Only When Howling is one of those games that certainly like to use the medium for telling unconventional stories. While every game consists of artwork, Only When Howling is actually one big art project. The game has a somewhat unconventional and childlike visual expression that many players may find off-putting. However, this is not a game that strives to be something it’s not, but rather is pretty clear about its identity right from the start.
Created and developed by Kim Savory, Only When Howling is defined by its creator as being an interactive art app. It certainly doesn’t carry any pretentiousness of being a classic game, and might once again raise the undying question of what is and isn’t a game. If we would talk about what this game isn’t, then free-to-play is one of those things.
Although it doesn’t cost much, around $3 for both iOS and Android platforms, buying something different such as Only When Howling may be asking a bit too much from the gamers. Every work should be awarded of course, but for something so novel and strange, the author should have let the public get used to it before determining such a high price. Not to mention that the gameplay lasts for around half an hour which will often be compared to other games of the same or similar price.
On the other hand, maybe the author wanted for the game to get to the right people, who are ready to pay in order to appreciate art. Furthermore, Only When Howling is not shy when it comes to expression, and seems to be very independent of the general belief we have about games. It may not be what we are used to, but certainly is something fresh and novel in the gaming world.
The game is made of three stories, and each follows a different character. You will see a cutscene at the beginning of each one, and then your character’s head will pop open and you enter to see what they feel and think. Compared to the art style before, the moment you enter your character’s mind the gameplay turns into an abstract environment for your to explore. Your task is to find objects among those shapes that will allow you to see the next cutscene and find out more about your character and their story.
However, don’t expect to hear your characters speak, since instead of voices, the author uses words to express the characters in the game. With background music, this reminded me a little of the old silent movies, although the music was certainly far from the playful piano tune. The storytelling, thus, relies on metaphor and artwork, so you will have to base your opinion mostly on those. But don’t expect to get all the answers, or an ending that will satisfy your expectations, since Only When Howling is more than ordinary, to say the least.
Nonetheless, the artwork and story work well together, even though this is not going to be appealing to play for some. You won’t get all the answers and sometimes find sense in things, but the game never promised to give you that, so you kind of knew what you were getting into right from the start. Only When Howling gives you space to think about what you have experienced while playing it through the complex emotions of its characters.
In the end, it’s all up to you and whether this is the type of visual experience you are ready to have, in the era of highly developed 3D environments and motion capture. Only When Howling will give you something different, and that makes it worth your half an hour to start and finish the game. It may use a cartoonish art style, but it’s far from being childish in its essence.