Review: Disney’s Haunted Mansion (Nintendo Gamecube)

Disney’s Haunted Mansion may share the same name as the upcoming Eddie Murphy film (and also comes with a free ticket to the film) but they have nothing at all in common. Except for their being a Haunted Mansion and all.

High Voltage and TDK Mediactive have created a very odd Disney game indeed. The first clue that this is not in line with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Simba is the big T rating on the package. A Disney game rated Teen? Not what you usually expect to find. This game is darker in tone than any Disney game I’ve ever seen. And that includes Kingdom Hearts.

Before I start this review I’m going to warn you of three spooky thoughts, which is fitting because it’s Hallowe’en. The first is that this game will break all your preconceived notions about Disney being “Kiddee.” This game is certainly not for kids. The second thing that will probably scare you is that there now exists a platform that Alexander Lucard is fanatical about. Finally, before you even bother to read this I’m going to let you know the bottom line. YOU MUST GO OUT AND BUY THIS GAME! It is that good. That’s the review in one sentence. But I know. You’re skeptical. And that’s why I’m doing this review. To convince you all to buy this game. Or at least rent it. It’s that incredible and obscure and it’s going to be one of those games mentioned on forums and chat rooms years from now by crusty old gamers. So get it now and say you had it when!

LET’S REVIEW

Story

Right. The tale of the Haunted Mansion is the tale of a young antiquarian Cajun named Zeke Hallaway. The tale takes place right around the Civil War (October 1879), and the desolation left in the south has forced our young Epicurean into seeking out a job. He answers an ad to be a caretaker only to learn too little, too late that six ghosts and a psychic by the name of Madame Leota placed the ad in order to find someone to lift the curse places on the Estate they are forced to haunt..

See, the entire story has a very Lovecraftian feel to it. From the old decrepit mansion decaying physically along with the souls of those trapped with it, to the fact that ol’ Zeke Hallaway LOOKS like Lovecraft himself. It’s an excellent homage to works like The Rats in the Walls,’ The Fall of the House of Usher’ and The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward.’ Haunted Mansion give you the back story and feel or a true horror novel.

Another nice touch is the back story of the mansion. As Zeke explores and saves rooms and souls, he finds diaries and tomes of Forgotten Lore belonging to Atticus Thorn (Awesome villain name!) In these tomes you learn the history of the house and its decent into darkness at Thorn’s hand. I won’t spoil his tale as it’s a major part of the game, but again, if you enjoyed Eternal Darkness or any good Victorian or Gothic horror tales, this game will not leave you disappointed. Yes the game is not as graphic or dark as Eternal Darkness. But it’s not meant to be about the destruction of mankind. It’s like something Washington Irving would right. A perfect ghost story for all ages.

But then there’s the extras. The hidden things in the game that make this one of the most fun video games I have ever played. See, High Voltage did something. I expected this game to be comedy. A Disney-esque haunted house game. Like the very disappointing Luigi’s Mansion. But they didn’t. They gave us a well written horror novella. But they also gave us tons of hidden inside pop culture jokes. And nods to other great horror classics.

For example, a certain Spider from Lord of the Rings has a cameo. As does Julius Cesar. Cast and characters from history and pop culture stop by in this game to make you mark out, laugh, and go holy shit!’ time after time after time.

You a fan of the ring? Well, here’s something you’ll enjoy. Sumara/Sadako is in the game. And can be a real pain in the ass. When I first saw her I was like Fuck Yes! Disney ROCKS!’

Anytime a ghost makes a silly pun or a quotes a famous movie or makes an obscure pop culture reference, I just busted up. Haunted Mansion is funny at points. But it never detracts from the game. If anything it adds TO the overall enjoyment of the game. Nothing is worse than went something is dark and morbid in feel and takes itself so seriously, things get over the top. Games like the Soul Reaver series or Resident Evil. Good games, but they try so hard it becomes silly. Haunted Mansion isn’t afraid to step out of spooky mode and give you some great and wonderful comic scenes.

By far the best moment of the game comes when you free a ghostly band from the clutches of darkness, and they started quoting my favorite Saturday Night Live skit of all time. It involves Christopher Walken and Blue Oyster Cult and the song Don’t Fear the Reaper.’ I have never marked out more in a video game when this happened. Seriously. I had to go tell like a hundred people about it I was so thrilled!

The entire skit right here people! A friend of mine here in Minneapolis gave me this link to give to all of you when I told her about the Haunted Mansion. Download the skit and listen to it!

