Game Review: 'Haunt'


I love horror—if I didn't, I'm totally working for the wrong website—but to be perfectly frank, all of these years of covering the gruesome side of gaming has left me a little jaded.  Sometimes, when wading knee-deep in digital blood, I find myself pining for the more innocent side of horror, the simpler moments of childhood chillers that were all about a spooky atmosphere without the gut-churning terror of the more adult fare.  There's that wide-eyed sense of "scary" that shifts as you get older, replacing Scooby Doo with SAW and leaves you wondering just where the hell the fun went.  Sometimes, I just want to experience that more childlike sense of horror, where creepy castles and goofy monsters left you thrilled without chilling you to your very core.  This innocent itch is perfectly scratched by Haunt.

Haunt is the whimsical brainchild of Masaya Matsuura, creator of the proto-rhythm classic Parappa the Rapper, and the designer's sense of unabashed fun shines through just as brightly in this Kinect-powered adventure.  In Haunt, players step in the anonymous shoes of a hero who literally falls into a haunted castle packed to the rafters with silly specters and goofy ghosts who stand (float, really) in the way of your ultimate goal: to activate a mysterious machine built by the ghostly Benjamin Muldoon (voiced by Brütal Legend and Psychonauts creator Tim Schafer) by collecting "phantaflasks" from the restless dead of the house.

The initial impression of the game is that it's a sort of kiddie version of SEGA's Rise of Nightmares, as it shares that title's first-person adventure gameplay and Kinect controls.  However, Haunt manages to surpass Rise in the effectiveness of its controls.  Player direction is controlled by the shining beam of a flashlight (a sort of targeting reticle, if you will) and forward locomotion is achieved by walking in place.  It's a far more active sense of control than Rise of Nightmares, whose weird shoulder-twisting and stance-shifting led to a far more "floaty" feeling.  There are the other usual gesture-based quicktime events as well, with gamers opening doors and drawers with a tug at the air, or fighting the gaggle of in-game ghosts with a series of punches and weaves that feel almost like a less pugilistic form of boxing.

Speaking of ghosts, the varied phantoms in the game have a distorted, exaggerated style that fits in perfectly with the Saturday-morning cartoon aesthetic that the designers were going for.  They each have their own distinct, over the top personality that shines through every pixel, stirring up memories of the Ghostbusters cartoons of my youth (both The Real Ghostbusters and Filmation's weird gorilla-based take) and Saturday mornings in Chicago.

The whole thing is so light and simple that it almost becomes an issue.  The game itself can be breezed through in a few short hours and it never really establishes itself as much more than an amusing diversion.  There is also a questionable lack of autosave points scattered around the castle that led to a few extended replays as the game had not recorded my progress.

However, for the relatively small price tag of $10, you get such an immense amount of youthful fun that these issues can easily be overlooked.  To be able to shuck off the mental mayhem of my adult life (especially around tax time) for a few short hours is worth any price.

Haunt is available now on Xbox Live for 800 MSP ($10.00)