I did not expect the next game from The Lion's Song devs Mi'pu'mi Games to be a turn-based tactical folktale, but cor, Howl sure does tick a heck of a lot of boxes for me. Due out later this year, you play a deaf hero in search of a cure to a sinister 'howling plague' that's devastated the land around you and turned all its inhabitants into blood-thirsty beasts - and having played its first chapter last week, its combination of tight planning, grid-based shoving and limited ammo a la Into The Breach is very, very moreish indeed. Definitely one to watch for strategy game fans.
I must admit, when I first saw the trailer and watched the devs play through a couple of levels last week, I was worried Howl would be a bit too demanding for me. While each move is indeed turn-based, you're also planning up to six moves in advance all in one go, meaning you'll need to keep track of enemy movements in your head as you move across the map.
In the first chapter at least, though, Howl does several smart things to help you along. Firstly, enemies will always take the horizontal path if that's the fastest one available - reminding me of the way Pendragon's beasties moved across its isometric grid boards - and their gorgeous, watercolour artwork will rear up and start gnashing their teeth once they become aware of you, giving you enough clues to work out when you need to start paying attention to them and where they're likely to move. Best of all, though, there's no punishment for a hasty restart, making it super easy to try again if you accidentally biff it on your first turn. Most levels in the first chapter are designed to be completed in just three or four turns, too, making them nice and digestible little puzzle boxes.
Complete a level in its 'prophesised' number of turns, and you'll gain Confidence points you can use to earn more skills and attacks. You only have three arrows at your disposal by default, see, so you'll need to manage thoese alongside your unlimited (but only two-tile-strong) Force push to help clear a path to the goal at the end of each level. In the demo, I was able to spend my Confidence points on a more powerful Force push that doubled the damage and number of tiles enemies were sent flying, but there were plenty more on show that were locked away - upgrades that looked to beef up your arrows, maybe give you a dash, enhance your stealth and dispel more fog of war, for example.
You don't necessarily have to defeat all the beasts to win a level, per se, either, but you'll earn skulls for the ones you do take down, which can then be used to unlock other parts of its branching map. Some skull gates were mandatory in the demo, but most were optional and none of them were too taxing to unlock. Indeed, I had loads leftover by the end of the demo, so I'm hopeful that future chapters won't be too stingy on this front either.
Indeed, despite my initial worries about not being able to hold all those moves in my head when I first started playing Howl, I found it became surprisingly second nature once I had a few levels under my belt. After half an hour, I was really getting into the swing of things, so I was quite sad when I checked off the final level just 20 minutes later. Developers Mi'pu'mi Games definitely have something special here, and I'm excited to see what else they've got prowling in its dark, winding forests.