Name: Haunted Mansion
Developer: High Voltage Software, Inc.
Publisher: TDK Mediactive, Inc. / Disney Interactive
Released on: GameCube (Reviews), PlayStation 2, Xbox
Original Release Date: 2003
Welcome, foolish mortals, to my review of Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I am your host, your ghost host. Kindly step in and make room for everyone. Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding, almost as though you sense a disquieting metamorphosis. Is this haunted studio actually stretching, or is it your imagination?
Consider this dismaying observation: this YouTube video has no windows and no doors… which offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out! (Laughs.)
Of course, there’s always my way. You could watch this video to the very end and find out if this video game based on the classic Disney theme park ride, is a worthy endeavour for your Halloween gaming.
Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride is probably one of my favourite Disney attractions. When I go to Disney World, I probably go on it at least twice every day I’m at the Magic Kingdom, and I find that its slow pace is perfect for someone like me who hates rides that are too fast or too high. Its thrills are entirely based around the simple practical and optical effects that are used to trick your senses into believing that ghostly things are happening, from the busts that appear to be looking at you no matter where you are, to the ballroom dancing ghosts that appear in front of your eyes. It’s a real feat of ride design, and every aspect from its queue to its exit, immerses you into this chilling, atmospheric ride, meeting the 999 happy haunts that inhabit the mansion, along the way.
And in 2003, the same year that Pirates of the Caribbean made the jump from Disney attraction to movie, so did the Haunted Mansion and although this Eddie Murphy-starring flick failed to catch the imagination of moviegoers, it did sort of spawn this very game soon after – Thankfully based more on the ride than the movie itself.
Here, we have an action-puzzle game, almost like a Resident Evil-lite, although I’d say that despite the family-friendly license, it’s not totally aimed at kids, either. It’s the late 19th century, and our hero, Zeke, takes a job at the Haunted Mansion as its caretaker, completely unaware of the battle taking place within, that threatens to harm both the afterlife and the land of the living. With the help of the spirit of Madame Leota and the other ghostly residents of the mansion, the entire game’s aim is to clear the more malevolent spirits from each the building’s 27 rooms, switching on the lights in each one and retrieving the 999 souls that are trapped in our mortal world. These rooms are locked, requiring the collection of a certain number of souls before it can be opened.
Most rooms have their own unique puzzle to solve, these are the meat and veg of Haunted Mansion’s gameplay, and while most of these challenges aren’t terribly taxing on the brain, there are some pretty clever and fun teasers that rely on both your skill and your smarts. One room might shrink you down to size on a pool table and expect you to dodge the cue ball while tricking the phantom player into potting the regular balls. In a task inspired by the Haunted Mansion ride itself, you’ll even need to track down the haunted singing busts for a good old sing song, only talking to those with actual singing talent, and avoiding those who are unwilling or completely out of tune. While in some rooms it might not be clear what is required, by pressing any direction on the Dpad, you can call on Madame Leota, who will share a somewhat cryptic riddle that acts as a hint to help you figure out what to do.
Things are most definitely made more hazardous, by the arrival and subsequent attacks from evil spirits and beasts, but thankfully you carry the Soul Beacon, a lantern which fires blasts of light that can remove these negative forces from existence. Eventually, you’ll unlock different types of shots, including charged shots which are supposed to help against the tougher enemies out there – However, I found it much more effective to rapidly fire at enemies with the standard shot. There are quite a few situations where you are swarmed by about 10 or more enemies in quick succession, which feels quite unfair at times, and this is where the majority of the challenge and possibly frustration lies. Alongside a save system, activated via grandfather clocks throughout the mansion, you have an energy bar, as well as finite lives, of which more can be learnt by finding 10 fortune teller cards. This game is thankfully quite generous with the cards, so it is possible to get quite a few extra lives, and despite the game’s considerable difficulty on Normal, although I did lose a lot of lives at times, I never got a Game Over, even once. To be honest, saving the game after cleaning each room is definitely the way to go.
As you get deeper through the mansion, tougher enemies appear, more of them ambush you, and even the puzzles themselves become more dangerous. It’s a tougher game than you would expect, but thankfully not impossible. Finding all 999 isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do, as each room gives you a counter on how many are remaining, and you find them by activating pulsing objects, while you can count the truly difficult puzzles on one hand (and even then, I don’t think I ever spent more than 15 minutes being stuck).
For games like this, it’s usual for cameras and controls to let you down, and thankfully I found few problems with either of those, for the most part. I occasionally had issues with changing targets using the camera lock-on, but otherwise, everything was fine.
If you’ve ever been on the ride, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well the themes and atmosphere are translated from ride to game. This digital mansion feels like familiar territory, and ride fans will easily pick out elements such as recognisable pictures on the walls, eerie busts that follow you as you walk by, floating candlesticks and certain Happy Haunts (including those infamous Hitchhiking ghosts), amongst other things. There’s a little voice-acting here, nothing too outstanding, but it all works as intended – I would have loved the game to utilise some of the musical tracks from the ride, but it’s no big deal as enough is done to evoke the feeling of that classic Disney attraction.
Despite a few borderline unfair difficulty spikes, this isn’t a terribly long game – And you’ll reach the end in about 8 hours or so, which is just enough time to not overstay its welcome. You might tear your hair out during some moments, but it’s an enjoyable puzzle/action game.
HIGHLIGHTS: A fun embellishment on of the greatest theme park rides ever, with clever puzzles and some very fun moments.
LOW POINTS: Throwing rows of enemies at the player at once does not make for an interesting challenge or a fun game. In some ways, this is missing the enjoyable hijinks that make the original ride so fun.
VERDICT: While it pales in comparison to the Resident Evils and Luigi’s Mansions of this world, Haunted Mansion is surprisingly fun, full of creative moments and if you’re looking for something a little different this Halloween, you could do a lot worse – So long as you can see past some of the more frustrating aspects of its design.