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Review #373

Haunted House
Developer: ImaginEngine
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: 10/05/2010

I’m a big fan of the original Haunted House for the Atari 2600. Along with River Raid and H.E.R.O., it is one of my favorite games for the system and something that I wish Atari would stick on compilations that they have done in the past, like the one I had for my Sega Dreamcast. When it was announced that Atari was doing a remake of the classic game and in 3D graphics, I was in. Of course part of me was hoping the original game would be made available on the disc, but alas that was not to be. What can I say? It would be nice for a generation of gamers brought up on Resident Evil and Silent Hill to play the original survival horror game.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was dimmed when I learned ImaginEngine was making the game. ImaginEngine primarily makes licensed games for little kids, which is fine. However the one game that they made that I have played is legendary in its horribleness. I’m talking about Pokemon Team Turbo, a game I forced onto Mark during “Pokemon Week” in March to show him the worst Pokemon game ever made. I was pretty worried that ImaginEngine would ruin another franchise (Although can we really call Haunted House a franchise as it’s only one game?) I so dearly love, I decided to put it out of my head because after all, I’ve only played one of their games and who knows? Maybe My Little Pony: Pinkie Pie’s Party Parade or Hello Kitty Bubblegum Girlfriends were actually really good games!

So how was Haunted House? Did ImaginEngine and Atari manage to give us a quality kid-friendly survival horror game, or was playing through this title truly a nightmare incarnate?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The new version of Haunted House basically follows the same plot as the original game but fleshes it out dramatically. Your character (you have a choice of two; a boy and a girl) has entered the legendary and infamous Graves Mansion. In the original you are there to gather the three pieces of the Graves urn and get out before you join the legions of the dead that dwell within. In this remake, you are there to find your missing grandfather who disappeared within its walls. The manual says he was lost thirty years ago, but the game says it has only been ten. Along your journey through the mansion, you’ll go through 4 regions that are comprised of 4 levels each and then a boss fight. After each boss fight you’ll gather a piece of the urn, so the game remains pretty intact.

On your journey you’ll also find various light sources to help you get through the pitch-black darkness, including some magical ones like the Skull of En-light-enment or the Eye of Sauron. No, really. You’ll also find artifacts that range from Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask to the “tongue of the beholder.” My personal favorite from the pistol from the movie Clue with the tagline” 1+2+1+1,” which made me just want to watch that movie all over again. Best of all, you’ll have the opportunity to gather the journals of three different people: your grandfather, the deranged Zachary Graves and his poor wife Amanda. By gathering the journal pages, you’ll get to flesh out three different stories that come together to tell you the tragic tale that befell the Graves family.

In all, I was pretty happy with the plot. It’s definitely written like a classic horror tale of yore rather than a modern day gorefest and I found myself excited to uncover new pieces of each character’s journal. The actual plot of the game aside from the journal’s is pretty light as it’s simply “get through each level alive” but the boss fights have cut scenes before and after the battles and both the opening and ending cut scenes are pretty fun too. Storywise, this is definitely a survival horror game for the whole family, which seems like it would be a contradiction in terms. The scares are there with monsters popping out and your character being alone in the dark (ho ho ho) regularly, but there’s nothing that parents wouldn’t approve of.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

It’s hard to talk about the graphics in the game because for a lot of it, you will be in the dark. Unlike other video games where dark is simply a purplish screen and you can still see what is going on, in Haunted House, your screen will be pitch black save for the googly eyes from the original 2600 game to stand for your character and the occasional candle on the wall. When you DO have a light source though, things change significantly. You’ll be able to see fully rendered rooms, complete with windows, tables, chairs, fireplaces and the like. Of course you’ll also be able to see the monsters and they’ll be able to see you as well. For the most part the monsters consist of ghosts, bats, rats, and eventually banshees, gargoyles, skeletons and the like. Monster designs are pretty tame by most survival horror game standards, and are more like something one would see on the N64, but what’s here is acceptable. Character designs, as well as monster designs are meant to be cartoony rather than flat out scary, and that’s fine considering the target audience. You can certainly tell the game is a budget title since it definitely doesn’t push the Wii’s graphical ability at all.

The bottom line is that the backgrounds graphics and the need to meander through pure darkness is handled very well, and it’s cool to see how the various light sources work and look, but the actual monster and character graphics will leave most adults cold. The graphics get the job done, especially for a budget game, and that’s all that can be asked.

