Games based on film, directly attempting to tie-in to the buzz of the in theater experience, are nothing new. Historically these are quick cash-in titles that offer very little in terms of solid game design or technical mastery. Recently though games based on licensed properties have improved dramatically to the point where one cannot just look at a release anymore and promptly assume it is garbage. And thus the DS version of Hotel Transylvania ended up on my desk.
I’m not going to lie, despite loving both animated films and the horror genre the trailers for Hotel Transylvania did not pique my interest in anyway shape or form. It looked to be a rather generic father/daughter conflict film set against the backdrop of the movie monster pantheon. My kids however thought it would be a cool film to go see and had quite a bit of interest in it and as such, the DS cart promptly went from my desk into my son’s DSi.
My son, like many seven year old boys, has a rather limited pallet when it comes to his video gaming tastes. He loves Mario, the LEGO games, and racing and sports games. When questioned what the game was like he quickly replied Mario. He noted that there were enemies and you had to jump on their heads to kill them. He also said he found it a bit tricky, which he liked. I’m not sure if he was referring to the difficulty of the game or the fact that there are quests that have to be completed in order to progress and he was not able to elaborate on exactly what he meant.
While he generally enjoyed the game he did have some complaints, stemming from the game’s visuals. He said he did not like that it was easy to get lost and everything in the castle looked the same. This struck me as something to take note of when I played the game because I knew the game came with a map and while it is easy to figure a seven year old might have trouble with that, he’s never expressed that complaint about a game before.
All in all though he enjoyed his time playing Hotel Transylvania but he hesitated to go much farther in his endorsement of the title. When asked if he would play more of it, he said he would but he also changed the cartridge to a different title at the first opportunity. Further telling is the fact that he said he probably wouldn’t recommend his friend’s play it and we all know that is the most damning revelation about any product aimed at kids.
Since we started doing Kids Corner reviews here at Vagary, I have reviewed my fare share of titles under the Game Mill Publishing brand. What I have come to expect from Game Mill are competent, if somewhat short, platformers with a low curve of difficulty based on licensed properties. And for the most part Hotel Transylvania follows that path but It has some quirks that make it less appealing than previous Game Mill published platformers.
As a gamer with a full memory of classic games, Hotel Transylvania immediately put me in a good mood because visually the game looked like a Castlevania title. And while I knew, from my son’s playtime with it, that it was not that type of game, the visual cues were a nice treat. Things quickly went downhill though for me. The game seemed to be designed like every other previous Game Mill published title I had played except the level design was even less engaging. Worse still was that much of the early levels looked the same, reusing visuals assets over and over. Even with the map, I constantly felt like I was going the wrong way, like in the castle levels of Super Mario Bros. where you choose the wrong path.
And then I hit the first fetch quest, which had me retreading the same areas over and over again. While I admire that the title attempts to do a bit more than other Game Mill titles, it is poorly implemented and not any fun. The overall, uninspired platform design and poor mission structure really left me with a sour taste in my mouth. While you probably would not find me playing the Pillow Pet or Xia Xia game of my own free will, I would gladly play those titles over Hotel Transylvania.
Many games, and even some films, targeted at children fail at a primary tenet of design. If you make a good product both children and their more critical parents will enjoy it together. Hotel Transylvania fails to do that, and in this case it fails to even enrapture the child it was intended for. It is not a horrible game for your child, especially if they are in love with the film’s characters, but there are many better options for this style of game on the Nintendo DS that it is very hard to recommend wholeheartedly.