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Haunted House Review (Xbox Live Arcade)

Haunted House for the 2600 is an iconic game.  The pair of eyes you control make the game instantly recognizable.  Like many others, while playing the game as a child I had no idea what was going on.  Now I know to collect the three pieces of the urn scattered around the four floors of the mansion before leaving the house.  When I heard the game was being remade, I was afraid it was just going to be a cheap cash in for the Halloween season.  I happy to report such is not the case and that I had fun playing the game. 

This game takes place 29 years after the events of first game.  For those of you keeping track, it has been 29 years since the first game was released.  Samuel Silverspring, the hero of the 2600 version, has been missing for all these years.  After receiving a mysterious message Jacob and Silvia Silvierspring, Samuel’s grandchildren, head to the Grave’s Mansion from first game to discovered the reason behind their grandpa’s disappearance.  You control your character by using the left joystick.  A is used to activate/deactivate your light source, B is used to switch your equipped item and X is for interacting with objects.  You can only carry two different kinds of light sources at a time and each item has its strengths and weaknesses.  You explore the mansion one floor at a time to find light sources, keys, treasure, coins and journal entries.  Some hidden areas of the mansion can only be accessed while using a particular light source.  Throughout your exploration you are avoiding ghosts and other spooky creatures.  These monsters can damage you, temporally freeze you in fear or extinguish your light source.  You can only damage them with bright lights and otherwise have to avoid them.  Your health is conveyed by an icon of your character at the bottom left of the screen.  The more frightened it appears, the closer you are to dying.  When you die, you will respawn at the last fireplace you used.  The fireplaces also will restore your health while you stand in their warm glow.  If you want to play with a friend the game lets you do so with a full co-op mode. 

Good Writing
As I mentioned before, you will collect find several different collectables while playing the game.  These can all be viewed in the trophy area of the game.  Each item has a short description that more often than not references another movie or game.  I found references to Indian Jones, Lord Of The Rings and Clue (both the movie and the game).  Each reference is executed in a clever fashion that made me smile.  Haunted House contains a lot of original writing as well.  The journal entries you find tell three different stories about how the mansion fell into the state it’s currently in.  I found these to be very engaging making me want to find as many entries as I could.  The only bad part is I had to stop playing in order to read them from the pause menu. 

Faithful To The Original
There isn’t much material to pull from, but what little is there this new Haunted House thrives on.  The game play is essentially an updated version of the 2600 game and you control a pair of eyes for a large part of the game.  The stories for those old 2600 games were never more than a paragraph, but everything that was mentioned in that old story is alive and well here.  You are exploring a mansion, looking for pieces of an urn while battling the ghost of Zachary Graves.  I am glad to see they worked in as much fan service as possible since the majority of the players will be fans of the original. 

Control Lag And Visual Hiccups
The enemies in the game can be kind of annoying sometimes.  Part of this is by design of how weak you are in comparison.  The rest of it is due to a bizarre lag in the controls.  Several times I would try to quickly switch light items to fight looming danger only for my button press to be ignored.  I could never figure out if the character animations were to blame or if there is just a split second cool down time between your actions.  Either way, it was frustrating.  Also, several times while playing the screen would freeze for a split second before playing one of the spooky sound effects.  Each time it happed  any sort of atmosphere the game had worked up was shattered. 

I Broke The Game
Since some areas require a specific light source to enter, I managed to inhibit myself from completing a level by leaving the lantern I needed behind the door it opens.  The game is designed to keep this from happening by giving you drops of the item you need.  The idea is that when you exhaust your lantern you can retrieve a new one.  However, the game would only allow for one of those special lanterns to exist at a time.  Since I couldn’t pick up the lantern I needed, I had to restart the level.  Later on I almost had the same thing happen again but managed to prevent it.  This small loophole could happen to anyone quite easily.

Conclusion
I had fun playing Haunted House.  Several times it was apparent why more game don’t make you run around in total darkness.  However, without that game play mechanic, I don’t think you could make a faithful sequel to the classic 2600 game.  This game won’t make you afraid to turn off the lights but is does a good job of recreating the spooky atmosphere of a Scooby-Doo episode.  The addition of co-op is a nice touch and the game plays smoothly for the most part.  With only 16 different levels and four boss fights there isn’t a ton of replay value unless you want to find all the items (even me as the Metroid veteran missed one journal entry and one treasure).  Haunted House is fun and if you can find it for the right price, you will have a good time despite Halloween being over. 

Final score: 3/5
Total play time: 4 hours
Play through the entire story on normal difficulty
Unlocked half of the achievements
Review copy provided by Atari

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