Graphics Rating: 5.5/10

3. Sound

What one the things I really like about this game is the audio. First of all, there is little to no music in the game outside of cut scenes. It’s just your character and their footsteps in a creaky, creepy old mansion. This sets the mood perfectly and when the lights are out and all you can see is your character’s eyes, it makes groping for walls, and objects that hopefully contain light sources all the more entertaining. Occasionally your character will talk to him or herself, make a witty remake after defeating a bad guy, or babbling nervously and the like. This again fits the mood of the game perfectly as the characters are no Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, but rather two teens without any combat experience who are WAY over their heads.

I also love the noises in the house. Occasionally you’ll get ghostly crying or wailing, the sounds of sinister laughter, strange unintelligible mutterings and creepy groans. Again, the sound effects are just perfect for a game that focuses on the single goal of “exploring a haunted mansion.” Kids will find it creepy and adults will appreciate the old school or classical style of ghost story that the game is trying to convey, even if they themselves don’t get spooked.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Haunted House uses the standard numchuk and Wiimote setup, although it probably could have just as easily used the Wiimote on its own had the developers wanted to. You use the analog stick to move around and the A button to search objects for items, to hit levers or pick up artifacts and journal entries. The C button is used to switch the between the (up to) two light sources you are carrying and the Button button turns the light source on and off.

The key to each level is getting through the maze of rooms alive. In order to do so you’ll have to avoid or kill monsters as well as solve puzzles that involve light, levers, or keys. It’s fairly simple in description. Early levels just have you using keys or levers to unlock doors so that you can progress, while later ones will require a lantern bearing blue, green or red light. Sorry, Guy Gardner and Saint Walker aren’t actually in the game – just their lanterns. Certain passages can only be revealed by a specific light color and so there will be lots of backtracking as you try to bring the correct light source to the correct area.

It gets more complicated when you realize that each light source only lasts for a certain amount of time. Matches give off very little light and die quickly, but you can carry 50 of them. Cell phones give off a lot of light, but the house drains the battery quickly. Candle last longer, but you can only carry three at a time. Lanterns last for a very long time and do damage to monsters while torches do more damage than a lantern but don’t last as long. There are also four rechargeable light sources that don’t give off a lot of light, but kill enemies instantly once activated. For the lot of the game I kept the Eye of Sauron as my secondary light source and had torches, flares or a lantern as my primary one. I’d use the lantern to guide my way, then quickly switch to the Eye and kill monsters with that. Repeat until the level was solved.

If you’ve played games like the original Resident Evil, Soul Reaver or Tomb Raider, you know what to expect here. Puzzles are simple and are only of the three kinds I mentioned, but sometimes they can be convoluted, such as having to flick six or seven levers throughout the house to open a door or the like. In all, Haunted House is a bit shallow in terms of gameplay and its note very complex, but it’s fun to play, the engine is solid and the controls and tight. It’s about four to five hours long and so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of the purchase. Again, it’s designed for kids, but it definitely makes up for my experiences with Pokemon Team Turbo

Control and Gameplay Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

There are three difficulty settings in the game, so you can go back and try the game with more or less challenge to see how that works for you. You can also replay to find the artifacts and journal entries you missed if you’re a completist.

Best of all though, is the two player co-op mode. Now the good thing about co-op, besides being able to play this game with a friend, or with a younger, less skilled gamer that you might have purchased this for, is that it gives you access to two times the light sources and makes monster hunting a bit easier, as monsters can only be damaged by offensive or magical light. However, the game doesn’t let you go split screen to explore things faster and because you are both tied to each other in a sense, it also means you can run as far if there are a lot of monsters on the screen. This little flaw happens in boss battles where you are beset with legions of monsters, so co-op definitely has its checks and balances, but it’s still worth checking out with a friend or small child to help them get through Graves Mansion.

I found Haunted House to be more fun than I expected as I am usually curmudgeonly towards 3D remakes of classic games, but after beating the game, I knew this is a game I wouldn’t mind coming back to with my girlfriend, a fellow gamer or just in a few years, much like I do with the original Haunted House that inspired this one. This is certainly one of the best budget games I’ve played on the Wii and the charm of the game and co-op mode just might have you coming back for more.

