While Kinect has had a handful of really great games over the past year, the stinkers have all had the same problems: poor controls and general lack of charm. Developer NanaOn-Sha comes along to save the day with Haunt, which controls wonderfully and drips with so much charisma it forms a very likeable puddle on the floor.
Haunt, with its first-person perspective, has you exploring the haunted mansion of Benjamin Muldoon who, for reasons not immediately revealed to the player, has lost his physical body and can only communicate by possessing the paintings hanging through his poltergeist-infested abode. In order to help poor ol' Benjy, you must traverse three different areas of the mansion to retrieve “phantaflasks” which will restore him to corporeal form.
The story’s got about as much weight to it as one of the ghosts infesting Benjy’s dream (or is it nightmare?) home, but luckily it’s told in very entertaining ways. Anyone who sees the name NanaOn-Sha and expects the same tone and vibe as PaRappa the Rapper or UmJammer Lammy will be disappointed; there are no rapping dogs here. Rather the game has a very Double Fine feel to it (in fact, Benjy is voiced by Double Fine founder Tim Schafer), meaning that the dialogue is sharp and witty and the amount of heart that went into the development of the game is palpable.
While Haunt looks, at first glance, to be a horror game, it isn’t quite the case; it’s more Luigi’s Mansion than Silent Hill. It’s the video game equivalent of the Ghostbusters films, focusing on the supernatural and spooky while staying surprisingly light-hearted. There are plenty of times where something will jump out at you and startle you, but it’s never overbearing or suspenseful.
The main controls revolve around moving your hand as if you’re holding a flashlight, illuminating the dim corridors of the mansion and focusing on objects that can be interacted with. Once an object has been selected (by holding your flashlight on it until the cursor shrinks, similar to just about every Kinect menu ever) you’ll be given a context-sensitive motion to perform, such as pushing a door, turning a crank or pulling a drawer open. The motion detection is spot-on and works every time.
In order to actually move around in Haunt, you have to walk in place, which can – and does – get tiring, but the game will actually read your leg movements and react accordingly; small steps will have you tiptoe around, while raising your knees up and making exaggerated motions will move you forward much more swiftly.
The game’s three areas focus on different abilities of Kinect — one is more about motion, for example, while another uses the microphone extensively — and everything works wonderfully. Most importantly, it’s all fun: the different ghosts you encounter will require various manoeuvres — swatting energy balls back with your hands, covering your ears to protect from loud screams, holding your nose to keep from breathing gas — that put Kinect through its paces and keeps you engaged the entire time.
As the cherry on top, the game is a visual and aural treat. The graphics are cartoonish but fit the dark, ominous feel of the game while still being inviting to younger players. The ghosts are all brightly coloured and well designed, while the paintings scattered about manage to both disturbing and endearing at the same time.
The sound design is fantastic, featuring a myriad of spooky bangs, rustles and whooshes. The music is perfectly balanced with the rest of the aesthetic, and while you won’t often notice it, when you stop and listen you’ll certainly appreciate it.
Haunt is a game that’s going to fly under a lot of radars, which is a horrible injustice. While it’s not perfect (trying to turn while walking is more trouble than it should be, for example) it gets a checkmark in every “this is what a good Kinect game needs” box. It’s only 800 Microsoft Points to boot, so the thought of skipping out on Haunt should terrify you.