Not too long ago, Outright Games published a game that tackled a long-running movie franchise. It focused on a ghoulish, Halloween-inspired family as they had adventures within the safety of their own mansion. Against all the odds we loved it, handing it 4/5, even going so far to say that it “is an example for how kids games should be made”.
That game was The Addams’ Family: Mansion Mayhem. If you or your family are eager for some colourful, kid-friendly horror shenanigans then we’d refer you to it. That’s because, although much of the opening paragraph could have applied to Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures – this is, after all, published by Outright Games and has much the same premise – it’s a far more tepid offering, and doesn’t get close to that 4/5.
Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures is an exclusively single-player affair, and while it’s timed to release with the rental release, if not the cinema release, of Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania, it has nothing to do with it. This is instead an opportunity for the characters from the series to play dress up.
Think The Princess Bride and you’re most of the way there. Drac plays the role that Peter Falk played, reading stories to his grandchildren while their parents are away. The stories are Transylvanian rewrites of some classics: namely Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves (blurred together with Disney’s Aladdin), Little Red Riding Hood and The Emperor’s New Clothes. As Drac reads, he inserts himself and his daughter (and their mother) Mavis into the stories, and we get the privilege of playing them through.
The rewrites mean that other Hotel Transylvania favourites can easily be crowbarred in. Little Red Mavis has Johnny playing the lumberjack, Wayne playing the Wolf, and Drac playing Granny. Wayne returns along with Griffin and Murray to play the forty (minus thirty-seven) thieves. These stories are played out over five levels each, all accessed by a small and, you could say, pointless hub, as they do nothing other than prompt you to the next level.
Credit to Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures for eschewing some easy 2D platforming, as it opts instead for some slightly open 3D platforming. Squint and you could be playing some mid-90s classics from the PS1 like Croc and Gex: Enter the Gecko.
The levels are surprisingly long, taking up to thirty minutes to complete (take note that there are no save points, so they have to be consumed all at once). They are a mix of platforming and combat, with an even pile of both.
The platforming can be quite taxing. Our seven-year old gave up, as the combination of timed platforms and disappearing platforms eventually became too much for her, so keep that in mind if you’re looking to purchase for a younger player. There’s a lot of button-pressing in sequence, as Drac and Mavis can both jump, dash in a direction and glide to a platform, with each of those requiring a different button press, and some platforms requiring all three of them if you’re going to reach them.
For a slightly more accomplished player, the platforming is actually halfway decent. There are some slight quirks to the way that abilities transition into one another (trying to float after a ‘super-jump’ ability is painfully slow and awkward, for example) and the camera is a horror show, but generally everything is just enough: the controls are tight enough and the platforms are tricky enough.
The combat falls down before it can reach ‘enough’. That’s not to say that it’s bad or broken, but it is dull as holy dishwater. You can attack and you can… no, you can just attack. Spam the attack button and you will punch and kick, but there’s nothing to complicate it or make it interesting. We ended up trying to make our own entertainment with it: later on, you gain an ability that can make you momentarily transparent, and we would tap it when an enemy charged at us, to see if they would spirit through our bodies and emerge on the other side like bulls to bullfighters.
The enemies are part of the problem. On all three levels, the enemies are shifted out to become a new set. Pumpkins become scarabs, and scarabs become lizardmen. But they are all reskins of the same cast of creatures, with the attacks – and the counter-measures against them – all remaining the same. Every world has the charging enemy, the enemy that has to be smacked in a glowing arse hotspot, the enemy that hides behind a shield, etc. It wouldn’t be too much hassle if they weren’t regurgitated over and over again like food out of an overly enthusiastic sparrow. We have probably fought hundreds of the ‘charging-attack’ enemies, across their various incarnations, which might have been fine if they weren’t such a pain in the backside to kill (not because they’re difficult, but because you can only ever kill one-and-a-half of them per charge, which never quite feels like enough).
Repetition really is the name of the game here. There are only so many levels that you can make with the same building blocks. Mavis and Drac do have one ability that’s different from the other, but otherwise they are identical (and that ability only gets wheeled out occasionally). When you haven’t got another player to riff off, or anything beyond collectibles to find in the levels (admittedly quite fun, with bat-winged keys and chests to be found off the beaten path), it’s a game that gets old incredibly quickly. By the time the third act comes around, Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures has become so stale that you could hammer a vampire through the heart with it.
But we completed it, and while eighty-percent of that completion was on autopilot, we didn’t utter too many words of frustration, and we didn’t exactly have a bad time either. If you have Hotel Transylvania fans who are willing to swallow the repetition, then this is a 3D platformer that functions, that has a fair amount of content to play, and even offers some replayability in its collectibles. Just be aware that our seven-year old found it all a bit too challenging: there’s plenty of different button combinations, and some platforming sequences need an experienced hand.
But call us demanding, as we expected more. That’s because we know what Outright Games are capable of. The very similar Addams’ Family: Mansion Madness is leagues ahead of Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures, and brings the fun and laughs for four players. In the family-friendly horror stakes, there’s only one winner.
You can buy Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures from the Xbox Store