Replayability Rating: 6/10

6. Balance

With three difficulty settings , which primarily correspond to how much damage you take from monsters and the amount of them there are, you’ll be able to give yourself just the right amount of challenge for your skill level. Even though I’m a longtime horror game veteran I will admit I died in the last two boss fights (twice in each of them) simply because I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go. As well, no matter how good a gamer you are, you’ll still have to contend with resource management and having to blindly grope through an all black screen save for your character’s eyes at times, especially in later levels. Now this might frustrate a gamer regardless of their age, simply because it’s so outside the box of what a lot of people are used to. I loved the challenge provided by it and although I never died in a level that wasn’t a boss fight. There were times I found I had to retrace my steps and plan out my light rations accordingly so I could get a proper coloured lantern to the right door and so on.

The game certainly will provide some challenge to gamers both young and old, but as it’s primarily for children the challenge comes mostly from seeing where to go and memorizing the level layouts, some of which are quite huge. The game’s not hard by any means, but it does have its moments where you will be stymied once or twice until you figure out what you are meant to do.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Considering, Haunted House is a remake of a thirty year old game and has basically the same gameplay, there’s not a lot of originality here. Kudos to Atari to finally hire someone to bring this into the 21st century, and it’s fared far better than other Atari modernizations. Anyone remember the 1998 remake of Centipede? Shudder.

The game mostly sticks to the trappings of the original Haunted House and other equally classic survival horror clichés. The only honest innovation or bit of originality I can think of is moving the game from 2D to 3D. At the same time the original Haunted House had some unique ideas and gameplay that we haven’t seen repeated in over thirty years, so bringing it back here helps this remake to feel like a fresh novelty, especially to younger gamers.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

I had fun exploring Graves Mansion, although sometimes I felt the levels were too meandering for their own good. Generaly I would sit down and play one set of adventures and then after the boss fight I’d be ready to put the game down for the day. Like the original Haunted House, this game is best left to short bursts of play rather than a marathon setting. The repeatedly switch pulling or wandering around aimlessly in the dark is fun for a level or three, but then it starts to get a bit dull. Even though the game is short and well made, it still took me a few days to get through Haunted House simply because the game went on a little too long. Again, a few levels at a time helped the game feel fresh and fun. Any more than that I started to feel a bit bored and needed to move on to something else. Haunted House is a fun game; it’s just not one suited for long stretches of play.

Addictiveness Rating: 5.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Haunted House really is a game people of all ages can enjoy. Sure some faux machismo gamers might decry the existence of an all ages survival horror title and the lack of blood or gore, but those gamers are missing point. Haunted House is a wonderful game for kids who want something more than a licensed platformer or who are growing sick of Pokemon and Naruto. Adults will enjoy the game for what it is, even if they don’t find it scary (which is isn’t) and horror aficionados will be happy to see a game that plays more like a Victorians or 1920s era ghost story…just for the change of pace. Co-op mode is fun and it really brings a new dimension to the game. Overall, pretty much everyone who plops down their $19.99 for this game will get their money’s worth out of this game and find it fun, even if they don’t find it a keeper.

Appeal Factor: 6.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Although I am disappointed the original game isn’t available on the disc as an unlockable and I’m still not sure what the coins I collected are for, I can honestly say Haunted House is the best budget title I’ve played in 2010. It’s fun, it captures the spirit of the original game, co-op is a blast and it’s great to see a spooky game geared for all ages. Kids like ghost stories too after all. Haunted House is also available for PC right now and later this month it will be coming to Xbox Live Arcade, so if you don’t want to purchase it for the Wii (or you somehow don’t have one), you can get it for those systems instead. Sorry PS3 fans, you lose out again.

Although October is crowded with titles like NBA Jam, Castlevania: Lord of Shadows, Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs, Z.H.P, Fallout: New Vegas and more, don’t let Haunted House slip past you, especially as it’s a fraction of the cost of those other games and one of the best budget games you’ll encounter.

The Scores
Modes: 6.5/10
Graphics: 5.5/10
Sound: 7/10
Control and Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 6/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 5.5/10
Appeal Factor: 6.5/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10
Total Score: 63
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Haunted House won’t be the scariest game you play all year, but it is a fun little game that captures the spirit of the original Atari 2600 classic and it’s a breath of fresh air to see an all-ages survival horror game. The controls are tight, the engine is solid, co-op mode is just as fun as single player, the story is surprisingly well told and best of all, it is a well made budget game with a MSRP of only $19.99. ImaginEngine has come a long way from Pokemon Team Turbo, and anyone who picks this up will be sure to get their money’s worth.

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