Haunted: Halloween '85 (Steam) - Ramblin' Review

To start off with, I am going to mention right away that this is actually an NES home brew (coded from scratch) game, and originally released on an actual cartridge playable on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. It got a a sequel, and both were ported over to Steam using Unity. The cartridge version of the game(s) can be found over at Cash- In Culture.

As this is an NES game, it obviously has limitations compared to what a game made for PC using a retro- style would be capable of. While Unity would have afforded those freedoms, Retrotainment chose to keep the game identical to the NES version. Keeping that in mind, let's get to the game itself.

Cue story intro- Donny, from Johnstown, recounts his glory days of saving the town of Possum Hollow from a zombie menace over 30 years ago. 

It's an interesting blend of beat 'em up and platforming. The controls, for the most part, are pretty solid.  You have a punch button that does a little combo when pressed in succession, and a jump button. Unlike many other beat 'em up's, Haunted: Halloween '85 is a horizontal only affair. You cannot move up and down (background and foreground?) on the screen, only left and right. some of the backgrounds give the impression that you should be able to, but once you get used to the fact that you can't, it's not really an issue. 
However, the design choice to not include the ability to move up and down leads to my first question- why can't I duck?  There aren't many times where you feel like you need to, mind you, but it just seems odd to have a sidescrolling game which doesn't include the ability to duck down, especially when there are enemies later on that you would be able to easily take out without precision timing. While this obviously adds a bit of difficulty to the game, it seems unnecessary. However, one time I was trying to duck to hit an enemy coming up a slope, and learned that if you push down and punch at the same time, you do a cool little uppercut. Pictured below.

While the controls are responsive, they do have some little things you need to get used to. 
First of all, there is this little bit of slip when moving back and forth. It is kind of like a momentum mechanic, but without the speed boost to accompany it. Oddly enough, it's something that I have noticed in a few Unity games, and I contacted the dev directly and asked if this was also present in the NES version, or if it was just the way that Unity itself handled movement. It is entirely intentional, but a little jarring the first couple of times it happens. When you are moving one way or the other and release the d pad or arrow keys, Donny will walk one or two more steps before stopping.
Next, is that at specific times, the jump button won't actually make you jump when you need it to. Pictured above, you will notice a pile of wreckage that slopes down towards a pit. If you run down the slope and try to jump over the pit, Donny won't jump if you're still holding down on the right arrow. Thankfully, you can get around this by letting go of the arrow, jumping, and then pushing to the right. The game does permit you to steer your jump. 
So, there are some precise platforming moments that require some patience, and learning how to land Donny just right on any given platform. 

Another jarring thing is when you go from one screen to the next, you will stop moving completely, and sometimes end up placed on a part of the screen your're not expecting.

Really, these are all minor gripes, and they just take a little bit of extra times to learn the controls. The hit detection works, and the controls are responsive, so learning how to fine tune what Donny is doing based on the game's requirements is all that is needed.  This was all something we learned going from game to game in the glory days of the NES, and I feel like people nowadays are kind of spoiled because everything has started to feel more uniform. Just off the top of my head, Mega Man, Duck Tales, and Captain Nemo were all Capcom released games that had different control schemes and quirks that you needed to master to be successful in the games. 

 Despite these criticisms, the game is a solid experience. It has a fair amount of difficulty, but it never feels unfair or cheap, which was a huge problem in the NES days. 
The game's music is very catchy, and it is in long enough chunks that it doesn't start feeling too repetitive or annoying. There is a lot of cool attention to background details to liven it up. Monsters peering out of darkened classroom doors, posters for the Halloween dance, NES Club, and even one of Donny winking at us? What I really thought was cool, and I shared above, is that there is a pile of bricks on the ground to act as a pseudo-obstacle, but it isn't just a random pile of bricks. There is a huge hole in the wall where something burst through it, which resulted in the pile before us.

So, it's worth checking it out on Steam, and is definitely a great addition to your physical NES collection. You can buy it in loose cartridge form, or get it complete with box and instruction manual for a little bit more money. 
At the time of this writing, there is also a limited edition famicom cart available with a full Japanese translation playable on hardware. 

I believe that this is also the dev's first game, and what has been done with the original NES hardware is impressive. I'll be playing the sequel soon to see how the series has progressed.


Check back tomorrow for another spooky game review.


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