PUBLISHER: TDK Mediactive
DEVELOPER: High Voltage Software
DATE RELEASED: October 14, 2003
The XBox has been lacking in compelling platformer games for a while, but Haunted Mansion finally brings us something to chew on for Halloween. If not for the Disney logo at the beginning, Haunted Mansion would look like it was designed by Nintendo. In fact, I would not be surprised if High Voltage Software took a close look at Super Mario World and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for their inspiration.
The Haunted Mansion is actually a Disney theme park ride dating back to the sixties and is soon to be a movie starring Eddie Murphy (remember when Eddie Murphy used to joke about a black family going into a haunted house in his stand-up comedy?). Thankfully, the game is not based on the movie, though the Mansion is identical to the one featured in the movie trailers.
Gameplay is similar to Super Mario 64, except instead of the Princess’ castle we have the Haunted Mansion. Doors are everywhere and lead to a total of fifty rooms. They won't open, however, until you collect enough spirits in your lantern. To win the game, collect all five gems being held by ghosts in the house (kind of like a spooky version of Zelda: Ocarina of Time).
Each room has five things to do:
1. Find the light switch. While searching, you will need to fend off corrupt spirits by blasting them with light from your lantern. If there is a weakness in the game, the fighting element is it. Just hold left trigger to target enemies (as in Zelda) and squeeze off shots as fast as you can with the right trigger. Your tactics change slightly for larger creatures like spiders and other monsters, but there isn't much to it.
2. Once the light switch is on, search items in the room for rogue spirits. According to the Haunted Mansion theme ride, there are 999 spirits in the mansion (Disney was too scared to use 666). You need to collect them all by sucking them into your lantern just like in Ghost Busters.
3. Meet the ghosts! This part is not really a gameplay element, but it is pretty cool and adds a lot of character to the game. Once all the spirits are collected, one or more ghosts will appear in the room. You can chat with them, or sometimes they put on a show, such as a band of musicians in the library. Sometimes they even reenact their untimely deaths.
4. Collect death certificates. When you release the spirits you will sometimes find part of a death certificate. When you have assembled a complete certificate, seek out the appropriate ghost in the house and present it. Realizing the ghost is dead, he or she will give up one of the five gems you need to win.
5. Collect tarot cards. This is just a bonus game and does not need to be completed to win. Tarot cards are hidden in each room, sometimes requiring you to activate a switch to open a passage. Every ten tarot cards gives you a free life.
The character you play is named Zeke, but basically he's just Ichabod Crane from the famous Disney cartoon Sleepy Hollow. He's a big frady cat and shudders at everything. Your life depends on your bravery meter. If ghosts touch you, the meter goes down and once it is depleted, Zeke will faint. Zeke can only faint so many times before he'll run screaming from the house and your game is over. If you manage to turn the lights on, the bravery meter gets longer.
You also carry along a helpful Southern Belle in a crystal ball who helps you on your quest (she also appears in the Haunted Mansion movie trailers). She acts as the tutorial, telling you how to perform all the basic actions. If you are having problems figuring out what needs to be done in a room, hit the D-Pad and she'll offer some advice.
The creatures are well done. Ghosts look like that little screaming guy from a famous painting. Large spiders shoot web at you and pull you towards their pincers, so you have to blast them while pulling away.
The most impressive part of this game is the environment. There are cobwebs, breakable objects, and hidden passages in every room. There are lots of spiders, mice, and bats in the house and sometimes moths will be attracted to Zeke’s lantern. Lightning flashes through the windows, giving you glimpses of the rain pelting down outside. There are also spooky pictures plastered all over the walls, and the loading screen shows some of these pictures going through ghastly transformations.
The puzzles always make logical sense according to the environment. The library has a puzzle where you jump on floating books that reposition themselves as you move. I've never been more impressed with a programming feat before. The kitchen has a puzzle that has to do with plates being thrown by a disembodied ghost. Once you figure out what has to be done, the puzzle reveals itself to be ingenious.
You must also backtrack in the mansion, but rarely more than one room away. I found this refreshing, since usually in games you zoom through the environment without appreciating the artistry of the designers. In this game, going back is a pleasure. The main corridors also contain amusing grandfather clocks that run backwards, which allow you to save your game progress.
Music was a big part of the Disney theme park ride and it is also a big part of the game. Sometimes the music even becomes part of the puzzle, as in the library where you must activate one musical instrument after another, blending them into a single tune. Once you solve the room a ghost band appears. I watched them for a while and noticed the drummer actually beats the drum in time with the music! Details like this make the game outstanding. You can even interrupt the band to chat, and they start up roughly again after a while, just like a real band. It's a great programming trick.
The Haunted Mansion designers have managed to deliver big on two important things missing from most games: imagination and theme. There are some outstanding effects in the game. In one room, you get sucked into a picture and actually control yourself in the painting. In the games parlour, you are shrunk onto a billiard table. A disembodied pool cue shoots the white ball at you (with maniacal laughter after each shot), and you must position yourself in front of other balls to make him sink each one.
Without giving away too much about the Maids Chamber, what looks like a small plain room at first turns out to be one of the largest levels in the game. There is something surprising in each of the fifty rooms and it's never the same boring drivel recycled over and over in other lesser video games.
To me, the most impressive yet subtle element of the game is the theme of light. A lantern is your weapon, and finding gems gives your lantern a new type of attack (again, very similar to Zelda). To solve a level, you must find the light switch. Light is also a big part of the environment, with lightning casting shadows on the floor and walls. The light theme ties everything together into one cohesive work, just like a good spooky novel. The result is probably better than most Nintendo games.
Edited by bbagnall, 23 October 2003 - 12:28 AM.