Game developers of the current generation have provided gamers ample opportunity to be a complete bastard in a video game and disguise it as a moral choice system. Most of the time, however, this is limited to simply handing players a multitude of tools and weapons that can be used to massacre many NPCs as gruesomely as possible. In Modesty's The Spookening, you’re still a bastard; however, the game provides a different end-goal to satisfy players’ selfish-urges: creatively scaring the souls out of the NPCs.
Herman is the star of this iOS/Android game, and he’s not exactly the prime result of generations from survival of the fittest. Yet, Herman still perseveres despite his limited intelligence because he has the ability to resurrect. Herman’s problem is that he needs soular power (Modesty’s pun, not mine--I swear), which he can obtain by scaring the inhabitants of Clifftown; however, he only has a certain amount of time before his ghost, um, dies. Beyond this, The Spookening is not a story-driven game, which means when the game ends it simply ends. It does offer a drawing in between levels that depicts what preposterously stupid way Herman managed get himself killed this time, which are usually chuckle-worthy.
Once you get past the screen detailing Hermann’s death, you are introduced to the hauntingly beautiful Clifftown. The designers seem to have taken inspiration from animated films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it looks gorgeous. You actually play on one large map for the whole game, which you can view by clicking a button at the top of the touch screen. You may find yourself adjusting the map not only to find the nearest batch of souls but to gaze at the scenery. At first it seems like the game is focusing on graphical style over power; however, such is not the case. When I was asked to review this game, I did not expect that the game would be too powerful for an iPhone 4 (Modesty has a disclaimer on its app-store page that says the game is optimized for the iPhone 4S, 5, and iPad 4). As such, I encountered incredibly slow frame-rate that hindered my experience. This is a shame, because as I was playing I caught a glimpse of some clever design that I would have loved to properly explore. If you have the proper device, then you shouldn’t encounter these issues.
Players begin each night at a portion of the map right next to Herman's dead body. Herman has at his disposal his environment, his own monstrous voice, helpful items that he can purchase, and the souls of the NPCs from whom he will feed off. Players navigate the town with a virtual left analog stick, and will interact with the game’s environment with a button that can be charged on the right side of the touchscreen. Players can hold down the button to charge up Herman's shout which increases in width. By doing so, Hermann can emit a shout which will give him a modest amount of soular power. With the same charge meter, players encounter context-sensitive objects which he or she can deposit a portion of their soular power for greater scares.The controls work fantastically, although I do have two minor nitpicks. The first is that I wish the left analogue stick was slightly larger, as I often noticed my thumb accidentally slipping off the analog stick. The second is that sometimes when charging my shouts while chasing citizens, I often come across context sensitive areas, which I then accidentally deposited my solar power into objects that I was hoping to save for later.
Playing the game is a delicate balancing act. You need soular power to revive yourself and use environmental scares. You’ll earn much more soular power from using environmental scares rather than just chasing the citizens until you barely have enough time to make it back to your body. As such, you have to gather the citizens like cattle and utilize the environment to absorb optimal soular power. If you fail to properly execute your plan, you may find yourself wasting soular power, and you now have less time to recoup your losses. You also need to scare the citizens, but you can't scare them too much; otherwise, their ghosts or demons will come back and try and steal your remaining soular power. This helps provide a much needed break from simply gathering the souls, making a big scare, and returning to your body (rinse and repeat). You can also equip items between levels that will either help you scare more citizens, or ward off other demons and ghosts
The Spookening only has 20 nights for players to explore the town and revive Hermann. The ending feels anti-climactic as it ends just when the game introduces more demons and environmental hazards to keep players challenged and interested. However, this game was designed to be played much like an arcade game. You could simply breeze through the 20 nights in a short period of time; or, you can dedicate the time to master each night, planning your routes, and buying certain items to maximize soular power and evade other ghosts and demons.
Whether you decide to buy the game depends entirely on whether you like planning things out and mastering a video game before you move on to the next. You could rely on the same environmental scares and items to breeze through the 20 short levels; however, you’ll need to experiment with your items and environment if you want to achieve the maximum three stars, which also nets you more coins. Even with the incentive to earn three stars, the game seems to end just when it finally starts picking up in pace.The app costs $2.99, which is not bad considering there are no in-app purchases to be found. Just be warned that you will need the latest iOS device to run it, otherwise the game will run very slowly. Consider the score to be 1 point higher if you do have the latest iOS devices.
This review is based on a digital download copy of the game for iOS provided by HYPE.