I went into CreepyTown with no expectations, save for those I took from the game’s title and its bargain basement price on the iTunes store. From the former I expected some sort of story-heavy horror mystery game, which I definitely did not get. From the latter I expected a game that might be a little rough around the edges and hard to use, which I definitely did get.
The story told through small text conversations between levels is largely immaterial. The Grim Reaper (that’s you) has been called into CreepyTown by the mayor to help dispose of souls that have been clogging up the town’s open areas in little urns. The writers attempt to create some political and personal turmoil for the characters when a little girl goes missing around town, but really the story sections can be safely and quickly skipped without missing much.
The actual urn-busting, soul-collecting gameplay is handled kind of abstractly. Rather than just controlling the Grim Reaper directly, busting up urns and freeing souls with your scythe, you indirectly guide a slowly drifting blue ball that bounces around town rather languorously from an overhead view. Your only method of directing this ball is by drawing wispy little green walls with a swipe of your thumb and watching the ball slowly drift into them and bounce in a new direction. The concept feels a bit like the classic arcade game Breakout, if your little brick bat weren’t tied to the bottom of the screen but instead could be drawn anywhere, facing in any direction, at a moment’s notice.
The only threats in the entire game are gravestones which release stationary death-dealing skulls when hit, and the ever present time limit which can kill you if you take too long freeing all the souls in the level. You’d think this lack of threats would make for a relatively relaxing, simple game, but in practice, a variety of frustrations get in the way of really sitting back enjoying things. For one, those wispy green walls disappear almost almost immediately after you create them, requiring you to draw walls extremely quickly and in annoyingly close quarters with your blue ball. For another, at least for me, it was nearly impossible to draw my lines straight enough to direct the soul ball exactly the way I wanted. Most often the resulting angle would be slightly too shallow or deep, leading to some frustrating attempts at minute changes in direction.
The in-game physics are another constant problem. Unlike Breakout, where the ball bounces predictably off rectangular blocks, the majority of the objects you bounce off in CreepyTown are circular urns. The ball bounces semi-realistically off these rounded surfaces, but on the tiny iPhone screen it’s nearly impossible to predict the exact angle these bounces will take with any sort of regularity. The result is that, more often than not, you’re forced to scramble for a quick redirection to corral a ball that’s bounced in an unexpected direction.
The slow pace is also a constant annoyance. Unless you happen to find the few rare items that speeds up your soul ball it will drift incredibly slowly, time limit be darned. I can’t count the number of times I screamed at my little iPod for the ball to just go a little faster to collect that last soul and finish the level before time ticked down, but alas, yelling at the unit does not actually speed up the ball.
Not everything about CreepyTown is bad. The art direction deserves some praise for melding the cute and creepy in the kind of kid-friendly way you tend to see around Halloween. The music and sound effects capture the same feeling. But this surface presentation and a unique concept aren’t enough to make up for some severe control and pacing problems.