The Howler is an indie platformer that combines the distance/perception skills of Angry Birds with the hopping and landing of Super Meat Boy. The game is loosely based on the steampunk novel Hour of the Wolf by Lithuanian author Antanas Marcelionis. The novel is a must read for those who love 19th century political intrigue. In this alternate history, it seems the Russian Empire has fallen into debt with the Rothschild family of bankers…not a good thing…and must make reparations, or face the consequences.
The Howler offers a lighter take on the events portrayed in the novel. Players simply glide a hot air balloon from one point on a small map to another, sometimes avoiding dangerous obstacles, and other times delivering packages or dropping bombs.
Each map is introduced with a case number and a description of the current mission. Before play, you can choose to enable “voice mode”, where you softly grunt into your microphone to cause the balloon to rise, fall and deliver packages. If you don’t enable this feature, you can simply press and release your mouse button to rise and fall, respectively. The alternate method of package delivery is to click the “red box” icon at the top of the screen. Personally, I find the mouse easier to use than voice commands.As your balloon rises, you’ll notice directional arrows along the left-hand side of the map. These indicate which way the wind is blowing, and therefore how the balloon will respond to your rise and fall actions.
In early maps, use the arrows to clear small buildings and towers. Flat roofs accommodate balloon landings. Tower spikes on the other hand, will cause the balloon to explode upon contact. Later maps require you to pick up packages and drop them off at designated landing spots. At first, I attempted to release packages in mid-air, often missing the drop spot and having to restart the mission. I soon realized that you can actually land on the delivery spot and click the red box icon to release!As you progress, other types of items become available. There are bombs for instance, that you must hurl at hapless targets. Also, as the 19th century gives way to the 20th, your balloon itself will (whoops…no spoilers here). At certain points, your balloon will enter treacherous interiors. This is where the game more resembles Sonic the Hedgehog (or Freedom Planet), rather than a love-child between Angry Birds and Super Meat Boy. Things get tediously challenging here; really only for those with a steady hand and steadier nerves. A self-proclaimed moniker is “The Game of Touch and Scream”. Aptly so.
Overall, if you like platformers with highly sensitive controls, you will love The Howler. On the other hand, if you’re easily frustrated with games in this genre, you may want to spend the money on something less confounding…like a nice book about political intrigue!