All in all, Haunted Mansion gives me everything I look for in a video game story wise. It’s got an excellent plot. It plays like a novella. It’s not afraid to break the atmosphere and make jokes at its own expense. It has tons of in jokes that only the biggest pop culture addicts will get, and the story can be enjoyed by young and old. Hats off to High Voltage and TDK for giving us a licensed game that actually kicks as instead of trying to make a cheap buck. It’s a game I’ll be playing again and again and again.

Story Rating: 10/10

Graphics

Wow. I’m very rarely impressed by graphics. Out of all the next gen games, only F-Zero blew me away. Amusement Vision’s level of detail and artwork of the most minute of aspects impressed me to the point where I honestly thought gaming couldn’t get any prettier.

Then I popped in Haunted Mansion. And was blown away. The opening demo alone was worst the 39$ I paid for this. The first person view of walking up to the haunted estate and seeing all the minor details High Voltage worked on was so enjoyable, I actually watched the demo twice. Even the credits screen has an incredible amount of importance placed on the graphics.

But aside from the cgi, the actual game is beautiful as well. You can see individual strands in a giant spider web. Cracks on doors and visible. Candle flames flicker in time with their shadows. Spiders skitter across the floor actually move their legs instead of sliding like they were on ice. Every little detail is captured. Zeke’s hair even turns gradually white the more is sanity meter runs out!

If the story isn’t reason enough to pick this game up, the graphically certainly are. Although the game does look Disney-esque, it’s still bordering on Final Fantasy beautiful. But it has a plot! A real plot! With defined back story and personalities!!!! Oops. Sorry. Wrong sub-section.

Haunted Mansion made me go back and forth through the building just to marvel at how beautiful it is. Unlike Castlevania Lament Of Innocence, which has more backtracking and running around like an idiot than a Tomb Raider game, You will want to stumble around the Mansion of High Voltage’s imagination. Because it is that beautiful a sight.

Graphics Rating: 9/10

3. Sound

This is the first next gen game I have ever wanted the soundtrack of. Seriously. All the music is amazing. Sure it’s nothing modern. It’s all instrumental and string based spooky music, but it is incredible to just close your eyes and listen to. It’s like an entire CD of almost Velvet Room quality.

Special note has to be given to the fact they have the Dapper Dans doing an acapella version of my favorite Disney song Gray Grinning Ghost.’ It’s the best version I have ever heard of that song, with the Walt Disney Racing (another insanely good Disney Game) taking second place.

Also we need to look at the voice acting. Aside from the one noise Zeke makes (which is something like a high pitched castrato cheering) the voice acting is perfect. Absolutely perfect. Every voice fits their character and I can’t imagine anything else for them. Madam Leota sounds like a cajun psychic African American. The pirate ghosts sounds like Optimus Prime. Atticus Thorne sounds like an evil wizard bent on discovering that which man was not meant to know. Ghost gibber and cavort with moans and cackles. Sumara’s voice is wicked and whispery. Every ghost has a voice. And it is one you should hear.

Again, High Voltage went above and beyond the video game norm in terms of music and voiced acting, and any who place this game will greatly benefit from it.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control

I’ll be honest. The Autolock for your lantern sucks. The camera stick is meant to help you aim. But Pressing the L and R buttons at the same time you use both the sticks to shift targets can be hard on your hand. And frustrating as hell when you have 6-7 ghosts coming at you and the camera angle is all messed up. But this is my niggling problem with all 3D platforms: the camera angle never adjusts properly in time. Although it is rare in Haunted Mansion, it does still happen.

But aside from that the actual controls are simple and fun. A is to jump, B is to search, R is to blow up ghosts with your mystic lantern. X collects souls to be purified by your lantern. It’s all pretty routine.

Gameplay is pretty standard as well. In each room you have to take out evil spirits, find the light switch to allow you to collect the remnants of said evil spirits and purify them. But the catch is that each room has their own really cool and unique challenge to get through. One room has you playing tag with candles that try to avoid your touch. Another room features you shrunken down and stuck on a pool table. An evil ghost tries to hit you with the cue ball and the only way to be restored is to get him to sink all the balls. Yet another incredible challenge is to get past a room of torrential winds by letting spider monsters trap you in their web and drag you towards them. Each room is full of clever and original puzzles that fit the theme of a haunted mansion perfectly. None of the puzzles feel forced or out of place, like block puzzles, or running around collecting obscure items. They are all ghost related and enjoyable.

