Of all the things I hate about Bad Hotel, at the very top of that list is sound design. Forgive me. Calling it a “sound design” is an insult to designers, and an even greater insult to sound. This tower defense game rewards you for defending your base by pumping an endless series of high-pitched electronic blips into your delicate, darling little ears until they bleed—nay! Gush—as though Bad Hotel were Lucy Liu and your eardrums that Japanese dude from Kill Bill who just got beheaded. It’s hard for me to actually describe the audio without immediately getting worked up into a fury (I’ve been listening to a detox of Now That’s What I Call Drops of Rain Gently Hitting My Window! 5 for the past two weeks), but if you can imagine a House Music intro with deep car alarm influences, that’s a pretty good approximation.
I know it’s unusual to start a tirade with sound design, but it’s one of those things that casts a shadow over the good elements of a game and makes the bad elements of a game even worse. To be perfectly honest, Bad Hotel has a good conceit. Essentially a builder/tower defense hybrid, you have to simultaneously expand your hotel by building rooms (which earn you money) and protect it from bomb-toting birds by attaching shooters and healing rooms to the structure (which fire off projectiles and refill the health bar of damaged rooms, respectively). The challenge is that you need to maintain a certain number of rooms to keep the cash flow going, but if you don’t allocate enough resources to protect them then you can just kiss your beacon of capitalism goodbye. There’s not another cent in this world that’s gonna trickle down to you, loser.
The reason I like this take on tower defense is because it’s a very streamlined idea. There’s no sprawling terrain, no highly specialized troops scattered around your screen in blazes of varying degrees of glory—just one building, and a million bad guys targeting it. The aesthetic is streamlined as well, with everything on the screen consisting of crisp geometric shapes and sharp contrasting colors. Even the controls fit this mold, designed to be as intuitive as possible by using a drag-and-drop interface to place your rooms and shooters wherever you like as long as they’re attached to the main structure. Each level only gives you a few different kinds of units to choose from to keep your screen and mind uncluttered.
Unfortunately, the chaos of the gameplay undoes all the goodwill generated by the concept and the graphics. The multitudes of enemies combined with the speed of their attacks make it impossible to do any decent strategizing. If you take more than one or two seconds to formulate a plan, then your dreams of founding the next Hilton Empire are kaput. And that’s a shame, because with that goes your dreams of begetting the next generation of Parises, who in turn could have built hotel empires for tiny hairless dogs.
Another problem with the unbearable onslaughts of enemies is that while they possess all sorts of different abilities (some shoot lightning bolts at you, others explode on contact, while others latch onto your hotel and slowly leech the life out of it) the units provided to you are not uniquely equipped to fight back. There’s no element of trying to figure out which shooters will do better against which enemies (one of the most important aspects of Plants vs. Zombies, as an example). Bad Hotel is all about numbers and structural integrity. Your brain has to figure out how much of something you need, and where it needs to be placed to optimize its usefulness. And that could make for a fun game, if you weren’t completely overrun with enemies before you could say “room service.”
Ultimately, I found that the levels were so difficult that playing this game was just an exercise in masochism. Losing didn’t give me a boost of determination; it spurred on fits of anger. Winning made me even angrier—at least when my tower was crumbling there were fewer electronic blips boring holes into my brain. Now if you’re asking yourself why didn’t I just hit “mute,” I’ll tell you. You don’t just get to hit mute during a war, son. Oh sure you can try, but some sounds travel on the frequencies of nightmares, and all it takes is to hear it once. After that, you’ll never be able to unhear it. Everywhere you go those beeps will echo around in your throbbing skull. You won’t find Comfort in an Inn. You’ll involuntarily start strangling a bellboy. Complimentary breakfasts are out of the question. You’ll have to pay for every breakfast you eat for the rest of your pathetic life. Take my advice and don’t book a room at Bad Hotel. Sometimes it’s better just to spend the weekend at home.
Bad Hotel has a good concept, but its grating sound design and insanely difficult enemy waves make for one irritating experience.