Haunt Review

When it comes to Xbox Live Arcade, the support for the Kinect is a little dense at the moment.  Granted, the market did just pick up like last year, and only one game – Fruit Ninja Kinect – has really stepped up as a must-have.  But give credit where credit is due, developers are trying to come up with innovative stuff that’s worth owning.  And with that, we present a game that fits in that category – Haunt.

Now, the game is poorly advertised – the title card and description don’t really give you too much of an idea what to expect – and there aren’t too many reviews making the rounds at the moment.  But those of you with younger gamers who love their Scooby-Doo reruns, or simply seeking out something fundamentally off-beat in their gaming, will love what Haunt brings to the picture.

In the game, you play a poor schlub who finds himself trapped in a haunted house.  How you got there is beyond us, but in order to get out, you’ll need to aid this guy named Benjamin Muldoon, or Benjy for short.  He’s been trapped a spectral world, even though he isn’t quite dead, and the only way he can communicate with you is through a series of paintings.  Your job is to track down the four “phantaflasks” that will help free him.  Again, you’re going into it knowing very little, but part of the fun is figuring things out, right?

Haunt was a collaborative development effort between Zoe Mode and Masaya Matsuura, a familiar name if you’ve played the Parappa the Rapper games.  And like those, this is an interactive exercise that younger players will appreciate, though those in the mood for a goofy mystery/adventure should get into it too.

The game works through Kinect controls, and has you searching through this big, bustling house, opening and closing doors and drawers (why do they need to be closed?) and taking alternate paths.  You’ll be using your arms quite a bit, and the game does a splendid job tracking real-time walking, which isn’t as annoying as you might think.  It’s merely in place, and you don’t even need to lift your feet off the floor too much.  Heaven forbid you'd be stuck doing a Monty Python silly walk.

Along with exploration, the game occasionally has you butting heads with ghosts in combat.  This is probably the weakest part of the game, as the Kinect recognition isn’t as smooth as it could be.  Granted, you won’t really feel mortified with a ghost killing you, but more accuracy would’ve been welcomed.

Haunt has a pretty good presentation for a downloadable game.  The house is fun to rummage through, whether you’re wandering upstairs or shining your flashlight around.  The lighting is dynamic, especially when a ghost appears on screen, his spectral Slimer-like apparition intact.  And some of those Muldoon paintings are rather funny…not anything you’d find in a museum, but funny nevertheless.

As for audio, this is the best part of the game.  Along with music and sound effects that really involve you, there’s the voice of Muldoon, which is provided by Double Fine’s own Tim Schafer.  And he really gets into his role, much like Stephen Merchant did with Wheatley back in Portal 2.  He nails it, and it leaves us wondering why he doesn’t provide audio input for more games.  Can you imagine him being an argumentative bot in Portal 2 DLC?  We could.

The main problem with Haunt is that it ends too soon.  The mystery’s closed in a few hours time, and there’s not much to go back to, save for finding stuff you missed during the first run-through.  But for 800 Microsoft points, you get some decent value here, especially if you have young ones looking for a Kinect game that won’t set you back $50.  Haunt may have missed the Halloween market, but it’s still spooky fun that’s worth shining a light down on.

And, hey, Tim, can you record a voicemail for us in Muldoon’s voice?  Please?