I really enjoyed this platformer. It wasn’t a pain in the ass like most. And although the camera could be annoying at times, it didn’t make me swear like say, Sonic Adventure 1.

Control Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

The game’s a pretty good length for a platformer. And it doesn’t get old. However everything is cut and dry. You can mix up the order of rooms you go in, but there doesn’t seem to be any alternate endings or unlockables. It’s a few hours, and if you play it again and again, it’s still going to be the same game.

There are three different difficulty settings, but with nothing changing, the only reason to replay this game is because it is fun and enjoyable. But sadly, a lot of gamers play a game once then discard it once they get 100% of everything. And to those people buying and replaying this game will be a hard sell. I know I’ll be whipping this game out every few months for the story and gameplay. But will everyone else? For them it might be just a rental.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6 Balance

The game’s not the hardest in the world. Not at all. In any sort of battle, you can just button mash the hell out of things. But in the end, the battles are a small part of the game. It’s the puzzles that are the heart and soul of Haunted Mansion, and each one does get a bit harder than the last. The sliding room puzzle was a neat and tricky one. As was the plate chucking spirit who you had to get to break all the wine bottles in the room before he would stop. Or the levitating book puzzle. Me being a jumping hater found that a bit difficult.

The game’s learning curve isn’t steep at all. And it never gets insane or mind-bogglingly hard. But there are times when you have to think about your next action. The game is not for kids, no matter how much the Disney Label might convince you otherwise. Still, with luck and practice, anyone can beat this game.

Balance Rating: 6/10

7. Originality

It’s a cross between Luigi’s Mansion and Eternal Darkness. Scratch that. It is everything Luigi’s mansion had the potential to become but didn’t. This game defeats Luigi’s Mansion in every aspect possible, from graphics and sound, to fun and enjoyment.

A lot of the puzzles in this game were ones that seemed obvious enough, but I’ve never seen in a Platformer or haunted house type of game before. They were a breath of fresh air in a genre that is over crowded and watered down. I rarely enjoy platformers, which is all my British ex ever played, and even she said they blur together after a while.

But Haunted Mansion has its own voice and feel. Yes it has a sanity meter. Yet it involves cleaning a haunted building up and sucking ghosts into a weird and zany containment unit. But the story is fresh and original, and so is the gameplay. Hats off to High Voltage yet again.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

There is only one other Game Cube game that I was as addicted to as this one. And it’s called Ikaruga. How’s that for short and sweet. Haunted Mansion is my heroin baby. And Ikaruga is my Methadone to ween me off.

Addictiveness Rating: 10/10

Appeal Factor

It’s Disney, so kids may want it. And parents will probably give it to them, ghosts or not. However, REAL gamers will want this game. It’s fun in every way possible and five minutes in, you will forget the big mouse ears slapped onto the cover of this game. From the first words spoken by the narrator on down to the closing battle between Zeke and Atticus, this is a game everyone should, rent, play, and own before it is too late. I can’t honestly think of a person who could hate this game. Except for people with false machismo who run around saying anything even remotely cute or less than Grand Theft Auto is “Kiddee.” And Sadly, there are a lot of stupid gamers out there that will pass up this game simply because of the word Disney. The loss is theirs to bear.

Appeal Factor rating: 8/10

Miscellaneous

Although it’s short because it is a platform, your ride through the Haunted Mansion is filled with thing I never thought I’d see in a video game unless made by Atlus or translated by Working Designs. The references to Bruce Dickinson alone gives this category a full hard-on perfect score, but the fact Disney could take famous characters from so many things and throw them into this game as an homage to everyone from Peter Lorre to Peter Cullen means that I bow down to High Voltage and pray they make a “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” game next. They just have to leave Bing Crosby’s voice for the Headless Horseman song alone.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

Short Attention Span Summary
This game is on ALL systems people. There is no reason not to own it. It’s a platformer that I’m so fanatical over I randomly IM other 411 staff members telling them to buy this game. It’s like a big bowl of Count Chocula and Boo-Berry right after each other only to find out someone just gave you the last known box of Fruity Yummy Mummy in existence and is still tasty as hell. I can only think of three games I’ve ever given over an 8.0 in the year I’ve worked for 411: Robotech GBA, Pokemon Pinball R/Sand Ikaruga. Say hello to game #4 people. If you want a kick ass story, a tribute to Roger Coreman, HP Lovecraft, and Christopher Walken, graphics and sound to blow your mind away, and a game that spans all systems AND kicks ass…then here it is. Don’t fucking blow your chance to own this. You’ve been warned