You’ve never played anything like this turn-based tactical game before! “Howl” game review
A cartoon of a wolf and a woman reading a newspaper.
It’s hard to be surprised with games these days, with so much being done already. When something like Undertale or Inscryption comes along, it’s a breath of fresh air. In the case of the game we’re reviewing today, it’s less of a sigh and something more animalistic. Released by Astragon Entertainment and made by Mi’pu’mi Games from Austria, Howlis described as a “tactical narrative” by its makers. That might not be entirely accurate, and we say that with a smile because what the game really turns out to be is something much more wild.
The Land of Urholm has been overrun by beasts, ready to tear this medieval fantasy world apart. The sound of an unknown “Howl” is responsible for transforming creatures into bloodthirsty maniacs, and it’s up to The Prophet (a deaf heroine armed with magic and a bow) to cure this plague while seeking the truth about her lost brother.
Players are taken to an overworld map, which The Prophet navigates en route to her ultimate discoveries. Every battle brings her one step closer to revealing what’s going on and the deeper mystery that surrounds her very identity.
The tactical part of the game is straightforward at first glance. Encounters are turn-based, allowing you to move a certain number of places on a map or perform actions with your deck of cards. Confidence and skulls are the two primary resources needed to progress and upgrade your skills in the game, gained as you cleave through each encounter (called “prophecies”). The Prophet walks through each area, with the player strategizing on the best way to tackle the enemies in front of her while also searching for strangers to protect. If the player doesn’t overcome the prophecy in the amount of attempts required, they lose out on these resources.
It’s like a very simplified version of X-COM combined with a fairy tale—a marriage of folklore and tactical warfare—but then it isn’t. The difference in Howl is that combat isn’t the priority as much as using your brain to determine the best approach to a prophecy. You won’t have to worry about RNG messing up your chance at defeating an opponent because that’s not what’s most important. The game is more about problem-solving, as each battle is a puzzle that requires sharp thinking instead as much as it does sharp arrows. This adds some instant replay value to the game, as it’s rare that a new player would be able to figure out the most ideal way to handle every stage on their first playthrough.
Every moment of the game looks like a children’s book illustration if that book was written in medieval times. The soft watercolors add abundant texture and emotion, separating it further from the more realistic X-COM-style games. “Living ink” is the name the developers gave this very graphical aesthetic, and it’s stunning to experience. This is minimalism at its best, not sparse to look at but rich and lush with its simplicity and mood. The tone is set the minute the game starts, with verdant forests drawn without a hint of pretense, making it more about feelings than photo-realistic representation.
The music is wonderful, dangerous, and homey in a way similar to Darkest Dungeon, just not quite as eerie or intense. I love the sound effects, from the crunchy walk of The Prophet through terrain or the arrows leaping from their bowstring into a beast. Getting absorbed into the game happens instantly, and that immersion is because of its mood and the concentration required to play. That whimsical yet stoic art certainly adds to that mysterious aura.
The game starts off almost relaxing but intensifies as the levels progress. But the stress isn’t from worrying about drag-down brawls with hordes of enemies. It goes back to problem-solving and finding the most advantageous way to do everything you need to do in as few turns as possible. You’re mapping out pathways to do multiple things at once, as opposed to standing behind a barricade while blasting toward an enemy you may or may not even hit. For younger players who might struggle with this unique gameplay, an assist mode can be enabled to show where enemies will move on their turns. I wouldn’t call it “easy mode” so much as offering a helping hand to someone learning the ropes.
Howl is a very unexpected game in many ways. It takes ideas from other popular games, spins them on their heads, and gives players something absolutely special from every angle. I made numerous comparisons to other titles in this review, but they were truly parallels instead of imitators. Howl is a game of contrasts; it's innovative and beautiful, providing a novel method to participate in an absorbing story, but it's distinctly its own, even though it might seem like old news with a quick peek. Fascinating game mechanics and great visuals make this an excellent choice for all ages that is well worth the price. You might have never considered Little Red Riding Hood as a Jedi fighting a plague of monsters in a turn-based puzzle game to be exciting or interesting, but once you get bitten by this bug, you’ll be howling for more.
Howl is available for the Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and Epic Games Store.