Set in a bizarre fictional universe, Chillingo’s Gloomy Hollow is a light-hearted twin-stick shooter with various RPG elements. The game opens immediately with no menus or tutorials, leaving players to feel their way around the first level until they reach the titular town where their adventure begins.
Located at the heart of the Underworld, Gloomy Hollow is a hub for lost souls who have perished but have yet to pass into the afterlife. The town, and various other locales, may look familiar to those who have watched The Nightmare Before Christmas. Its many denizens are ill-proportioned and have an endearing creepiness about them. However, there is also a distinct Wild West theme that keeps Gloomy Hollow from looking like a complete Tim Burton bootleg.
From here, players can select one of three characters to embark upon bitesize missions. These are essentially five-minute dungeon crawls that throw various enemies and puzzles in your path as well as gold, experience and loot. Upon returning to Gloomy Hollow, you are then free to sell unwanted goods, upgrade gear, and even take on side-quests from the town’s job board. It’s an accessible design and one that allows players to pick up Gloomy Hollow, play for ten minutes, and then put it down again.
Gameplay should feel instantly familiar to those who have tried the Minigore or Gun Bros. series in the past. You use a virtual joystick to move your character and the on-screen buttons to attack or use abilities. Gloomy Hollow also offers an alternate control scheme similar to that of Bastion where players tap and use gestures such as pinching and multi-touch to use powers. Gameplay is fluid and accessible, matching the game’s casual difficulty. However, even on Gloomy Hollow’s “Old School” settings, things can feel repetitive. Levels are populated with diversions here and there but you are basically completing the same objectives over and over.
What gives the game some much-needed diversity is its three characters: Mustache Jim, Rosie, and Smithy, each following a basic RPG archetype. Mustache Jim is a former sheriff who carries a pistol into battle. Rosie is a saloon girl who prefers the indirect approach to combat with her dual blades. Smithy, on the other hand, never shies from battle, his huge hammer and armour plating enabling him to stride into the heart of combat. Each of the three feel different to play as and have their own unique pool of upgradeable abilities. One feature many will appreciate is that Gloomy Hollow features a collective XP bar and inventory so you don’t have to keep swapping between characters.
For those looking to wring a little more out of the game, there is added replay value in the form of keys. Each level has three keys to collect; one for clearing the stage, one for killing all enemies, and one for finding every collectible. It’s a nice little incentive for players to revisit certain stages and worthwhile, too; keys are used to unlock certain parts of levels that could contain valuable loot.
Once players have cleared a stage they will also discover another one of Gloomy Hollow’s surprising features. Using Everyplay, you can upload footage of yourself playing the game to social networks. Not everyone will want to of course, but it’s nice to know that the option is there.
Overall, Gloomy Hollow is solid action game for iOS. It may get repetitive at times, though its pick-up-and-play design means you can approach it in five-minutes bursts without getting too put off. It also proves that adding minor RPG elements can really extend the lifespan of a twin-stick shooter.