on YOU and you have no way to combat that since you can’t see them. As long as you can deal with the repetition and constant backtracking, you’ll find this to be a very easy, albeit short, game. Older gamers might turn it off because of the ease, but younger or less experienced gamers will enjoy Hotel Transylvania for what it is.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

Aside from being the first game to use the Hotel Transylvania license, there’s nothing at all original here. It’s a paint by numbers linear platformer that cribs heavily from Symphony of the Night, but without the depth and fun of that Konami made classic. Now that’s not to say that Hotel Transylvania isn’t a fun game. Merely that it’s an unoriginal one that tries, at best, to be a scaled down bare bones version of a classic 32-Bit era release. There’s nothing wrong with that, but on the originality scale, the game does have to take a hit here. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it even attempt to. It gives young gamers a simple, easy to follow linear platform that lets them play as a character from a movie they hopefully enjoyed. Nothing more, nothing less.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

I really don’t like platformers, but I had a hard time putting this one down. Even on some of the challenge stages or times when the controls stopped working, instead of getting super frustrated, I’d just swear a bit and put the game down for a while. Then I’d come back to it. Even with no story and an ending that was as abrupt as it was a letdown, there was something inherently charming in the gameplay. I had fun exploring the castle, gaining new powers and finding new secret passages or alternate routes to things. Once I was done, I popped it out of my 3DS, never to be played again. Sure this is a “one and done” game, but I had fun for the few hours I spent with it and if you’re a platformer fan, or someone who just liked the movie, you’ll probably have a good time with this. I know I enjoyed it more than the average platform title, but it didn’t blow me away like some previous WayForward products.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor

$30 for a five hour experience is probably too much for a lot of gamers. However, people who like platformers and fans of the Hotel Transylvania film will probably get their money’s worth here. As well, because the game tries to be a stripped down version of Symphony of the Night, it will surely bring in some gamers curious to see how it fares – especially those who are NOT fans of the direction Konami has taken the series as of late via Lords of Shadow. I DO think $29.99 is a bit much to pay for the game considering its length, but I primarily play RPGs and fighting games, which tend to last a lot longer for the dollar amount. I’d say if you’re in need of a portable platforming fix, Hotel Transylvania is the first platforming game in a year I can say I didn’t hate and the first one for a portable system I’ve enjoyed since 2009’s Super Hero Squad. That says something positive about it, right?

As the DS comes to a slow but inevitable end, at least there are still decent games out there being made for it. I think once word of mouth spreads that this is an okay little game and the price drops. It’ll find a audience that will appreciate it.

Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

In a perfect world, Hotel Transylvania would be a budget game, letting a lot more people take the risk of picking it up as well as making both gamers and critics happy. It’s not the best game WayForward has ever put out, but it’s not a bad one either. It’s just a middle of the road platformer that fans of the genre, Castlevania knock-offs or the licensed property this is based on will have fun with. No more, no less.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores:
Story: Dreadful
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
In the world of movie tie-in games, you can do far, FAR worse than Hotel Transylvania. While the story is all but nonexistent and the controls are sometimes spotty, it’s still an oddly charming and fun platformer. There are shades of Symphony of the Night to be had here, albeit pared down to bare bones and aimed at a very young audience. If you’re a fan of the movie, platformers in general, or are in need of a new DS title as the system dries up permanently, it might be worth your time to consider this one.




One response to “Review: Hotel Transylvania (Nintendo DS/3DS)”

  1. Aaron Sirois Avatar

    3 hours for thirty bucks is an improvement for licensed DS games. Aliens in the Attic only ran me two hours, whereas Garfield’s Fun Fest took a mere half hour!

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