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The Howler (PC) artwork

The Howler (PC) review

"A howlin' okay time."

The Howler (PC) image

The Howler makes a strong first impression, thanks to its stunning, hand-painted visuals. Inspired by actual landmarks found in Vilnius, Lithuania, classically-trained artists lovingly crafted each bit of steampunk scenery. Blueprints, concept art and ancient landscape sketches come together to create a beautiful environment full of wonder. Fictional imagery also dots the land, allowing the developer to do more than simply reproduce absolute reality. In one particularly noteworthy moment, you'll encounter an enormous wolf-shaped structure, complete with bloodstained maw. Eventually, you descend into its gullet and find the maze of machinery that is Vilnius' underworld.

You might well be wondering if there's any substance to back up The Howler's style. The answer, honestly, is yes. But there's not enough of it...

In simple terms, The Howler is a 2D hot air balloon simulator of sorts. By holding the left mouse button, your balloon ascends. You have little control over horizontal movement, and must therefore make use of the wind. Arrows on the left side of the screen inform you of the wind's current direction and velocity. There are multiple currents available in each stage, typically alternating in direction. That's helpful because it means that if you screw up and need to head back the way you came, all you must do is rise or plummet and catch an adjacent gust that blows in the opposite direction. Of course, you still must work within a time limit, but each course grants you a generous few minutes at a time.

The Howler (PC) image

The typical objective in a stage is to land at a goal point highlighted by flashing green lights. Doing so can prove tricky, since some obstacle courses don't leave much room for error. Thankfully, the first stage grants you plenty of leeway, so you can fuss with the mechanics and eventually become acclimated. likelihood that you'll pop your envelope is pretty slim. Later on, though, the campaign frustrates your efforts with jagged edges and mine-like automatons. You'll need to plan ahead in order to properly angle your ride while in motion, and you'll have to rely also on some trial and error. For instance, one stage pits you against several airborne foes. A wide overhead gap might compel you to sail over the opposition's heads, but that turns out to be a losing strategy. Through experimentation, you'll eventually discover that ducking beneath them is surprisingly more effective.

The Howler's toughest challenges were among my favorites. There's one that drove me nuts, but I loved it for that. Your itinerary includes nabbing a package off the ledge of a tower. You then must ascend and reverse your direction to drift away from the building. Finally, you swoop around toward the structure again, hopefully approaching at just the right angle to finally fly past it. At the construct's apex, the wind suddenly shifts direction and tends to blow you off course. If you hit it at the correct trajectory with fair momentum, you should climb over the roof and glide past it. Most of the time, though, your basket catches on the corner of the zenith and the breeze carries you away from the finish line. Then you can either throw yourself out of the balloon in irritation, or dust yourself off and try again.

The Howler (PC) image

A few stages later, there's an underground region where you must descend an old shaft while avoiding sharp architecture along its perimeter. On top of that, there's a strange spigot dropping hefty balls that will drag you into a killing pit if you collide with them. Once you've reached your descent's lowest point, you must glide to the right and press a button using your envelope, then retreat before the current throws you into a pointed object. The button you hopefully pressed will have activated a timed gate that doesn't open all the way, so you still have to be wary of piercing bars that dangle from the ceiling. This trial had me sweating buckets, but the relief that came with my eventual victory was a worthwhile reward.

I'm thankful that The Howler's collision detection is stable. I can't say that I've ever been screwed over during any of its hairy ordeals. I scraped against more than a few keen surfaces and managed to come out alive. Any time I failed an exercise, it was due to a malfunction on my end and not faulty mechanics.

Although The Howler features sound physics, a fair difficulty balance, occasional entertainment and a gorgeous art style, it isn't a particularly fulfilling experience. Its campaign offers a mere sixteen levels, one of which is an unlockable bonus mission where you command an ornithopter. I'm also disappointed by the brevity of each stage. I would have thought that some chapters near the campaign's conclusion would become quite elaborate, but they never do. Many of them are short, straightforward flights with a few special tasks to complete along the way. For instance, one course requires you to destroy all of the nearby automatons using bombs. In another case, you pursue a car while avoiding obstacles. After that, you repeat the same level in reverse, except now you have to destroy the automobile before it eludes you.

The Howler (PC) image

Short video games are not an issue, of course. What irks me is that The Howler sports a neat core concept that could have been better explored, but its fleeting campaign doesn't allow sufficient time for that to actually occur. Why not include more complex levels, or allow players to utilize a variety of aircraft? I'm sure the developers could also have introduced a new feature every now and then, to shake things up a bit. Unfortunately, The Howler departs the minute you've finally grown comfortable with it, and leaves you desiring more content.

At the same time, asking for additional content may be begging for punishment. I can only hope that the development team avoids pumping The Howler full of filler, should it ever decide to extend the campaign. For now, you thankfully have a decent, untarnished 60-minute romp that will simultaneously delight you and leave you wanting much more.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (May 05, 2016)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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