Review – Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures

Every time Outright Games brings something new to the table, you have to keep a few factors in mind. One, their primary audience is going to be children, and you need to set your expectations as such. These are games to attract and entrance the same people who are hooked on Nickelodeon shows for hours at a time, if allowed. Two, the games are always IP connected, which is why Paw Patrol, Transformers and a child YouTube star all have games under this umbrella. Third, and I can’t stress this enough, your experience is going to vary wildly due to the buckshot approach of Outright Games’ design style. From racer to platformer to turn-based strategy, nothing is out of reach as long as the characters attached will ensure sales in some form.

With Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures, this is a pretty easy layup for the company and the controlling parent, Sony Pictures and Amazon. We just had a brand new Hotel Transylvania movie, where most people didn’t realize that Adam Sandler didn’t voice the main character anymore for reasons that probably begin and end with “Netflix contract.” People everywhere were reminded of this surprisingly entertaining series, and kids, naturally, will gravitate towards new merchandise that reminds them as such. However, instead of deciding to use the movie plot for a game frame (as they did with Hotel Transylvania 3: Monsters Overboard), this time we’ve deviated wildly in order to create something with more longevity and also more potential.

Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures Hunter

No problem, clearly not Andy Samberg!

With Mavis and Johnny out, and the werewolf parents indisposed, Drac is left to babysit Winnie and Dennis, and he decides that classic fairy tales are the best way to keep them entertained. As he is a monster and everything must be monster related, the fairy tales are modified to fit the whole motif of it being a little creepy and slimy, but still family friendly. Drac proceeds to tell three tales – Aladdin, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Emperor’s New Clothes – swapping out himself and Mavis as the main stars, and dropping in the constant sidekicks as both NPCs and collectable plot points.

Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures is a 3D collect-a-thon adventure platformer where the whole idea is just to get from point A to point B. As Drac narrates everything that’s happening in time, you learn, very quickly, the idea is to move onto the next part of the level, get told how this affects the story, and then try to get to the next part. Inbetween, you’ll sometimes have to fight monsters to progress, find a key, work a very simple puzzle or just keep moving in order to get to the goal.

Like so many Outright Games titles, most of the actual gameplay is based around the player’s own need for completionism: there are coins of varying value that mean absolutely nothing, cards to discover that are nice to look at, and the body pieces of Frank, which have been inexplicably scattered about. None of this is necessary, and it’s all there just to keep you engaged in a sensation that it’s worthwhile to try and get a high score for each and every level.

Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures Combat

Punch the mushroom spider! Punch it!

To their credit, Drakhar Studio, who are helming this title under Outright Games, did a bangup job in several areas. The use of a variety of powers and control mechanics makes the game complex without being too overwhelming. Both Drac and Mavis have a jump, dash, air dash and bat-transformation-glide for maneuvering, allowing for several instances where exploration feels more engaging than normal.

Combat is one button, but combos open up and you can get fancy, mixing in dodges with punches to create a brawl effect. Also, each character has an arsenal of vampire magic spells, ranging from super strength to a radial ground strike to telekinesis, with the latter being purely for puzzle solving. Incorporating all these elements into the game gives it the feeling of a “big kid” game without any actual consideration: the radial strike can help if the enemies theoretically ever get overwhelming, but it’s mostly to activate panels and move onto the next level.

Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures Puzzles

Easily the most complex puzzle: where to move the one block to jump on.

Also, conceptually, Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures, is significantly better than just doing a game around Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania. Rather than lash itself to the shortest, least monster movie in the franchise, we open up the possibilities for both future installments and also a more flexible framework in general. Fairy tales are recognizable, and “monsterfying” them allows for fun and silliness to be interjected haphazardly. For kids, they have some air of connection, but also get to see some on-the-fly modifications as Drac, Winnie and Dennis all take liberties in how the story unfolds. In a game that runs in single digit hours of play time (for an adult, anyways), the plot is somehow the most interesting part. I wouldn’t be mad if we decided to expand and have another anthology of bedtime stories as long as Scary-Tale Adventures sells well.

