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  • Writer's pictureAntal Bokor

Howl is a Tight Turn-Based Strategy Game with a Melancholy Atmosphere

Screenshot: Howl

2023 was packed full of great video games, so it makes sense if you missed a few. I know I did–I’m still playing catch-up. That means I missed some great games, and Howl is definitely one of them. A delightful hand drawn surprise, more people should be talking about this game.

Howl is a turn-based tactics game that is set in a hand drawn fantasy world. You play as a deaf protagonist making her way across a world beset by a “howling” plague–one that turns all who hear it into ferocious beasts. You’re not a trained warrior, but you’re not exactly helpless either, as you have your crossbow, wits, a hell of a strong push and a few other tricks that you’ll pick up along the way.

Screenshot: Howl

Howl is extremely tight little game, with most of the chaff removed and the meat being a neat hand drawn experience that even manages to eke out some poignancy through its moody music and dramatic voice overs. It also has a sleepy, casual quality to it–but it doesn’t skimp on the challenge. She only has three arrows at a time, so you have to plan your encounters wisely. Two hits and you’re dead, so you can’t suffer too much damage. If you take too many moves to complete a level you exceed “prophecy” you'll receive a lower score based on how much over prophecy you went. It’s best to stay within the prophecy, since you get more points that way to spend on upgrades. There is an assist mode that can be turned on to make some of your tasks easier.

While Howl is technically a tactics game, it’s such a tight game it can be argued that it’s a puzzle game foremost. There aren’t many tactical decisions you can make since the margin of error is so low. There was usually room for me to find a more optimal solution, and that was through trial and error. I may not have been playing “correctly” but I found myself playing each level a few times so I can see how the enemies react and respond accordingly. There isn’t much hand holding, so I found myself experimenting with abilities before I locked in my optimal run.

Screenshot: Howl

Different enemies have different behavior. At first you’ll encounter wolves that can attack adjacent spaces only, but soon you’ll be encountering fiercer beasts that can attack from a distance, while running into scenarios where you have to meet a certain goal–like protecting innocent bystanders.

Upgrades are bought with points you earn through level completion. The better you do, the more upgrade points you  have. This is a bit of a novel concept, as I don't remember explicitly running across a system that uses the star rating you earned for the level for currency you use to upgrade your abilities. However, this also gives those who are already apt to do better an advantage over those who may be struggling

Screenshot: Howl

Its story is told in voice over narration. Unfortunately, for a game touting to be “folklore” there is little lore here. What you read on the tin is pretty much what you get, with the story boiling down to “the prophecy says go here and stop wolves.” I do enjoy its art style, but the hand drawn animated roguelike/turn-based game is pretty commonplace at this point.

Howl is an underrated game from a year full of great games. If you’re looking for a tight puzzle-like turn-based tactics game that is close in play style to games like Into the Breach, Howl is a safe bet. It is, however, a game that sits on the shorter end of the time scale–I was able to get through it in about six hours. But because it’s puzzle adjacent, your mileage may vary.

Howl is available now for PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store, for Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series S|X and PlayStation 5.



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