Sega Sundays #1: Theeeeeeey're heeeeeere
I have a lot of Sega Genesis games. So many I've decided to take a random one every Sunday and play through it to review it come next week. Why? I have too much time on my hands.
Haunting Starring Polterguy came from that weird time in gaming history when EA actually developed games that were original titles. Seriously, look it up if you don't believe me, it's not even a sports game AND it's actually finished and polished. It's not only original as an IP, but the game play and presentation stood out amongst the endless sea of Sonic clones and sub-par arcade ports that plagued the Sega Genesis by the early-mid 90s.
The game takes Polterguy, a young hip radical skating dude with tude who dies as a result of shoddily mass produced skateboards. Polterguy takes revenge by going to the home of the CEO's family to get revenge for his company knowingly releasing inferior products causing harm to his consumers (the fact this was made by EA strikes an entirely new level of accidental irony today). The unpolitically correctly named Sardini family must be scared out of their multiple homes by Polterguy until they leave town for good, which allows the game to have multiple levels. Using an isometric view, the family roams around the house at their own leisure. As Polterguy you interact with objects around the house to create traps to scare the Sardini's outside of the room with the goal of steering them to run out of the front door. I'm reminded of two things: One being Tecmo's Deception series, I love to think that this game was some secret cult hit in Japan that influenced its own series. The other are point and click adventure games of the time. The isometric view and the amount of interactive objects with specific purposes must have been inspired themselves. While these games never translated well with me for consoles, the quasi-adventure inspired gameplay for this game ends up working because of the control scheme being centered around running rather than clicking.
Traps are where the game really comes alive. There are three kinds of objects you can possess identified by their glowing lights: Green, which you directly control as Polterguy with the d-pad, Yellow, which are area of effect that wait for a family member to pass by, and Blue, which will call the attention of a family member over to that area of the room. To possess these objects you must use up some of the ectoplasm that allows you to stay in the world of the living, making management of ectoplasm to traps for the most efficient results top priority. If you run out, you're sent down to the underworld where you must collect puddles of ectoplasm until you refill your meter and have the strength to go back to the living. In the underworld there are monsters which hurt Polterguy, and if you run out of life here, then you're dead. For real this time. The game was clearly made with the confines of the house's rooms in mind which makes traversing the underworld slippery and unprecise. They aren't game ruining segments but you will be rolling your eyes every time you are transported there, which is way too often. Fortunately making a Sardini flee the room in terror does drop some ectoplasm relative the amount you spent, prolonging the inevitable.
The animation on the possessed objects are just great. Colorful and comedic, they take inspiration from the schlockiest of B-movie horror. Couches coming alive with giant Rocky Horror Show lips, toys attacking the children, sheets becoming ghosts, toilets and baths spraying fountains of blood. Yep, lots of blood. This game is surprisingly gory, up there with the tryhard Mortal Kombat klones overcompensating. The gore is never in bad taste, used as cartoony as possible while still being out there enough to gross out players as well as the family. The combination in which you activate traps affects the scare level of the family. The more scared they are, the more likely they are to flee naturally. In the later levels it takes a lot more consistent scaring in a single room to even break the first level or so, making smart decisions all the more important. Leaving a family member alone too long can even out their meter so targeting one specific family member takes longer than targeting equally across the board. In paranormal tradition, the only member of the family that can see you is. The dog barking will alert the family and make them leave or force you of on a possession. Scaring the family makes them react in various ways, Looney Tunes like eyes bulging, giant mouthed screams and bone rattling are the standard, but unique reactions from each family member with the bigger scares like the mother's wig falling off and the son peeing his pants add character. In the third and fourth houses other ghosts show up and start attacking Polterguy when you make successful scares. They come off as really out of placed and forced to me that just ruin the pace of the living world sections.
Once Polterguy's revenge is complete and the Sardini family leaves, it turns out the family dog was the evil mastermind and actually is a ghost that wants to take out Polterguy himself. I have no idea why this section exists and I'm sure the developers don't either. I guess they thought because they were releasing a video game they needed a final boss or something. You fight the dog in the underworld meaning the slippery out of control movement is back which certainly doesn't help. There's absolutely no preparation or explanation on how to fight him like there was absolutely no effort or thought on how to implement this boss, all of the sudden you get bombs in addition to your spin attack you fought of the earlier ghosts with. It's a shame that the game ends the way it does, this seems like a really stupid decision modern day EA would force into a game, not early 90s EA.
Aside from the really stupid ending and underworld sections of the game, Haunting Starring Polterguy is a different kind of 16 bit console game that has a lot of character and care put into it that makes it a game worth checking out. If you have a PSP you can get it and a bunch of other good games on the EA Replay compilation. Speaking of EA Replay, I can't wait for EA to make this strategy game and FPS like they did with the classic Syndicate. Oh wait, that game exists, it's Geist on the GameCube published by Nintendo in a hilariously misguided attempt to appeal to the rated M market. That's the kind of game Haunting Starring Polterguy would have been if there was no charm, so I'm really glad this game did.