Updated: Oct 18
Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Also on: Steam, Xbox X/S, PS4, PS5, Atari VCS, Epic Games
I knew I wanted to play the game when I first saw the reimagined Haunted House at the Atari booth at PAX West. I'm a massive fan of Halloween, but I'm not so much into scary games. Haunted House is the perfect game for those who want to play a spooky game for Halloween, with a few jump scares but nothing too frightening. It's a forgiving roguelike, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game.
The game opens with a series of images explaining how Lyn's uncle has been missing for a few weeks and the fear that he's trapped inside his creepy mansion. Lyn, a child maybe 9-11 years old, takes it upon herself, along with her friends, to rescue her uncle. Why she didn't call the police or talk to her parents (who are missing from the whole equation) is beyond me. However, staying true to the typical 80s formula of a group of young kids saving the day, Lyn and her friends decide to enter the house.
Things don’t go as planned, and playing as Lyn, I find myself alone, trapped in the house. A friendly ghost named Spooky guides me, popping up occasionally and providing me with tips. He also provides me with background information - Lyn's uncle had a magic urn that held ghosts, and the urn broke into three different pieces. Enemy bosses now protect each piece, and it is up to me to find all three pieces, put the urn back together, and return the house to normal. Spooky even explains that the house continues to shift since the urn broke, which accounts for the random rooms and the variations in each run.
A short tutorial teaches me how to sneak around, run and roll, and use my lantern to kill ghosts. The tutorial also introduces me to items like food and traps. The tutorial makes it seem easy, which leads me to enter my first run with overconfidence. Although the tutorial demonstrates how to sneak up behind a ghost and vaporize it with my lamp, it doesn't prepare me for the numerous ghosts I encounter. My first run is a disaster as I run around, accidentally knocking over lamps, awakening sleeping spirits, and ultimately dying. I find myself in the foyer, trapped in the house, just like my uncle and my friends.
I mentioned that this roguelike is forgiving. Each run starts with a few items, typically food and a trap, which I find in chests in the first room. The subsequent rooms require me to complete goals before I can unlock the doors and move on. Each goal is different, sometimes requiring me to find an idol in a chest and place it on the mantel. Another goal is to burn the spirit chains on lamps in the room, and once I unlock all the lamps, the room is cleared of specters and monsters. I was impressed with the game's offering of various types of goals, and as I progressed through the game, the rooms and goals became much more challenging.
Clearing a room reveals a blue chest that typically contains gems and items. The other chests in the room provide coins and occasionally an item. Coins are also obtained by killing the ghosts and monsters in the room. After completing a run (either by beating the boss or dying), I utilize the gems to upgrade my character. This includes increasing my health, improving the damage capacity of my lantern, enhancing my stamina, and more. This is done through a salesman named Sam, who is trapped inside the house. The initial upgrades are reasonably priced, but the cost to upgrade to the next level increases as I raise my stats.
There are multiple ways to earn gems, not just through blue chests. Your uncle's staff, the chef, the housekeeper, and Tobias (who collects vintage video games) are all trapped inside the house, too. The chef pays gems to return his utensils, the housekeeper pays gems to return her lost cats, and Tobias pays gems to return vintage games to him. These items are randomly found throughout the house. The chef and the housekeeper are in randomized rooms found during my runs - Tobias has a room in the foyer, so finding him is much easier. A butler also asks me if I could help fix up the house - each remodel costs gems, and I’d rather spend these hard-earned gems on upgrades than remodels.
The battle system is pretty easy. There’s a lot of sneaking around, creeping up behind the enemy, and making a stealth kill with my lantern. This worked on most ghouls and ghosts, but this technique didn’t work on living creatures like snakes and rats. The number of different types of enemies is impressive - some examples include specters that fly around in a pattern, and if they catch me in their cone of vision, they will attack. Sleeping creatures like ghosts and dolls will attack if they are awakened. Walking around without sneaking causes a ripple of sound, alerting enemies of my location.
It’s the boss battles that are a bit trickier. The first encounter with the boss in each level requires me to collect three different artifacts that are important to the boss. The difficult part is running around the room, trying to find the artifacts in chests and avoiding the boss as they search for me and unleash a deadly attack if they spot me.
The boss in each level is much easier during the second encounter. Typically, I need to use the lantern to burn the chains that bind a vital item and to throw the sacred artifacts into the item. Beating the boss requires doing this three times. As previously mentioned, the game is a forgiving roguelike, and even if I die after defeating the boss, the next level unlocks, eliminating the need to replay the previous levels again.
Defeating a boss grants a key that unlocks a door in the basement. The basement contains four rooms in total, each holding the whereabouts of Lyn's friends. Once a friend is unlocked, I can choose the friend for subsequent runs. Each friend has different stats. However, I kept returning to Lyn since I had spent a lot of gems leveling up her.
The game is beautiful - and I am always pleasantly surprised at how different each run is - not just from level design but also from hidden secrets that I didn’t know existed. Finding a room with a giant eye that bestows an upgrade to a stat was unexpected. And the sound adds to the eerieness of the game, especially in later levels when weeping can be heard.
But, even though overall, I’m optimistic about this game, it doesn’t mean I didn’t run into some technical hiccups. There’s a simple map that can be pulled up, but sometimes I found it didn’t work. I also witnessed my health (symbolized with hearts) glitching after being attacked - it would display half hearts randomly scattered among the depleted hearts. Additionally, glitches occasionally worked in my favor, as ghosts and bosses became stuck in a wall or randomly paralyzed. It's not a big deal overall, but it's worth noting.
Final Grade: A-
Haunted House is a perfect example of how a retro game should be reimagined. And it’s one of the best roguelikes I’ve played; the progression of leveling up the characters feels like every run is a worthwhile investment. Those looking for a more challenging roguelike might find this game a bit too easy, but this is perfect for those looking to try a roguelike for the first time. Haunted House is a great Halloween game for players who enjoy a few jump scares but nothing too frightening.
Review code provided by UberStrategist PR