Howl Impressions: Ink And Blood

If you watched today’s Indie World Showcase, you might have caught a glimpse of the chess-like, manuscript-inspired puzzler Howl. I wasn’t able to speak too much during the game’s trailer debut, but have plenty to say.

Starting with: Howl is as clever as it is beautiful so far. In the first two world maps I’ve successfully trekked across, the strategy gameplay had me planning out my every move to avoid an unexpectedly bloody death at the hands of supernatural beasts. This can be tough, sometimes punishingly so — especially if I want to mop up all of the bonus objectives before getting to the end of a level.

In each of these lurks sinister dangers underscored by an atmospheric voiceover, mimicking the feel of a dark storytale being told across a dancing fire. And though the story isn’t overly complicated — a plague of monsters ravage the countryside as I try to find my missing brother — the spine-tingling feeling of battling through a foreboding, unfolding folktale looms constantly.

I began my adventure in Howl in the beginning of the year — and if you want to get a sense of the game’s core set-up and mechanics, I recommend taking a moment to dive into my preview. But, to sum things up more quickly, my quest requires my to traverse a level, set out like a chess board, by mapping out my movements and actions step-by-step. And though the game is turn-based, the turns for me and my wolfish enemies happen simultaneously. As I take a step, so can they. As I take an action, they can too.

It’s a animated game of cat and mouse with rules straightforward enough to feel clever when plotting the perfect run. There’s also just a pinch of the unexpected and a heap of obstacles to make the game’s challenges rewarding. Even when I’m frustratedly unable to carve a path through my fearsome foes, I’m always eager to jump back in to right the one moment that went wrong rather than throw my hands up in defeat.

Power, unsurprisingly makes all the difference. As I conquer more enemies and find much-appreciated help, I gain abilities I can upgrade with resources gained in combat. My personal favorite is the smoke bomb, with flaming arrows following closely behind it.

Unlike the early game, where my options were essentially run for it, I can complete later-stage areas by masking my movement in self-made fog only to shoot fiery death upon unsuspecting beasts. I can’t wait to see what other abilities await me and how I can combine them with my current tool set to unleash even more carnage.

I don’t know where the narrative will take me, but I’m eager to find out. Given the game’s dark nature so far, I have a hard time believing I’m going to find my brother safe and then live happily ever after. Howl just doesn’t seem like that kind of fairy tale.

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