Enjoy Your Stay
There are few gaming subgenres which feel quite as exhausted as the niche of the tower defence game. Popular, accessible, and relatively easy to produce, Flash game websites and mobile app stores have runneth over with games about plonking down automated defence systems and letting them go to town on waves of oncoming enemies, but with every great trend in games comes developers who wish to take those trends and use them in whole new ways. This is a big part of the intention behind Bad Hotel, a game which sells itself as a mash-up of side-on tower defence and experimental music toy, but never manages to fully satisfy as either. The central conflict of the game comes from you as the player trying to construct and operate a hotel while fending off the minions sent by meddlesome capitalist Tarnation Tadstock, the unscrupulous owner of the hotel who wants to destroy it to collect on the insurance.
Every level starts with you in control of a single building with its own health meter which acts as the base of the hotel. You can then purchase additional rooms to build onto this central hub or rooms you’ve already constructed, each of which have their own health and are used for the goal of keeping that central room intact until the end of the stage. Your buildables include not only standard tower defence weaponry like gun turrets and mine dispensers, but also bedrooms which will earn you additional money over time, and other rooms with their own unique features. The game almost never gives you one type of room that is better than any other, instead it’s about taking the few types of room available and finding the right balance between a hotel that is powerful enough to defend itself but is profitable enough for you to keep building more defences on. The vague story which underlies Bad Hotel doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense as it’s Tadstock who’s giving you the firepower to thwart him, but that’s a minor quibble.
As a tower defence game Bad Hotel stands head and shoulders above most. Having to deploy your buildings during real-time combat instead of just during a preparation phase makes the game a more active and involving experience, and building placement and enemy approaches happen in a free-form way which makes the game feel far more dynamic than many other entries in the genre. The lack of prior knowledge about where your enemies are going to come from however does mean that you often can’t plan as deliberately and purposefully as you can in other tower defence games. You have to either build a hotel which is prepared for attack from multiple directions or simply hope enemies are going to approach from the direction you want them to. Sadly, while the game puts a somewhat new edge on the concept, it doesn’t manage to break far enough from traditional tower defence mechanics to feel like you’re not in some way running through that same tired “Construct the thing and watch it shoot” formula.
You might be thinking that all this doesn’t matter too much considering this genre of game is usually about sitting back and turning your brain off, but Bad Hotel requires you to be diligent in your play and gets quite challenging fairly early on. Unfortunately, sometimes the difficulty can be downright inconsistent. For example, while the game lets you play the levels in any order you want, I found 2-5 considerably easier than 2-4 and 5-1 far easier than 3-2. Some way in the game also runs out of interesting ideas for new buildings, instead the designer largely just settles for switching in and out the same few rooms in different combinations. There’s just not enough variety to the rooms in the mid to late stages of the experience and it translates to gameplay which lacks diversity and doesn’t go anywhere. In particular it’s a little confusing that the game introduces a “Heal” room in addition to the offensive and money-producing rooms, but then doesn’t keep it as a fixture throughout the remainder of the game, meaning that gameplay becomes in some ways less multi-faceted.
Bad Hotel does however display some creativity and talent with its visual design. The hotel rooms and backgrounds are drawn to an adequate level of competency, with backdrops usually consisting of a cool blend of two vivid colours, but it’s the enemy and menu design which stands out. Enemy designs in the game typically use bright colours, no outlines, and a minimal colour palette, and among the upset clouds and angry yetis the game manages to provide a more original and surreal collection of minions than you might expect to find here. There’s also something pleasing about the slick menus full of large, round buttons, and the title and level select screens which tastefully silhouette a hotel against a sunset-like background.
I only wish I could say the audio was as up to snuff. The menu sounds are clean and enjoyable, but the game makes the claim of being a “procedural music toy” when all that actually means is that the rooms you add to your hotel chime with their own noises at repeating intervals, and as they lose health their sounds become more stressed and panicked. This makes the “music toy” claim seem a little disingenuous. What’s more, the game’s trailer may be filled with smooth and provocative music, but disappointingly, the game itself sounds nothing like this. At its best the noises come off as interestingly bizarre, but at their worst, especially towards the end of levels when your hotel is likely to have taken a beating, they sound discordant and grating, leaving you glad to exit the stage when you’re done.
When you step back and look at it, more thought and effort has obviously been put into Bad Hotel than most other tower defence games out there. This isn’t just another cookie cutter mobile app, there’s something more fulfilling here which can provide genuine fun through its canny sights and sounds, and frantic gameplay. However, there are just so many small problems that add up it’s hard to not to think Bad Hotel is unfortunately and aptly named at times. Gameplay which only manages to stay so fresh and an array of sounds which are often actively unpleasant are just some the issues which mean you may want to steer clear of this one.