The Haunted Mansion actually took me by surprise. It struck me, at first, as a lame rip-off of Luigi’s Mansion and after thinking about it the game still strikes me as a lame rip-off of Luigi’s Mansion. However, the darn thing is the game has started to grow on me the more I’ve played it, and heck if I know why. Maybe it’s the challenge of figuring out the puzzles because several are brilliantly clever. I’ve not a clue.
All I can say is I’ve burned through The Haunted Mansion and despite an abundance of quirks, controller-throwing camera problems, and really bad graphics, I’ve managed to enjoy myself thoroughly. The game acts as backstory for the new Disney movie, and explains some of the history of the Haunted Mansion immediately following the Civil War. You play Zeke, who has responded to an ad for a house servant, but gets more than he bargained for when various spirits tell him that an evil necromancer rules the house corrupting the ghosts. While most everyone else would turn tail and flee, our reluctant hero… tries just that.
When our hero realizes the only way out of the house is through the necromancer, he is entrusted with a magic lantern and told to find several magic crystals (called soul gems) scattered throughout the house. Once he gets them all, the lantern will be powerful enough to fight off the bad guy. Along the way, he has to figure out how to turn on the lights in each room, collect the spirits in each room, then have enough spirits stored up to move on to the next level.
Where the fun comes into play is in figuring out how exactly to solve each room. Room after room proved wickedly creative and some were so off-the-wall I had to marvel at the designer’s ingenuity. Whoever designed the puzzle where you have to play a game of pool made my day. It may not sound like much, but I’m leaving out an ever so slight detail that makes the puzzle so very interesting. Now if only the game had looked better…There’s just no kind way to put this, so I’ll just say it: The Haunted Mansion is ugly. The graphics are not very good, and the game is so blasted dark it’s hard to tell where to go and what to do. Some rooms are worse than others, though, but the ones that are really badly lit (like the library) usually have a very precise puzzle to figure out. This makes life a heck of a lot harder as you’re trying to precisely guess where to step next. There are plenty of touches from the Disney ride scattered throughout, and those are fun to spot. But most of the time they add nothing and are just in the background. The character models are naturally exaggerated, but the animation style doesn’t work very well in my opinion. The various puzzle rooms all manage to have a unique feel, but the majority of them are bland or repetitive in their use of colors, items, and sub-par graphical quality. Each of the ghost voices is unique, and all the accents (most of which are overdone) add a healthy flavor to the mansion. I did enjoy how all the monsters sounded, with a special nod going to the sound of the spiders, as they are appropriately creepy. There were several stretches where the only sounds I heard were Zeke grunting as he jumped and landed. There is very little ambient noise, the music is practically non-existent, and there are three or four recycled sounds from ghosts and “haunted” items and that’s it. There’s very little creativity displayed which is not only disappointing, but also surprising considering the dazzling nature of some of the puzzles. The controls are easy enough to figure out, as there really aren’t that many of them. The R1 button fires off bolts from your magic lantern, and you can hold it down to charge your blast once you acquire more soul gems. Once you’ve lit up a room, you have to find where that room’s ghosts are. Pieces of furniture will appear ready to pop so activating those will release a certain amount of spirits. You then hit the circle button to collect them. Hit circle several times rapidly to tag multiple ghosts. Movement is controlled by the left thumbstick, and the arrow pad will bring up your list of objectives, and the X button jumps. Where it gets tricky is in the blasted camera that the right thumbstick is supposed to control, but rarely does. It’s normally behind and above you, but there are several instances where you need to see what’s directly in front of you. When you maneuver the camera to show what’s in front of you, and then try to physically move, the camera will swing around to the side of you. Thus, tricky jumping puzzles become a lot trickier because you’re trying to get the jump just right and see just where the heck you’re jumping. Guys, you need to check out Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to see how you do a third-person camera correctly, because yours sucks. Despite the many problems I’ve had with The Haunted Mansion, I enjoyed myself while I played. I’ll admit to hating myself for it afterwards, but hey I love Star Wars: Rebellion so go figure. The puzzles are all a lot of fun to figure out (especially that pool one) and once you beat a room you’re left with a real sense of accomplishment. But I can’t get past how everything in the game is more repetitive than it should be. Walk into a room, figure out how to turn on the lights, collect ghosts, move on to next room, rinse, and repeat. The gameplay just gets tedious after a very short while regardless of how cool some puzzles are. For example, one room you run in to you know right away you have to find the light switch. However, when you run towards the wall, the walls all start moving with you and you have to move until the walls stop moving, then change direction and run a different way. The walls will continue to move and shift with you until you find your way through a couple of archways and find the switch. Some people may find it crazy that I enjoyed that puzzle, but I did. Another involves trying to light up the kitchen when there’s no light switch around and only a smoldering fireplace and a ghost hurling dishes at you to keep you company. But when the puzzles fail to amuse (like the one in the garden), the flaws in the game stand up and shriek. It’s at these moments when the sense of fun I’ve managed to pull from The Haunted Mansion gets yanked away, and I wondered why I should go on. But soon a devious new puzzle would show up and away I went. It’s a lot of fun to go through the puzzles in The Haunted Mansion, but once you’ve beaten it there’s nothing really left to do. I can’t recommend this as a buy title, but if you enjoy figuring out unique puzzles then this would be a good weekend rental for you. It’s also not the longest game, as seems to be the trend these days, so a weekend would be perfect to play it. I also think kids will get bored playing The Haunted Mansion as they won’t have any idea how to solve some puzzles, and it’s not kid-friendly enough to show to young ones. The game is rated for Teen audiences, but I see it more in the middle ground between kids and teens, and the difficulty not really working for either.