The Haunted Mansion
Leveraging the popularity of its theme park attractions, Disney brought us Pirates of the Caribbean and now, The Haunted Mansion. We step warily forth...
PS2, Xbox, GameCube
Take 2 Interactive
By Kikizo Staff
Like the feature film of the same name, The Haunted Mansion is based upon the eponymous Disney theme park ride. Somewhat baffling however, especially for younger fans of the film, is that basic premise aside, the game and film are in fact two distinct properties. While the film chronicles the exploits of real estate agent Jim Evers and his family within the mansion, the videogame tells the tale of Ezekiel (Zeke) Holloway, an aimless drifter who happens upon the mansion while in search of work. Once inside, he finds himself coerced into collecting 999 souls, while at the same time having to subvert the machinations of Atticus Thorn, Grand Master of the Order of Shadows.
Armed with the Beacon of Souls, Zeke must make his way through the mansion while fending off malevolent spirits, spiders, skeletons, banshees, gargoyles and even the occasional altercation with Atticus Thorn himself. Though it takes place within an ostensibly massive building, Zeke's quest is, in fact, an almost entirely linear one. Many of the rooms in the mansion are sealed with magic, and only by accruing the requisite number of souls can Zeke gain access to them. What this does is segment the mansion into what are effectively 'levels', as each room must be completed before players are able to move onto the next. Additionally, each room demands that players solve a puzzle or set piece of some kind in order to illuminate the room. Once that is done, players can then scour its contents in search of the souls hidden therein.
It's all somewhat rudimentary, and to be blunt, exceptionally repetitive. However, the game's saving grace is the unique challenges it presents within each room of the mansion. As mentioned above, players are required to switch on the lights in each room before they can set about the business of locating and acquiring souls. To do this, players will have to accomplish such feats as (WARNING: minor spoilers) chasing and capturing mischievous candles; using spider webs to rappel their way across a blustery room; avoiding flying kitchen plates while trying to coax them into breaking wine bottles; navigate staircases comprised of floating books; and moving the very walls themselves to reveal unseen areas of the room. The solutions to these set pieces are more often than not self-evident, but it is in their discovery, not their solution that much of the fun is to be found. In fact, it is through sheer inquisitiveness and the desire to see what 'puzzles' lie in store that will keep most players interested for the duration of the adventure, and not, as one might expect, the tedious spirit collecting, awkward combat or mundane storyline that comprises the majority of the experience.
In addition to providing access to rooms of the mansion, accruing souls also provides players with Death Certificate pieces, that in turn allow players to obtain Soul Gems from their deceased owners. Zeke is initially only able to fire a rudimentary projectile, but through the acquisition of Soul Gems, he can imbue the Beacon of Souls with additional properties, thus allowing it to fire charged, triple and ultra shots. Combat, sadly, is an elementary task that requires players to do little more than strafe and fire, and while latter enemies (and the sheer volume of them) pose a slightly improved challenge, fighting in The Haunted Mansion remains a largely unsatisfying prospect.
The theme of ghosts and magic and the undead not withstanding, Haunted Mansion is unquestionably a Disney product. The use of humour and the fact that the mansion itself panders to most every B-movie archetype makes for an atmosphere that is decidedly light-hearted. To this end, the less malevolent denizens of the mansion will proffer humorous jibes, while Zeke's clumsy gait and bumbling manner make him oddly endearing. >From a purely technical standpoint, the game is only marginally above average. Animation is acceptable, as is the lighting model, but the game's texture work is inconsistent and the special effects are, well... not terribly special. The voice-work is surprisingly well-done, and considerably better than many significantly more high-profile titles. Effects and incidental tracks comprise the standard allotment of ghostly wails and creaky floorboards, while the soundtrack is typically downbeat thereby filling its niche adequately enough.
Considerable praise should be given to High Voltage for suffusing what could have been a truly dire licensed title with a plethora of unique, enchanting puzzles. Sadly, the rest of the game is so average as to make the entire package rather unappealing.