"My Little Castlevania"
When a game is licensed from a children's movie, the odds are very low that anyone involved in the game's production will be particularly invested in the project. These licensed games are designed with generally low production values, developed in a short time to be ready for the movie's release, and marketed to a young audience considered completely undiscerning of video game quality. As such, the games are not expected to be good, and it's rare that they ever end up being good. Thankfully, Wayforward Technologies is a company that actually puts effort into all its games, even its licensed work. Hotel Transylvania is a good example about how a developer can make something enjoyable, even when shackled to a kids movie license.
Hotel Transylvania ostensibly follows the story of the recent animated film. The player controls Mavis, the daughter of Dracula and heiress to Hotel Transylvania. But her father's resort only caters to other monsters, so when Mavis befriends the human Johnny, she has to keep him secret. The course of the game has Mavis trying to keep her mortal buddy safe from her "family" while running various errands for her father, who's preparing for Mavis' big 118th birthday party (in an obvious vampire aging joke). Along the way, she fights what appear to be the staff of Hotel Transylvania, who must be the stupidest monsters ever if they're trying to kill their employer's daughter.
Hotel Transylvania takes its story from the movie (more or less), but its gameplay borrows heavily from another vampire story. The game plays like the more recent Castlevania titles, thrusting players into an inter-connected non-linear castle. As the game progresses, Mavis gains new abilities, allowing her to explore different segments of the castle. These abilities are taught by her "uncles", the various monster friends of Dracula who've known Mavis her whole unholy life. Why they didn't teach her these skills earlier in her life is unknown, since it seems as though taking care of all the loose ends in the hotel is something that Mavis does on a regular basis. Still, one could do much worse than imitate Castlevania, especially for a licensed game.
The Castlevania influence is strong within Hotel Transylvania, but the game also has a bit of WayForward's own creative flair. The art includes all original drawings of the movie characters, as opposed to shoddily taking stills from the film. The abilities Mavis gains are surprisingly clever, such as a Medusa-like stare that makes enemies into jumpable platforms, or the ability to run up certain walls. Also, the levels contain several secret rooms and detours, with jewels that can be collected to increase Mavis' maximum health.
Granted, none of this is truly unique territory. Hotel Transylvania is still a licensed game for children, so it's still simple, short, and easy. However, it controls intuitively, has more depth than one would expect for a product of its "pedigree", and is generally enjoyable. I can't recommend it to adults, as there are many better 3DS games. However, it's a testament to the integrity of WayForward. Even on their licensed work, they put in a strong effort, realizing that even little kids deserve decent games.
GameDynamo's Score for Hotel Transylvania (3DS)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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