Hotel of the Damned

Freshly laid off from her job as a hotel manager, Sheila gets a mysterious call from her grandfather – apparently a hospitality industry veteran – in the dead of night. It so happens he’s found a job for her, and she’ll have to report for duty right away. Hurray for family connections, right? Well, that remains to be seen! When Sheila pulls up to her new place of work, Haunted Domains (Out Now, $1.99; Lite), none other than Count Dracula answers the door and starts things off by transforming her pet dog into a walking treasure chest, complete with wagging tail(!). There’s no backing out now. If Sheila wants to get her dog returned to normal, she’ll have to impress Dracula by becoming the best darned hotel manager who ever catered to all things that go bump in the night.

The spookiest time management game on iOS, Haunted Domains has the player serving the stream of guests who check into Sheila’s hotel, subject to the limited number of items she and her dutiful treasure chest may carry at any given moment. Her guest list reads like Lon Chaney’s film career, and each ghoul has very particular needs. Vampires demand fine wine and reading material every so often; witches lose track of their black cats, which mischievously tie up elevators until Sheila can scoop them up and return them. Requests and new check-ins bombard Sheila all at once, and if the player doesn’t handle things efficiently, guests will lose patience and leave without paying. Haunted Domains doesn’t concern the player with supplies management, so the challenge here isn’t as multifaceted as that found in titles like Farm Frenzy 3 or Fruit Juice Tycoon 2 — but it still makes for a devilishly fun and fast-paced experience.

Sheila’s movement is handled entirely by the game engine; the player’s job is simply to give her destinations, where she’ll either handle some process automatically or wait for touchscreen taps that assign a number of items to her inventory. Planning ahead is the key to victory. Sheila’s actions can be queued up in advance, allowing the player to react to new requests, check-ins and check-outs while she’s on the move. If she ever stops, either it’s one of those precious breather moments where guests are all asleep, or else the player isn’t managing her tasks effectively. When there’s a mistake in the queue – if Sheila visits a ghost without bringing the room service it ordered, for example – all actions planned after that are canceled, forcing the player to scramble and try to make up for lost time.

Sheila earns money for every action she completes, but the big-ticket winnings are tips based on how much of each guest’s patience meter has depleted before checkout. Bonuses for matching guest color with room color are also important for achieving her minimum collection goal in each level. Haunted Domains lacks Game Center or OpenFeint integration at present, but what I enjoy most about it is the way internal scores feed right back into gameplay. Between levels, the player splurges Sheila’s earnings on ability upgrades and furnishings that give guests something to think about other than how long they’re waiting for service. Much of the game’s charm lies in witnessing the hotel’s gradual transformation as levels are cleared. Sheila gets transferred to a new hotel every ten levels, mixing up item locations so the player never gets too cozy.

Haunted Domains has a great formula and tons of nuance going for it, which is why I’m sad that I must label the interface a disappointment. Tiny slivers of virtual buttons used for menu navigation and level selection are the first clue that this one hasn’t made the jump from the PC screen to the touchscreen as well as it could have. The problem of miniaturization flowed right into the touch sensitivity areas surrounding in-game objects. I didn’t pick up on this in the slower-paced intro levels, but once the action picked up to full speed, I had a few too many interruptions caused by the unforgiving level of accuracy with which the player must tap on each object. The further I got into the game, the stronger my impression that the tap areas are still designed with a mouse pointer – and not fingers – in mind. Haunted Domains’ interface is serviceable enough all told; it just doesn’t rise to the high standard Alawar set for its iPhone and iPod Touch ports in Farm Frenzy 3. Also note that things may have fared better on the iPad’s larger screen; this review evaluates the iPhone and iPod Touch version.

If you can forgive its interface, Haunted Domains well rewards the player with breadth of content — its 50 levels should provide eight to ten hours of ghoulish management simulation. The expert player can try his or her hand at an Endless mode, or circle back and complete the story campaign again on a higher difficulty setting. Haunted Domains’ hand-drawn graphics look dated on a Retina screen, but the game’s cartoony charm shines through well enough. Its spunky soundtrack is also sure to put players right in the Halloween spirit!

iFanzine Verdict: Haunted Domains serves up a gripping time management challenge, and it’s got plenty of depth to go along with the seasonal premise. Until some work is done on the touch sensitivity of in-game objects, however, players are liable to be frustrated by how accurate their taps need to be to keep up with the game’s pace on an iPhone or iPod Touch. All told, this is one that sim and time management fans will highly enjoy if they can forgive its interface shortcomings.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]