I think we can all agree that the iPhone is not a platform that lends itself to horror games. It’s just something about the screen size and its easy mobility that really kills any hope of pulling scares from the device. So when a game comes along attempting to fight the tide by making a horror game for mobile, I absolutely have to give it a try.
Thus, I downloaded Traal, a survival/horror dungeon crawler. You are thrust into its top-down, pixellated world as a little green guy, who has somehow gotten yourself into a dungeon. The only way out is through a series of rooms containing some of the least scary monsters to ever grace games, and a handful of spikes waiting to impale our hapless hero. The only real goal is: “get to the exit”. The gameplay that constitutes Traal is about as engaging as that premise sounds (in other words, it’s not that engaging).
For starters, the “horror” aspect of the game doesn’t involve any decent monsters or disturbing atmosphere (except for the sound, which I’ll get to in a bit), rather, the devs just take away any method of defending yourself. Your character’s only remaining line of protection from the monsters is simply to not look at them. Your green guy emits a cone of light at all times; if that light beam reveals a monster (which you can already see anyway because the game is top down) your “hero” flashes and runs in the opposite directions, sometimes into the spikes mentioned earlier.
You will meet an untimely demise again and again, as you learn what is dangerous to your character (everything) and how you need to navigate through each room. This process of “learning through death” didn’t really make me feel like I was learning anything. All I got was more frustration as I collided with a monster…again.
True to other dungeon crawlers, there are collectables (one item and a series of notes), but they are too few, and give literally zero reason to replay the game. If you do decide to get all the notes, you’ll be treated with a terrible twist ending. The actual layout of the singular dungeon is easily memorized, and since it never changes, there’s little feeling of exploration in the following playthroughs. All in all, not much incentive to go back, if you ask me.
I also wanted to mention that the touch joystick controls are slippery, which will become irritating as you try to avoid spikes/monsters in high propitiation. I had several unwarranted deaths because of the overly sensitive controls.
Before I conclude, I do have to mention the one positive about Traal. The sound design is superb. Considering the aesthetic music is left to carry the burden of providing scares all on its own, the fact that it manages to output a mildly creepy atmosphere just through its own sound throughout is a feat. Kudos to the sound designer.
It’s sad that Traal’s developers had their minds set so firmly on making a survival/horror game, when from the start, they should have made something else entirely (maybe a retro dungeon crawler with a large amount of exploration). Examining the game as it is shows it to be far too lacking.
Scary? No. At its absolute best, it’s mildly creepy.
Is it a good dungeon crawler? No. The under-polished controls and equally irritating game mechanics ensure that frustration, not fun, is doled out.
So it’s not scary or fun. (Is there anything else that needs saying?)