Back in the olden days of the Atari, Commodore 64 and even up to the NES, developers could literally throw together two minutes’ worth of the same repetitive game play onto a cartridge and sell thousands of games, simply because the phenomenon was so new. How else could have Pong, Pac-man and Asteroids sold so well?
Somebody obviously missed the memo that it was no longer acceptable to do that when they made Haunting: Starring Polterguy for the Sega Genesis.
The plot of the game is simple enough. You play as one Polterguy, a not-so-cleverly named Poltergeist whose job is to frighten the bejeebles out of the Sardini family, all of whom happen to be complete sleezeballs. After getting those few tidbits of information, you’re thrown directly into the action where Polterguy explains how he goes about frightening people.
The entire mechanics of the game are as follows: you find a room in the house containing a Sardini, jump into various pieces of furniture, and watch as said furniture comes to life and scares the Sardini into running out of the room. That is the entire three-hours-of-gameplay worth of game that you’ll find.
The biggest problem with the game is the concept, really. One button is all you need to continue on, the one you press to activate the frights. All you have to do is hit every possible object in the room and wait patiently while the Sardini slowly gets frightened enough to run from the room in fright, leaving behind three or four drops of ectoplasm. Ectoplasm is Polterguy’s life force, which comes from frightened people, I guess. You have to keep getting it from the family at fairly fast rates, as it runs out quite fast via a draining bar on the bottom of your screen.
Letting your ectoplasm run out brings about a horrible bout of frustrating gameplay where you are sent to a long winding hallway full of hands trying to kill you as ectoplasm rains from the ceiling. Getting hit by those hands is the only way to actually get a game over, since nothing can kill you in the Sardinis’ house. This part of the game, even being the only part that might be described as “actual interactive game,” quickly makes you want to throw the cartridge into a nearby wall.
Other various problems like the jerky camera and clunky collision come into play fairly often. While playing I often had to run around an object mashing the button over and over again before finally activating it. The music is also suspect, containing what could be described as the most annoying group of MIDI instruments ever assembled. The fast and furious music rarely fits the situation either.
So while the concept is fairly neat and watching the various household objects come to life is fun at first, by the time you’ve seen your 13th bleeding carpet or evil glowing computer monitor, you’ll probably realize that this game is nothing more than a very long repetitive video that requires naught but a few button presses from you to continue.
In short — too much video, not enough game.