Having said that, there is so, SO MUCH of this game that I didn’t like, and a lot of it comes from Drakhar Studio themselves. For those unaware, Outright Games has this formula where they start with Torus Games and then move into Drakhar for the sequel, and I cannot figure out why. Torus did the first Paw Patrol game, Drakhar did the second, and the first is infinitely superior for multiple reasons. It runs smoother, it animates better, and it’s more controlled, albeit the first game is also 2D whereas Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay is in 3D.

Drakhar loves to do 3D, and they seriously nauseate me every time, and I cannot figure out why. Maybe it’s a frames-per-second thing, maybe it’s the camera work, but I could only play Scary-Tale Adventures for about 15 minutes at a time before needing to take a break. I want and need to give this game a fair shake, but I needed my kids to play it for a bit in order to give papa’s stomach a chance to settle down.

If you literally never get a single health booster, you’ll be fine.

Motion sickness aside, Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures also shows its seams continually in being a game based on something with fantastic CGI and this…less so. We had constant dips in graphical quality, which is shocking for a very simple title on the XBox One. Watching the characters start to artifice in the middle of a cutscene or while trying to dodge fireballs made zero sense, but it happened continually. The load times weren’t terrifically long, but they took a beat more than I thought they would. There’s a roughness to it that goes beyond the expected hit you’d see in a game versus a movie and goes into “was this intended for the last generation?”  It went from noticeable to distracting by the time I got to the second fairy tale.

The voicework is decent, I have to give it to the studio for that. Since it’s a kid’s game, making sure that everyone heard their favorite characters quipping something throughout is important, though I really wish Dennis would speak less, as he’s the worst character in the franchise. It’s really interesting that the only authentic voices they got were the new Drac, Winnie and Dennis, as they do speak the most throughout the game. Everyone else is voiced by someone entirely new, but they did reuse most of the cast from Monsters Overboard, so I appreciate the consistency. Fun fact: Wayne (who is voiced by Steve Bushemi in the movies) is voiced by Steve’s brother, Michael, in the games. That’s just a wild choice, right?

Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures Graphics

It’s insane that Johnny looks more terrifying than most of the creatures due to the visuals.

All issues about graphics and cameras aside, the largest fallacy of Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures is that it’s got nothing to it when all is said and done. If you really want to be a completionist and get awesome scores on each level, or find all the monster trading cards, you can with minimal effort, just more time. The achievement system will give some kind of reward for players with next-gen consoles, but anyone picking this up on Switch will find very little incentive to farm out every single coin. You go into an area, kick a few baddies, smash some pumpkins or boxes, get coins and move on.

If you fall, die, or get obliterated in some way, Winnie or Dennis will insist that’s not how the story goes and respawn you a few seconds back. Fantastic for kids, utterly boring for adults, and probably boring for any child who has played any game with a risk/reward system. This is all reward, no risk, and the outcome is a very, very milquetoast couple of plays. Unless your family are Hotel Transylvania fanatics, it’s a one-and-done journey.

Thanks for reminding me, Winnie, I’ll just keep needlessly getting things.

Still, I think this has some possibility, so Outright Games should consider their next move carefully. If Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures can do well enough, it might easily expand into a future sequel or sequels, but I insist they step up the production a bit. Clean up the cameras, give purpose to the game, perhaps consider doing a Sin City version with the monsters, and who knows? We might have a real banger on our hands. In the meantime, though, keep this game shut up in a coffin when the sun rises. Or the moon rises. Or if you want to play anything with substance.

Graphics: 5.0

Decent, but honestly too glichy to watch without getting annoyed.

Gameplay: 5.5

Punch spookies. Get coins. Find an errant leg. Repeat.

Sound: 5.5

A decent blend of voicework, most children won’t notice that Kevin James kept his name off this.

Fun Factor: 4.0

Any game where I need to continually stop to prevent vomiting is missing something crucial.

Final Verdict: 5.0

Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Hotel Transylvania: Scary-Tale Adventures was provided by the publisher.