Haunting: Starring Polterguy

Reviewed by Stan, Posted on 2007-05-07


Developer: Electronic Arts, Inc. Publisher: Electronic Arts, Inc.
Release Date: 1993 Also On: None

I remember when my family first got a Genesis and the years of gaming that followed. Still, there is the simple fact that aside from how awesome it was, most of the games you find on the system, though good, really are just new plays on old ideas that don't really provide much innovation. By the time the 8-bit era had ended and the 16-bit era was underway, it's safe to say that pretty much every genre that would ever be created was. Now and then, though, it seems that every console from then on occasionaly sets loose with a really unique title that defines itself. Sometimes they aren't the best, and sometimes they are, but regardless of either of these factors they usually tend to be so innovative that this is reason enough to check them out. Haunting isn't the greatest of games, but it's so unique that I must say it's a title I would strongly recommend to any gaming fan just to say you've experienced it.

The graphics are one of Haunting's strongest points and a real example of the Genesis' capabilities. You have an excellent color scheme with superb detail, which isn't easy to pull off when there's so much going on and sprites so small that without proper programming they would be impossible to comprehend. You have an excellent environment to wander about, a series of four mansions that are so well done and so fitting for the time period in terms of style and such that it's amazing. Really sets the perfect atmosphere for the game concept. The playing field is set up in a quasi three dimensional format where everything is slightly at an angle, and it works really well. The characters and creatures are well-programmed with superb animation and detail. I can't think of a single issue I had with the graphics at all. Perhaps a little more of an ending considering how good everything else looks, but that's being a bit picky.

Haunting also has a great soundtrack, which is something a game this unique needs to really add to the feel of it. The music for the opening story is a little hokey, but the game proper is excellent. It's a mix of goofiness and eerieness that creates one of the greatest gaming experiences I've ever witnessed. Very well done. A few of the small tracks you hear, for example when you're almost out of ecto, seem a bit off to me and the final boss scene wasn't the best either, but overall the programmers did well here. The sound effects work for the most part, but some of them seem below the capabilities of the Genesis. However, this seems to be evened out by a variety of sounds that fit the spooky theme and sound like samples taken from Halloween effect CDs, which add a lot of depth to the gameplay. I'd say overall it's a mixed bag with this aspect, some of them are excellent and some are awkward. Good in this category though, it shines where it needs to and really only misses on a few of the details.

So what is Haunting all about? Well, to start, it's one of the most unique games I've ever played and I'm sure the idea has been redone by now in various forms. I'm not sure if you'd consider this a platformer, but I'll call it that. Essentially, you play as a skateboarder who died using a poorly constructed board, and then, as a ghost, you decide to haunt the family who owns the company, chasing them out of all their mansions in a quest to restore your life. So basically, you have a limited amount of 'ecto' that goes down unless you collect globs of it after you scare the four family members in each mansions. And that's what the game mainly involves, you scare each member out of their wits until they run out of each mansion and progress to the next level. So how does Polterguy pull this off?

Well, as you move around the mansion and locate each family member, depending on what room you're in and what you're close to, you will see different colored, glowing orbs. What you then do is press the button, jump into the object and then jump out and the object is manipulated to scare the family. Certain objects, for example, will have yellow orbs, and when you press the button the action simply occurs whenever you want, perhaps a creature coming from under the rug. Blue orbs will cause the object to shake, making the family members come to inspect it, and then something will happen. You will find these most often. Green enables you do enter and control the object, perhaps a disembodied, bloody hand that shoots blood around and you can move for a limited time, or a floating skull with glowing eyes. And finally, red ones will let you manipulate an object that remains static but can be controlled, such as a drawer full of knives that you shoot everywhere. After you've gotten a family member to leave a room, depending on how much you scared them green globs of ectoplasm will hit the ground, and collecting them keeps your meter from dropping to zero.

When it finally does, and this will happen occasionally due to battles with ecto beasts and if the family dog comes in and barks, which drastically lowers the meter, you enter the underworld where you have to collect a series of ecto globs while avoiding various traps and such to get to the end and reenter the mansion you're playing in. There are four mansions in total, each with a variety of different scares to try out, some of which are very gory and graphic, and progressively more difficult gameplay. Haunting is quite a refreshing game, but it does have a few problems. First off, the lack of a password feature, though it's not that long really, makes for a bit of an annoyance because you have to go through the early mansions all over again and once you've played them enough it gets a bit redundant to see the same scares over and over. Second, the underworld levels can be extremely annoying because the controls feel way too fluid and fast, leading you to accidentally get hit now and then by random objects. Third, kicking enemies is way too difficult. You seem to move too fast to stay on track of where you want to attack and end up missing here and there, to only get struck by an ecto beast or something in the underworld. The controls become a serious issue on the final boss, where you'll definitely lose several lives and several years of your life before you finally complete it due to moving around too fast while trying to kick, which never seems to really work out right. All the work you do to beat it is not worth the pathetic ending you receive, either. That's about it, though, I had a lot of fun with it, but these issues do effect the score for me because it can get tedious at points. The main action, however, is a lot of fun and is where Haunting makes it mark.

Haunting is without a doubt a creative game, one of the most creative I've ever played and a real groundbreaking idea. It's a shame not too many people know about it now or knew about it when it was released, but it's something any Genesis/Mega Drive fan should pick up because it's so unique. EA really didn't do anything good other than sports titles back in this era, so to see something this good coming from them and this original is saying something. High marks here.

The only problem I really forsee for other gamers is the replay value. Haunting is a lot of fun the first few times, but it's doubtful you'll play it for days on end and after beating it, when you see the lame ending after you spend hours of your life on the final boss, you'll probably be a bit pissed actually. I come back to it now and then just for something to do, but I really have no inclination to actually complete it again. The other thing that gets to me is the lack of a password. Again, I'm aware there are only four levels, but when I want to come back to a game like this, I'd like to come back to it to try out the later levels, since you don't get to see the majority of them when you first arrive. Very annoying that I'd have to go through three levels just to try it out once and then do it again, I really wish you could have saved or something. As for length, it's actually a fairly short game considering each level only really takes about fifteen minutes tops, though the latter levels will take slightly longer when you first play them. I have to say it could have been longer, but considering the idea, to do it longer may have worn it very thin. I have mixed opinions in this category, but I can't say Haunting is really stellar in these aspects or anything.

Regardless of a few flaws and issues that may make casual gamers stay away after the novelty starts to wear off, Haunting is an iconic Genesis title that deserves more mention in the modern era. I'm not sure if it influenced anything or something to that effect, but the major issue is that it's so unique it simply needs to be seen because this is what true innovation looks like. I commonly refer this game to people who are just starting to collect Genesis titles because it's a good one to jump into and I strongly recommend it to anyone who's never really played retro titles or anyone who's never heard of it. You'll be amazed, though perhaps slightly annoyed after awhile, but the experience is definitely worth it in the long run.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 5.5
Final: 8
Written by Stan Review Guide

Reviewed by Stan