Released as an obvious tie-in with the movie of the same name, Hotel Transylvania aims to provide an experience evocative of some classic Castlevania titles, particularly the DS games and that influential masterpiece Symphony of the Night.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that, as with many movie tie-ins, Hotel Transylvania is a rushed product. Positively bursting with potential, it's disappointing to find that the gameplay consists of running back and forth through the same set of rooms until the game abruptly ends, which it likely will likely before you've invested even three hours in it.
The adventure — as we shall diplomatically call it — stars Mavis, Dracula's daughter, whose 118th birthday party provides the context for the game. She explores the Hotel Transylvania, finding hidden gems, meeting with the guests, and unlocking abilities along the way, each of which allows her to reach previously inaccessible areas and items.
By the time one turns 118 life must feel pretty repetitive. At least, this game sure does. The action consists of finding a character who is marked on your map, talking to them to find out what they need, and then walking to the other end of the map to find whatever it is. Once you find the item you walk all the way back and return it.
This is a genuine waste of the Castlevania-inspired layout of the game. Whereas those better titles provide tasks and unlock abilities at regular intervals to imbue the circular progression with a sense of forward progression, Hotel Transylvania just has you moving back and forth through the same rooms, hopping the same pits, and wondering when you'll get to do something new. The fact that nearly every one of your tasks has to do with retrieving an item from a group of wolf pups just heightens the sense of monotony; it's the same task every time.
The Symphony of the Night homage is clearly deliberate, right down to the style of the map, the game-opening sprint to the castle, and even some of the abilities you'll be able to use, such as the mist form and bat form. Additionally you explore classic clocktower, catacombs and cathedral areas, all of which call to mind the vastly superior game, and highlight just how much is missing from this one.
As many times as you have to traverse the same rooms in the same way, there's no variation to keep you engaged. While you can choose to collect hidden gems to extend your life meter, there's no real purpose to this as dying just causes you to spawn again at the entrance to the room. No new traps appear to test your new abilities, the enemies don't get more difficult or varied, and the guests don't do anything interesting or different as the game progresses; they simply vanish when you've finished their fetch quest.
It's never a good feeling when you invest an hour in a game and notice that your save file is already marked with 50% completion, but that's what happens here in Hotel Transylvania. The endless backtracking and fetching feels like it might be building toward a development in the game that sets you free of your training wheels at last, but it never comes. The game ends when the developers run out of reasons to send you back through the same rooms again, and that's it.
If you choose to seek out all of the gems, you're looking at around three hours' worth of playtime. If you don't, and we wouldn't blame you, you'll get much less. That's bad enough, and the fact that even such a short game feels padded beyond its breaking point makes it that much worse.
The graphics are a bit flat and lifeless, with little or no animation apart from the protagonist and the enemies she stomps. The music is decent, but it gets quickly repetitive. The controls are tight when it comes to simple movement, but fall apart when it comes to unlocked abilities. The "stare" abilities are sluggish and almost guarantee you'll get hit while it takes effect, and wall-running is an exercise in needless frustration.
When it comes to Hotel Transylvania, let's just say we have reservations...and not the kind that the hotel would appreciate.
Hotel Transylvania had strong potential to overcome the stigma of movie tie-in games, but with clumsy controls, repetitive gameplay, and a front-to-back experience lasting less than three hours, it's difficult to see it as anything more than a well-intentioned cash in. If we had to describe this game in two words, we'd pick "squandered potential". If we only had one word, we'd pick "no".