The Sardini’s are just your average, ordinary, affluent Italian family and they just moved into the neighborhood. The patriarch, Vito Sardini, is a business mogul. He’s most definitely of the smarmy, snake-oil salesmen variety. Vito’s most recent lucrative endeavor has been cashing in on that totally rad and “extreme to the max” sport of skateboarding. Unlike any decent human being with even a modicum of business acumen, Vito has manufactured the shoddiest skateboards and forwent any extensive/expensive QA procedures. Hey, he’s a man of appetites and judging by his fancy new digs, his business decisions have worked out OK so far. Capitalism baby!
Little does Mr. Sardini know, that one of his faulty skateboards has caused the tragic death of young teenager. Since this kid was a rebellious, 90s punk bad-ass, he transformed into the flat-top rocking Polterguy! Polterguy is an undead, neon green ghost that is motored by ectoplasm, rocks a black leather jacket, and wants nothing more than to exact revenge on that piece of shit, Vito Sardini. Fuck it, his whole family might as well suffer along with him. What’s the best way to dispense vengeance as a ghost? Well, if the name of the game didn’t tip you off it’s all about haunting houses.
It’s the 1990s, in your face attitude is the coolest, and insanely creative games like Haunting: Starring Polterguy were commonplace. What a bitchin’ time to be alive…well unless you’re Polterguy!
You know what I miss? Videogames with top down, isometric viewpoints! Yeah, any game using this perspective is automatically fucking rad. Oh, you think the isometric viewpoint is clunky and controls like shit? I’m sending Polterguy to haunt your ass right now! Go check out that grandfather clock in your dining room. The rattling isn’t normal. It’s Polterguy and who knows what grisly shit he’s got cooked up for when you get close enough to investigate! Hope you got a clean pair of BVDs…
Haunting: Starring Polterguy makes me yearn for a better time. A time of creative highs when something like Haunting DIDN’T seem weird. And trust me, this game is positively nuts. Just imagine that EA, of all companies, came up with this ludicrous concept who’s underlying theme is basically a giant middle finger to fat cat corporations. No really…EA made this. The 90s were fucking wild!
Gameplay consists of floating about the Sardini’s house like Casper after a gnarly tequila bender. Once you spot a Sardini, you’ll jump into a household objects, wait for curiosity to kick in as they investigate, and then watch them literally soil themselves in fear. It’s essentially the most convoluted way to view inventive, 16-bit haunted house animations.
You wouldn’t be wrong to say it’s shallow. Then again, how many games have you ever played where you can cause an vixen apparition to materialize in a bathroom, dance, remove her bath towel, and reveal her grotesque bloody body! The correct answer is “none”. When I was ten years old I was seduced by Haunting’s irresistible forbidden fruit quality that left me completely captivated. As a thirty-three year old man child, I find seeing the boundaries that EA pushed with several of the creepy animations kind of mind-blowing. Besides, it’s one of the all time best games for the month of October.
I wholehearted LOVE Haunting. Is it a great game? Nope. Is it even a really good game? That’s probably debatable. It’s just a brilliant concept that fully delivers the goods. Yes, you’re essentially running around the house trying to see every bit of macabre animation possible. That is certainly part of the experience because let’s be honest…the fright animations are SO well done.
However, when you run out of ectoplasm and you’re sent to the dungeon levels you quickly find you’re trying to avoid all the bats, skulls, and grasping hands as if your own life depended on it. You want to get back to the scaring as soon as possible. Except the harsh reality is you’ve only got one single undead life to fulfill your revenge in the game’s four stages/houses. It creates an experience where you find yourself completely under the game’s spell trying your damnedest to survive and scare those rat-bastard Sardinis.
Part of the allure is that designers nailed the theme of the game so much. Kudos to the design team for making each and every family member such a vile piece of 16-bit shit that you actually WANT to scare them to death. Sure, seeing all the fun fright animations is great, but the real reward is all of the priceless reactions of the family. You quickly realize there is some sort of rudimentary “terror A.I.” in place that makes timing your scares and their position in the room actually matter. Only certain rooms in each house have an exit, and you need to funnel each Sardini towards them. It provides just enough tactics and planning to really hook you.
The main complaint about the game is the touchy controls do to my beloved isometric perspective. They aren’t too bad while you’re in the house, but in the dungeon levels the lack of precision makes Polterguy control like he is covered in Crisco while running on ice. This is compounded by the fact that Dungeons levels aren’t very enjoyable. However, I’d argue that they aren’t meant to be. The only time you take damage in the game is in the dungeons and they require the utmost patience and mastery of controls to finish. When you finally make your way to the end, the game sends you back to the material plane to continue terrifying those scumbag Sardinis and it feels like the best reward ever.
Haunting Starring Polterguy will always remain in my heart thanks to it’s ridiculous 90s attitude mixed with its one of a kind gameplay. The only thing that is remotely similar is Ghost Master which came out in the early 2000s on the PC. Ghost Master is enjoyable, but I’d choice Haunting every time. It’s a shining beacon of originality that helped make the Sega Genesis library one of the best in videogame history. If you ever see a copy I’d snatch it up, no questions asked. It’s also available on the PSP via the EA Replay Collection. Either way you play, you won’t be disappointed. If you are, Polterguy will be on his way….BOO!