Hotel Sowls (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Katie Livingston 31.07.2020

Review for Hotel Sowls on Nintendo Switch

A mysterious puzzler with an intriguing storyline from CFK Co., Hotel Sowls aims to keep players on their toes while expecting big scares and hidden clues. With a precious art style and amusing dialogue, this compact story wants to deliver a replayable experience at an attractive price point. What it lacks in follow through, it makes up for in charm with plenty of interesting twists and turns.

Hotel Sowls begins when a pharmacologist tracks down a mysterious stone in his research for the creation of a fame-winning medicine. After beginning his journey home, he takes up lodging at the titular Hotel Sowls, where he plans to stay for just a single night. Upon waking, and much to his horror, the main character finds his stone missing! He must then find it in the increasingly unnerving hotel, eventually (optionally) solving the larger, malicious mystery surrounding the guests of the hotel. The story is driven by the choices and directions the player takes, and there are a multiple endings for the main character and hotel denizens - for better or for worse.

Screenshot for Hotel Sowls on Nintendo Switch

Upon booting this up, the first impression can best be summed up as "spooky cute," with a charming 2D art style that leans hard into the Halloween decoration ghost aesthetic, which is welcome in a game that seems to want to just unnerve you rather than scare you. The main character is in the shape of a bed-sheet ghost, and the hotel guests are similarly drawn, which sets the player up to possibly be confused whether the audience is in store for a Shining or Sixth Sense situation. Character animations are tight and often amusing, for example, when a shopkeeper zips back and forth to keep up with the player as they approach the counter to examine his wares. Hotel Sowls accomplishes a lot with a little, utilizing a handful of key animations married with clever dialogue to keep the flow of the gameplay quite smooth.

The gameplay mechanics are for the most part intuitive, with a standard top down navigation of the hotel. The player controls a cursor that lights over various objects that can be interacted with, which is useful for scrolling through an entire area for relevant objects instead of wandering aimlessly hoping to bump into an interactive prompt. Journal entries are logged, mysterious notes from a previous tenant help guide the character, and there is a relative ease to driving through the majority of the plot.

Screenshot for Hotel Sowls on Nintendo Switch

This translates well for a mystery game that wants the player to reach the credits in five in-game days. While there is not a time limit given, there is a sense of immediacy to exploring that adds to the ambiance due to quick and seemingly intuitive puzzles. This can sometimes conflict with a one's innate desire to leave no stone unturned with the myriad of interactive points literally littered across the hotel, including mini-games. This can be equal parts mysterious and infuriating when intended uses of some of these interactive elements are never revealed, perhaps by design to be cheeky or misleading. This tendency to mislead the player is often a misguided attempt to set the mood for the main mystery, with loose ends becoming more of a theme rather than an accessory to a compelling ending.

Screenshot for Hotel Sowls on Nintendo Switch

Objects can be purchased and equipped with no effect on the story or on non-playable characters. Additions without utility are not a problem, but in a mystery game where one needs to keep everything in mind as a possible clue, it's frustrating to waste time and in-game money. This also extends to the actual story - there is plenty to explore, and the journal entries are helpful to the point where players knows what will get the best possible ending, but despite the overabundance of items and clues, there is no obvious way to get to that ending when it matters. Without spoilers, even the reveal of the big bad feels abrupt and unavoidable, yet unnavigable.

That being said, it is not quite clear whether the initial ease and pace is intended to lull you into a false sense of "I've got this!" or a roundabout way of inspiring the audience to replay to get a better ending. For both its benefit and detriment, the simple level design can be deceptively maze-like, which helps the ambiance, but the ending can frustrate and shock the player. Hotel Sowls wants you to enjoy your stay so much that you'll want to replay for another round - but some may not find it compelling enough to return despite the adorable cast of characters and entertaining writing.

Screenshot for Hotel Sowls on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Building an evident framework for a "good ending" without detailing a clear path to find the requirements, Hotel Sowls struggles between being a true mystery, and holding the player's hand with clues. Replayability, rather than a compelling journey, seems to be the main through line for this title. That being said, the impossibly cute art direction and interesting visual language will keep audiences charmed and engrossed, even if they are not usually fans of the mystery and thriller genre.

Developer

Studio Sott

Publisher

CFK

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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