Being a lifelong fan of Disney and especially the Haunted Mansion attraction at their theme parks, news of a big feature film based on the Mansion filled me with delight. The first news and sight of Eddie Murphy heading up said film emptied that delight right out of me and replaced it with overwhelming dread. Yes, the movie looks to be craptastic if the trailers and early screening reports are any indication.
It was with this idea in mind that I approached the release of a Haunted Mansion PS2 game to tie in with the movie. Not only is it a movie-based game (how many of those have been anything less than awful?) but it’s a game based on what appears to be a really horrible movie which may desecrate everything we Mansion fans hold near and dear. I swallowed the lump of dread in my throat and braved a rental.
It didn’t suck. Not only that, it was actually good!
Disney Interactive did the right thing in handing development over to High Voltage, the house behind the White Wolf-based Hunter: The Reckoning series. These guys clearly have a deep love and respect for the Mansion that goes far beyond any corporate movie license.
The story takes place in the late 19th century. You play Zeke, an out of-work scaredy-cat (who bears more than a passing resemblance to the scared caretaker in the ride) who goes to the mansion looking for a job. Zeke finds work, but it isn’t the job he wanted. Rather, Madame Leota drafts him into the service of freeing the 999 souls trapped inside the mansion. They used to be happy spirits, but evil necromancer Atticus Thorne has taken over the joint and our happy haunts just aren’t all that happy anymore. Taking the lantern-like ‘Beacon of Souls’ in hand, you embark on a journey through the mansion to free the souls, find the soul gems that power the Beacon, and do away with Atticus Thorne once and for all…preferably without being scared to death in the process.
Gameplay takes on a rhythm. In each room, a certain amount of souls are trapped. Your first job in each room is to turn on the lights, then you have to find all the souls by searching the room and capture them in your beacon. Once they’re all found, you free the friendly ghosts in the room and can move on to other rooms.
This sounds repetitious, but this is where the game’s charm comes in. No two rooms are the same. The task required to flip the switch and turn on the lights so you can find the souls in each room changes dramatically. In one, you’re rotating a series of mirrors to guide a beam of sunlight to a prism. In another, you’re shrunk to the size of a pool ball for a very tricky game of pool…you have to get the spirit shooting the cue to put all the balls in a pocket, without pounding you in the process! The variety goes on and on. Each room requires a different kind of tactic. It presents a solid mix of pure logic puzzles, straight ahead platforming and good old-fashioned combat.
There are downsides to the game, primarily it’s ease of difficulty. I played on the ‘easy’ setting so I could finish quickly, but “easy” is more like “invincible”. When you finish a game with over 20 lives to spare, something is out of whack. However, there are “Normal” and “Hard” settings as well, with the promise of unlockable goodies for completing at the higher levels of skill. Also, the game is rather short (or at least it was on easy level) taking only about 10-15 hours of play to complete. While I could soak up the atmosphere over and over again, more casual fans would probably find repeated plays a little dull since so many of the puzzles and surprises would already be spoiled.
Despite those very small gripes, this game is a pure delight. It’s just a heck of a lot of fun to play, even for someone like me who usually despises platform games. For fans of the Mansion, this is an absolute must. Any fan of the creepy but silly atmosphere of the Haunted Mansion would probably get a good kick out of it…just don’t go in expecting to be scared, this is Disney after all.
Now let’s just hope the movie manages to be half as much fun as the game!