Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Obscure Retro Gem - Haunting featuring Polterguy (Mega Drive / Genesis)

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.. er.. wait a minute!

I am certain that being dead sucks, although we cannot really ask any deceased individuals to verify this. You could always speak to a medium, but as anyone with a working brain knows, these people are human parasites that manipulate grieving relatives for financial reward, so best to ignore them completely. The classic 1980's Tim Burton movie, Beetlejuice showed a recently expired couple wreaking havoc on a nasty family who had moved into their dream home, and their antics looked surprising enjoyable. So maybe the afterlife isn't all bad. Electronic Arts certainly thought so, as their 1993 Sega Mega Drive game, Haunting (featuring Polterguy) completely nicks the plot from that movie, switching the dead newly-weds for a teenage skate punk.

The father is caught with his pants down. Maybe he was taking a 
whizz in the plant pot? No wonder he looks embarassed!

Polterguy was a kid like any other, he enjoyed skateboarding and using the word 'dude' a lot. Unfortunately, one day he is killed in a skateboarding accident. In true claims culture style, he decides that Mr Sardini, the factory owner responsible for his board, is to blame and sets about harassing the poor man and his family.

See how 'rad' and 'gnarly' this 'dude' is... sigh!

The game goes for an isometric look that was most popular back in the 8-bit days (especially on the ZX Spectrum), way before the Playstation arrived and introduced as to proper 3D. You move the extremely floaty Polterguy around each room, looking for items to possess, be it a chair, a cupboard, guitar, bed, or painting. When one of the Sardini family come close to the freshly possessed item it will launch into a horrifying animation that will scare them silly - Paintings will come to life, skipping ropes turn into snakes, dinner plates fly across the room at your control, and beds become hideous monsters with bulging eyes and huge teeth. 

Now it's the old lady's turn to sow off her underpants. What's with 
this family and stripping off anyway?

You can possess multiple objects at once, priming them for when either the father, wife or two kids come near, but doing so uses up your ectoplasm bar. This bar is your life blood, and depletes slowly over time. Should it become empty Polterguy is transported to the underworld – a dingy cavern full of skulls, slimes and grabbing arms, and the only place you can actually 'die'. While here you must collect drops of ectoplasm that appear, topping up your bar, before reaching the exit. Later levels introduce a family dog, the only mortal being that can see Polterguy, who barks at you, draining your ecto levels rapidly. Family members have a fear meter that lets you know just how frightened they are. Once they have been suitably terrorised they will flee the house, and when all 4 family members have done a runner, the level is complete.

Traumatising children has never been so much fun.

The graphics are colourful and possess (sorry) a decent amount of charm, especially the excellent, and often rather grisly, animations that occur when objects become possessed. Watching the family members freak out as the walls begin to bleed, or a sofa comes to life, licking its lips and omitting a terrible roar, is both funny and satisfying. Indeed, there isn't really much else to the game but it's enjoyable enough just to watch the carnage unfold. Less fun are the underworld parts, which are dull to look at and play. These just get in the way of the fun and feel like a chore. The music is minimal and very forgettable, and the sound effects are of the usual muffled Mega Drive variety. However, they do the job and don't detract from the game – even though all the family members make the same screaming sound.

Mother loses her hair as she realises she has completely ruined dinner!

Sure, there is a fairly limited amount of substance to the game, and it gets repetitive after a couple of levels, but the core haunting mechanic is so enjoyable that it doesn't really matter. It's a game that is definitely worth checking out, if not purely for its curiosity value. It's a great concept for a game and was certainty an innovative title upon it's original 1993 release. Haunting is a game that is screaming out for a modern day remake – just think of how good this concept could be with the graphical clout of today's modern gaming systems.

The European (left) and USA (right) Box covers. 

A cool 3 page advertisement for the game. Click to enlarge!

Title : Haunting featuring Polterguy

Developer : Electronic Arts

Year : 1993

System : Sega Mega Drive / Genesis