For those of you familiar with my gaming interests and likes, the original Haunted House for the Atari 2600 was a personal favorite of mine (and still played on Game Room). It remains one of my “Top 5” Atari 2600 titles (along with Adventure, Pitfall!, River Raid, and Yar’s Revenge), and I was a bit shocked when Atari announced a true sequel to the 2600 game this year. Curious, but cautious, I waited for the day to see this game, and with little (to no) fanfare, it has finally arrived. Does it need to remain regulated to the past, or is it worth another visit to the old Graves Mansion?

Yes, back in the day, those blocky Atari 2600 games actually had stories in their instruction manuals, and detailed ones to give a full background to foster one’s imagination for those primitive visuals. Haunted House, for its time, actually has a decent scare factor. The game can still make me jump now and then at times, which is a testament to its effectiveness.

So here we are with the new game, playing the grandchildren of the original hero. Surprisingly, there are more than enough references to the original game, which really flashes out the backstory.

The square eyes in the dark are back, as are the ghosts, tarantulas and bats (and new creatures like rats, skeletons, banshees, gargoyles, and reapers). There are four sets of four floors (including boss levels) for a total of 20 stages. And characters are still out to collect the three pieces of the original urn, and defeat Zachary Graves. This isn’t some generic haunted house game with related elements. They actually made a genuine attempt to further the story of a near-30 year old game, and make this a sequel.

As you go deeper in the house, it gets dark. Very dark. Light sources are limited or need time to recharge, so one needs time to recover against the heavy glow of spooks and beasts that live in the house. Players can collect journal pages, which flesh out the backstory, and treasures, which mare more than a few nods to several pop culture horror/ghost films. There’s a lot to find in this game. I still haven’t found everything. The characters also speak, but the voice acting is inoffensive, and only repeats a little.

There are also some new elements, such as offensive weapons to fight the ghosts and creatures, fireplaces to restore your health (and serve as a checkpoint). Boss fights are certainly new, and require a little bit of strategy (or just survival) to make your way through. The controls were also decent. I never had a problem with the game doing what I needed it to do.

Is it a perfect game? Not totally. The cut scenes are little more than still images. Not that a game like this needs CG on the level of Final Fantasy, but a little animation would have been nice. The game is also one of those where you have to search everything, so if you’re not into exploring every nook and cranny of the house, this isn’t going to work for you. The art style is also very simple. It grew on me after a while, but again, it has a simple charm to it. And if you’re short on light sources, you can stumble around a lot in the darkness. Part of it is the point, as it was in the original game, but the deeper you go, the darker it gets, and even lightning flashes will help you so much. On a personal gripe, I wish they had been able to incorporate The Twilight Zone theme into the game as found in the original, but that’s likely a whole licensing thing onto itself that likely couldn’t be pulled off.

Overall, I liked the game. I’ve been playing it on my 360, and supposedly, it’s for the Wii, though I’ve yet to see it in stores. As a stand-alone game, it’s a quick and relatively easy romp. As a sequel, it’s a pleasant and thorough nod to the original game. I don’t expect that there are still that many Haunted House fans out there, but for those who had fond memories of the original title, it’s a nice update. And it would be fun to play for the younger folk, since it’s not too scary, and the fireplaces will bring players back to life after being scared to death.

Now, if Atari would only do a nice update to Adventure or Yar’s Revenge, then we’d be on the right page for the “new” Atari returning to its roots.

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