A decent, but disappointing tie-in to a rather funny film.
Movie tie-ins are notorious in the video game world- history has shown that they generally just aren’t that good. Sure, cases can be made for classics like Goldeneye 007 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but for the most part video games based on films have a bad reputation. Nevertheless, I commit myself to having an open mind every time I play a new title, and this was my mindset when first booting up the Nintendo 3DS version of Hotel Transylvania. I enjoyed the film when it was released at the end of September, so I had high hopes for the game as well. In the end, is Hotel Transylvania an enjoyable adventure or do these monsters deserve to be driven to their graves in a bargain bin?
Hotel Transylvania strips away much of the story elements of the film it is based on, but perhaps this was a wise decision as some of the best platformers out there have hardly any stories at all. Nonetheless, the basic premise of the game is that Dracula’s daughter Mavis is smitten with Jonathan – a human who has disguised himself as a monster in order to keep himself safe from the other monsters residing in Hotel Transylvania. Jonathan stumbled upon the eponymous hotel on the eve of her 118th birthday; his arrival couldn’t have been timelier. However, Quasimodo discovers Jonathan’s true identity and plans to capture and prepare him as a meal for her birthday feast. Mavis then sets off on a quest of platforming and dungeon exploration to save her dear Johnny before he is cooked alive. The end result is a game that I feel is a mixed bag.
Don’t get me wrong- Hotel Transylvania is not bad by any means. Its controls are tight, the visual style is good – though not great – and during my playthrough it was clear to me that developer WayForward strived to make a great game. Many critics have considered this title to be similar in design to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which is a game I have not played, but it’s easy to see the similarities. I personally saw a connection between Hotel Transylvania and Super Metroid; both employ somewhat large worlds that require exploration, and eventually more areas are unlocked through new abilities. It sounds like a fun concept, doesn’t it? The main problem with Hotel Transylvania is that it shows glimpses of true brilliance and interesting design, but these moments are fleeting. As such, the game feels like the result of what may have been a rushed development cycle. The mediocre level design and the relatively low difficulty (though it is geared towards kids) are certainly issues, and ultimately Hotel Transylvania never reaches its full potential.
A positive of the gameplay is that some of the abilities can be very fun to tinker with, even though the foes are uninteresting to fight against. Mavis unlocks her various skills – presented as birthday gifts – as the game progresses, and eventually her arsenal consists of the ability to stun enemies, kill foes with electricity, and even transform into a bat to fly to previously unreachable areas. While fun to use, they are let down by the decent-at-best level design, boring enemies and tediously repetitive mission objectives; there is a severe overabundance of fetch quests. There are a few mini-bosses thrown into the mix here and there, but overall the game is a two to three hour “adventure” of fetch quests. Hotel Transylvania feels disappointing because I saw what it could have been given more time, but unfortunately the game becomes too tedious and repetitive to be anything special.
Well, at least the visuals are fine to look at in comparison. Sure, Hotel Transylvania’s 3DS visuals look quite similar to its DS counterpart, but nonetheless hand-drawn 2D visual style suits the game well. The animated sprites are nicely detailed, and I appreciated seeing how faithful they were to their counterparts in the film. Hotel Transylvania runs rather smoothly as well – I didn’t notice any technical hiccups during my time with the game, so props to WayForward for that.
Unfortunately though, sound design is much less impressive. The sound work is not necessarily bad, it’s just that nothing truly stands out here due to sub-par effects and a repetitive musical score. Speaking of music, the several tracks that are played throughout the course of the game are decent enough to listen to the first time around, but their repetitive nature began to grind on my nerves after a while. To be completely frank here, I was content with turning the sound off and listening to (strangely well-fitting) Christmas music on the radio while playing Hotel Transylvania.
All in all, the 3DS version of Hotel Transylvania is a decidedly average movie tie-in. I’ve certainly played worse games, and it kept me entertained to some extent. But with its excessively repetitive level design, lack of challenge, and an awfully short game length, Hotel Transylvania fails to capture the greatness it promises from its outset. That said, I loved WayForward’s Contra 4, and their newer titles BloodRayne: Betrayal and Double Dragon: Neon have shown they know how to create engaging, fun games. As it stands though, Hotel Transylvania is not the acclaimed studio’s best work.