Review: Haunted Hollow

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Monsters, haunted mansions and angry mobs wielding torches. It’s either Halloween in springtime, Thursday night in Transylvania, or Haunted Hollow, Firaxis’s first foray into iOS territory. Given the way the House that Sid Meier Built loves its turn-based strategy games, we’re putting our monster bucks on option three.

At first blush, Haunted Hollow looks as straightforward as a zombie shambling down Main Street in search of a brain-matter platter: In turn-based fashion, build rooms for your very own haunted mansion on the hill, crank out several different types of monsters and descend upon the nearby town to scare villagers, earning stars and level increases in the process. But this is the developer that gave us the Civilization series, so you know there’s more here than meets the undead eye. Your opponent, whether of the AI or warm-blooded variety, is trying to do the same thing you are. You’re only given a limited number of Fear Points to spend each turn on things like moving, scaring villagers and attacking your opponent’s monsters. It’s possible to obtain extra fear points each turn—controlling entire neighborhoods (sets of 2-3 houses) is the easiest way—but no matter how many you have, spending them strategically is a must.

You can add a new room to your mansion every turn, but if you’re not using your mad architecture skillz to do it, you’re going to lose quickly. Certain types of rooms produce certain types of monsters, and you’re given the ability to access more powerful level 2 and level 3 versions of your ghoulish hordes if you place the same type of rooms in adjacent blocks of two or four. The laws of gravity and sound architecture only marginally apply here, so you can feel free to drop in multiple additions that jut way out over the cliff’s edge. It’s spookier that way.

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One of several clever X factors in Haunted Hollow is the appearance of the Angry Mob, a collection of aggressive and revenge-minded villagers that shows up after you and your opponent have scared a certain number of houses. Once they’re on the scene, they move around the town each turn, scorching houses that have been scared/claimed by monsters or, if you’re slow and unlucky, your monster units. You can send a fight-type Frankenstein’s monster or werewolf to attack and eliminate the mob, but you’ll be spending a clawful of fear points to do it, and may end up helping your opponent in the process. Unless they’re about to burn down the very last house you’ve claimed and cost you the match, you’re probably better served just avoiding their fiery fury.

Haunted Hollow is billed as a freemium game, but devouring everything on the free buffet won’t take you very long: You can take on the fairly pedestrian AI for control of the village, challenge friends by passing your iOS device around the room or remotely through GameCenter and chew on a set of nine relatively easy challenges that you’ll slash through in a few quick turns. The challenges are good for learning some of Haunted Hollow’s subtle nuances, but they won’t cook your brain stew much past medium rare.

And that’s where this cartoon-cute exercise gets a little prickly. Simply put, the game doesn’t hesitate for even a second to rub your werewolf snout in the cool stuff you don’t have yet. When the AI is cranking out shape-shifting bogeymen, monster-freezing wendigos and gibbering/exploding goblins to plague you while your army is limited to a mere five monster types (vampires, zombies and ghosts, oh my) it’s a lot harder to resist spending up to eight bucks—the price of the game’s equivalent of a baseline season pass–to unlock the full array of new monster and mansion-type sets.

Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. In an iOS gaming universe that’s still cluttered with a lot of offerings that are barely worth their free price tags, it’s good to show some financial support to entertaining and clever games like this. Even when all the houses have been scared and the entire village is in my mad-scientist hands, I’m left to wonder if it wouldn’t have felt less monstrous and more reasonable to slap a $8 price tag on Haunted Hollow and call it a day. Er, night.

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Pros:
+ Turn-based structure is great for two-player matches
+ Wide array of monsters and monster abilities—if you’re willing to pay for them
+ Cutesy-creepy art vibe

Cons:
– In-app purchase strategy is seriously off-putting
– Challenges aren’t exactly challenging

Game Info:
Platform: iPad/iPhone
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: 5/2/2013
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Age Rating: 9+
Players: 1-2
Source: Freemium game

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.