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June 2024

Haunted House

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Orbit Studio
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2023


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Switch Review - 'Haunted House'

by Cody Medellin on May 15, 2024 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Haunted House combines classic stealth-based survival horror gameplay with challenging roguelite elements, creating a gameplay experience sure to send a shiver up your spine!

Atari's 1982 video game Haunted House is a milestone, as it was one of the first horror titles. Despite the technology of the time, it created a spooky atmosphere that remains iconic to players of a certain age. A version of Atari tried to remake the game for the platforms of 2010, but the result was subpar, while the short 3D version found in Atari 50th Anniversary was neat. This latest version of the company has taken another crack at Haunted House, and the result is more enjoyable than the 2010 iteration.

Considering that the original game didn't have much of a narrative, what's present is fairly good. You play the role of Lyn Graves, young niece of the famous adventurer, Zachary Graves. After learning about his mysterious disappearance, you call up your friends to search for him in his house, which happens to be a very old mansion. The doors slam shut as soon as your group arrives, and you get knocked out almost immediately. When you awaken, your group is nowhere to be found, and your only source of company is a ghost who informs you that the house is plagued with a curse caused by a broken mystical urn. Your job is to find your friends and the three pieces of the urn, so the curse to the house can be lifted and you can rescue your uncle, who is trapped in the spirit dimension.

Haunted House is presented from an isometric viewpoint with a fixed camera, which differs greatly from the previous games that opted for a top-down perspective instead. While that difference is immediately apparent, the really big change is the game type, as this version is a roguelike. It has all of the trappings of the genre, including a shifting layout of rooms in each run and the loss of almost all of your items upon death. There's also currency that carries over so you can buy upgrades to grow strong enough to go further on your next run and repeat the cycle until you complete the game. It's a well-established formula by now and works well, considering the premise.

The gameplay formula may be familiar, but the execution is certainly more distinct. You can fight the ghosts and other paranormal creatures, but your lantern does damage at a very slow rate and with such a limited initial range that it almost doesn't seem worthwhile. You have traps that can stun enemies, so you can get an opportunity to drain their health and kill them, but they're quite limited in the number of traps you can store at any one time.

The weakness of the traps and your flashlight means that you'll often rely on stealth to get through each room. You can hit the shoulder button to cover up your flashlight and tiptoe instead of walking normally, and you can monitor your sound levels with a meter on the HUD that shows how loud things are. Every step you make also creates a visible sound wave, so you know how far the sound travels. There are tools to distract enemies like rubber ducks or standees that drive enemies into a temporary rage state. Tools like slippers can muffle your footsteps, and full-on disguises can let you walk through areas undetected for a limited amount of time.

All of these things are used heavily throughout the game, as each room gives you different objectives to clear before you can proceed to the next room. One room might ask you to break the spirit chains with your lamp. Another may ask you to find the relic in a chest to place on a pedestal. You may encounter rooms that ask you to survive a set amount of time before dying or kill all of the monsters in a room using a chest that infinitely spawns random items. The tasks are doable but seem rather mean, considering your underpowered offense. Then there are the boss rooms that task you with finding special items before fighting the boss directly — all while the boss is tracking you from room to room.

Overall, the game loop is fine because it isn't too punishing to those who are new to the genre. It takes about two runs before you get the option to divert from the main questline to open a basement level and try to rescue one of your friends, enabling you to do another run with different starting stats. The game also lets you restart on a brand-new floor past any of the bosses you may have conquered, so full resets no longer occur after a certain point. They're small things but still welcome, even after you experience a few cheap deaths.

The game is enjoyable but not perfect due to a few quirks. Sneaking up to perform a stealth extermination is finicky, as it can only be done when you're in the right spot directly behind the monster. Your flashlight is also unreliable, as there are moments when the aiming is slightly off and doesn't hit the enemy you're aiming for. Trap throwing is inconsistent; some traps will automatically lock onto the enemy when you get ready to throw it, and others place the aiming cursor on you. That inconsistency is also present when you discover that some traps, like the freeze bomb, prevent you from using your flashlight on enemies. However, the boxing glove spring lets you use that same flashlight on foes without any issues. There's also the issue of furniture hitboxes, as you'll have a high likelihood of tipping over any unstable table just by standing near it.

As far as presentation goes, it works well enough on the Switch. The slightly hand-drawn look is pretty good, and it animates nicely. The camera isn't zoomed out too far, so you can see some details in the environment. The game moves at a solid 30fps, which is fine for a game like this and only a little disappointing when you see the title on other platforms. Don't expect much in the way of cut scenes, though, as they play out in a barely moving comic book style. Meanwhile, the game features no voices of any kind except for some grunts when you get hurt. The music is good enough but not exactly memorable.

The latest incarnation of Haunted House is fine. The roguelike nature is done well enough, but the relentless enemies and your own fragility mean that some deaths can feel unfair. The same complaint can apply to your inconsistent weapons and tools, but when everything comes together right, the stealth approach can be rather satisfying. While Haunted House isn't exactly a top-tier roguelike, it is good enough that those who are curious about the title should give it a shot.

Score: 7.0/10

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