There is some confusing history surrounding this game, so I want to get that out of the way first. Even though it may seem like it, the iOS version Hollywood Monsters is not a port of the original Hollywood Monsters, which was released in the late 1990s. Instead, it's a port of the "sequel" to that game - Hollywood Monsters 2, which was more or less a remake of the first game and better known as The Next Big Thing. Got all that? No? Okay, perfect. Now let's talk about this great adventure game.
Shortly after booting up Hollywood Monsters, I was struck with a big, pungent hit of nostalgia. From the get-go, it was clear that this game is a lovingly-made and unapologetic throwback to the good old days of adventure games. And thank goodness for that. Because, as I've said before here at Arcade Sushi, there should be more of these kinds of games out there, especially on iOS.
The two main characters in Hollywood Monsters are Liz Allaire and Dan Murray, a pair of reporters who end up embroiled in a mystery surrounding the horror movie industry. One of the plot twists is that these horror movies happen to feature real, honest-to-goodness monsters. Ruh-roh. But perhaps even scarier than the monsters are the main characters themselves.
Liz is young, over-eager, slightly off and prone to getting carried away with herself. Dan is a world-weary, cynical sports writer with addiction issues. Part of what makes this game so enjoyable is the twisted dynamic between these two bent personalities. A lot of the great humor comes from their personal issues. It's also refreshing to see main characters with problems. And what's the best thing you can do with people that are messed up? Why, throw them into all kinds of mischief, mixing and matching pretty much everything imaginable in the horror movie playbook. Like the screenshot below for instance. Expecting a mummy were you Dan? How about a Xenomorph instead.
The production quality is where Hollywood Monsters really shines. Very much like an antique car or a sturdy desk, there is a, "don't make 'em like they used to" quality to this game that feels well made. The art direction, dialogue, story, layout, voice acting, music ... it all feels top notch and welded into the framework of a classic adventure game. They really don't make them like they used to. I guess that's what I found most surprising about this game ... because apparently they do still make them like they used to!
The problems with Hollywood Monsters doesn't lie in how the game looks. While there's no shortage of great visuals that call back the cartoony look of many great adventure games, there's also a lot of those old frustrations that come along with it, complete with some control issues and obtuse, byzantine puzzles that have Mad Libs-style solutions. However, these downsides are more a result of the inevitable complications that arise when porting a game, rather than the material itself. After all, you can't have a classic adventure game without some crazy puzzles that have ridiculous parts to them.
The control issues are mostly centered around not developing an effective enough system for handling an interface that's really designed for a mouse. There are little glitches here and there with the music and sometimes the game will lock up when moving from room to room. Combining items can also be a bit of a tapping chore. Pendulo tried to streamline things, by only giving you the option to tap on certain items. However, at times this can feel restrictive. It's certainly not broken, by any means. But it also doesn't match the level of polish and shine that's present with pretty much everything else and feels a little unbalanced. Hopefully these bugs can be worked out with a patch or two.
The game is also enormous, which for an be a big hindrance for casual iOS gamers. To install Hollywood Monsters, you will need 4GB free of HD space -- which is a ton. The game itself is only around 1.5 GB, but according to the Touch Arcade forums, it will need that extra space during the installation process. Unless you have an iPhone or iPad with loads of space, chances are you might not have the spare room for this Frankenstein of a game. There's nothing like a title this size to all of a sudden make a 16GB iPad look pretty, pretty small. I know that I had to clear out some clutter to make it fit.
My hope is that with games out there like The Walking Dead, which is more or less a modern take on the adventure game, young gamers will be drawn to titles like this. Hollywood Monsters is lovingly made and a tribute to the traditional adventure game formula. Pendulo Studios, the Spain-based developers responsible for this title, is clearly staffed by folks who have a serious love for this kind of material. Hopefully this game does well and we will continue to see more from them.
In addition to Pendulo, credit also goes to the good people at BulkyPix for putting it out on iOS. Apparently they have a thing for old adventure games with multiple titles. In fact, they even addressed this in a recent blog post. So if you are still confused in regards to all the nonsense that was going on at the beginning of this review, definitely check out that post.
And if you want to play a solid, old-school adventure game, definitely check out Hollywood Monsters!