Monday, December 16, 2013

Haunting Starring Polterguy Retrospective

Polterguy. The undead Bart Simpson.

Here's a horror classic from the glory days of the Sega Genesis!

Haunting Starring Polterguy was a gem from Electronic Arts back in the early 1990's when they were still willing to take chances and be creative. It had a unique premise and to this day I've still never played another game quite like it. You star as Polterguy, a totally tubular nineties kind of dude who ends up getting killed by a faulty skateboard. These cheap skateboards are the product of Vito Sardini's sleazy company, so the only recourse you have is to come back as a ghost with a totally sweet leather jacket and haunt the crap out of Sardini's family!

Haunting is all in 3/4 view which will be familiar to anyone who has played EA's popular Sims titles. Your revenge plot involves scaring Vito and his family out of their home, but you're a ghost so you can't physically hurt them. This means your main method of scaring them is to inhabit and interact with objects around the dwelling. One of the things that makes this game great is that there are so many different things to play around with in the houses. You can jump into the couch and make it try to eat them, make kitchen knives fly around at people in the kitchen, or even have a troll climb out of the toilet and throw poop everywhere.

When you manage to get the family's "fright meter" high enough they'll head for the hills and leave the house screaming, and more importantly leave globs of ectoplasm to fuel your ghostly powers. You really don't want to run out of ecto, because if you do it's time to head into the UNDERWORLD. The Underworld is a frustrating maze-like level full of weird traps and demon arms that try to molest you as you make your way back to the land of the living. You can also die there which means you'd be extra dead, since you were already a ghost. If you manage to get the entire family out of the house, they will move to a new one. However, if Poltergeist and Insidious have taught us anything, it's that once you're haunted, you stay haunted. You effectively relocate with the Sardini's and then start the fright fest all over again in a new mansion.

Going back and replaying Haunting after so many years taught me a few things. First, the controls kind of suck. Polterguy is tough to maneuver as he floats around rooms and down in the Underworld. Second, there are brutal difficulty spikes in the Underworld and a few other areas like the tacked-on end boss battle (because every game needs an end boss!) Even though the gameplay was a bit repetitive across levels it was great fun to watch Vito and his scummy kids pee their pants or have the eyes comically pop out of their skulls when you make demons jump out of the refrigerator.

Haunting may be a little bit more difficult to find than some other games I've written about on here. If you have a working Genesis, you might be able to grab a copy on Ebay, it was also part of a collection called "EA Replay" for PSP and on Playstation Network that also contained the superb horror-themed sports title Mutant League Football. Bottom line is that if you can figure out a way to play it, do so. It's fairly short, a lot of silly frightful fun, and unique. There aren't many games where you get to play as a crazy ghost and terrify people like Beetlejuice. Electronic Arts certainly doesn't make 'em like this anymore.

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