Hotel Transylvania preview

We know that games based on kids movies don’t always show up on the average person's radar, but GameMill Entertainment’s upcoming Hotel Transylvania for the 3DS is shaping up to be a cut above the average movie licensed game. Whether or not you have any interest in the CGI animated film it’s based on, you should know that this game draws a surprising amount from the 16-bit blood-suckers in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. With dense levels designed for exploration and tons of twitch platforming, it’s something of a Metroidvania Jr.

The game is set in the same universe as the film, casting players as Mavis, the daughter of Dracula, on the eve of her 118th birthday - they grow up so fast, don’t they? An eternal teenager, she resides at the titular Hotel Transylvania, a safe haven run by her dad Drac, who rents rooms to fellow monsters looking to escape the torches and pitchforks of humanity. Obviously, humans at the hotel would spoil the monster’s R & R, which is why Mavis’s has to save her human friend Jonathan from ending up in chef Quasimodo’s soup – for her birthday dinner, no less.

In anticipation of the celebration, all of Mavis’s monstrous uncles have shown up with stacks of gifts for their undead niece. Our first quest had us tracking down the uncles to pass out room keys. Not only did it introduce us to the cast of characters, including Murray the Mummy, Frank(enstein) and Griffin the Invisible Man, it served to show us the lay of the land in this Hotel Transylvania. Navigating the long halls and high platforms, we were struck by how important backtracking and using the lower screen’s map were.

Revisiting previous areas after acquiring new powers is a hallmark of classic Metroidvania gameplay. We could tell that Hotel Transylvania’s levels had been designed with this in mind. If you’re unfamiliar, the term comes from mashing up the titles of two classic SNES-era platformers: Super Metroid and Castlevania. When old school developers combined the platforming and combat of a Castlevania game with the big levels and exploration of Super Metroid, a new style of non-linear side-scroller was born.

While our time in the Hotel didn’t find Mavis with any weapons – she jumps on enemies, Mario style –the game’s level design screamed Metroidvania. Navigating past undead bellhops after more than our luggage, we noticed tons of areas inaccessible at the moment, meant to be revisited after learning a trick or two. Enemies such as suits or armor and skeletons could be reduced to parts, but snapped to life again, like Mario’s Dry Bones.

We also dug the game’s goofy and gothic soundtrack. It was rocking and bouncy, perfect music for jumping on zombies' heads. It went splendidly with the game’s lively animation; when you stand idle Mavis even bops to the music. It gives progressing in the game a driving backbeat and made us want to keep up with the music.

While the game doesn’t feature any voice-acting, the on-screen text was full of fun, tongue-in-cheek jokes. We’re still wondering if they were lifted directly from the upcoming movie’s script.

Hotel Transylvania is one lucky cartoon to be getting such a winning adaptation. It’s way more like the classic platformers of the nineties than the half-hearted licensed games that were so common in that era. Whether or not the movie it’s based on finds any fans, gamers should keep an eye on this side-scroller, because they may find that Hotel Transylvania for the 3DS fits right into their wheelhouse.

Alex Roth