The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion

Written by Cyril Lachel on 2/4/2004 for Xbox  

Even though Eddie Murphy is one of the most popular comedy actors working in Hollywood, he’s yet to make that leap from the silver screen to the game screen. With classics like Beverly Hills Cop, the Golden Child, and 48 Hours under his belt and one of the most recognizable voices in all of California, you’d think he’d be a hot commodity in the game world, but all we get are a number of fundamentally flawed Shrek games.

The Haunted Mansion is not only one of the most popular rides at Disneyland, but was also a marginally successful live-action movie starring the one-time Saturday Night Live cast member. Considering that this game was released to coincide with the launch of the feature film, I was surprised to find out it is based on the ride and has very little to do with the theatrical movie. I was not disappointed, just surprised.

You play as Zeke; a twig of a man who looks suspiciously like Ichabod Crane from Disney’s classic cartoon the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Desperate for work, Zeke answers an ad for a janitorial position in a spooky old house on the outskirts of town, and in a turn of events that has always been cliché, he finds himself trapped in that large, unwelcoming mansion. A mansion that just happens to be haunted and in serious need of some ghost busting.

Armed with his magic lantern your job is to investigate each room, solve the puzzles, turn on the lights, and then collect all of the ghosts in the vicinity. Collect enough apparitions you’ll be able to move on to the next room in the mansion, complete with its own puzzle and ghosts to collect. With dozens of rooms over three different floors to explore, there are a lot of puzzles to solve and ghosts to collect, which by itself can certainly get a little tiring.

On one hand it’s nice that the puzzles generally don’t repeat and are usually challenging. They take the entire room, and range from pushing buttons in the correct order to navigating your way around a giant pool table trying not to get hit by the incoming balls. The game’s difficulty is pretty forgiving, but a number of the levels may require more than a few of your lives before you fully understand what you’re supposed to do. Once completed it’s on to searching for ghosts who hide in coffins, barrels, and other dark nooks and crannies. Once you’ve collected them all you can use the ghosts to unlock other rooms in the mansion, thus continuing your adventure.

From time to time you will be introduced to a new ghost or spook that tries to get in the way of you solving the puzzles. They look big and menacing at first, but most of the enemies in the Haunted Mansion are push-overs. The only problem you will have negotiating these ghouls will be when a gang of them traps you, a common and frustrating problem associated with this title.

Though there are a few cinemas, and a number of other characters, most of the Haunted Mansion lacks a clear story. The game pushes you along in a very mechanical way, and it sometimes feels like the various plot points are nothing more than a sly way of connecting the various puzzles. The story elements themselves are pretty generic, and it would not have hurt the presentation if they were completely cut from the game. The plot doesn’t take away from the game, but never seems to seem to move past redundant.The general controls are just as generic. I know it’s too much to ask for a complex set of moves, but it would have been nice of the Haunted Mansion team to give us something beyond jumping and shooting. You see, at its core this game is nothing more than a shooter. Although it’s in 3D, you still run around the various rooms shooting ghosts, and jumping over obstacles. Throughout your adventure you will be able to upgrade your weapon, so it uses spread shots, among other things.

The game also allows you to charge up your weapon and throw a more powerful grenade-like blast. Like your regular shot, this charge attack will be upgraded throughout your journey. But all this just seems very archaic, and not in a retro kind of way. It’s a tried and true action game formula, sure, but it wouldn’t have hurt for them to have added something more to keep us gamers interested.

Oddly enough, the graphics feel almost as dated as game plays. Though it has that nice, polished shine most Xbox games have, it also has uninteresting, poorly detailed graphics, more akin to the original PlayStation. I’ve been to this Mansion, albeit many years ago, and I don’t remember it being this dreary and uninviting. Given the right art direction, this could have been one heck of a great licensed game, but instead we’re stuck with yet another missed opportunity.

This was not the first game this year to be based on a popular Disneyland ride;\fans of swashbuckling action were treated to the Pirates of the Caribbean. In a lot of ways the Haunted Mansion better lends itself to the video game format, and has been the backdrop for a number of successful games. While this game may not live up to the quality of Resident Evil, it’s a whole lot better than Pirates of the Caribbean. At this rate, by the time they’re ready to release the Swiss Family Robinson game it may actually be worth buying.

The game lacks that certain energy you look for in a game, and worse yet, it never seems to pick up, no matter how many rooms you light up. After awhile the puzzles feel more like chores than a fun diversion from your real life. While these puzzles may be different in each room, they generally aren’t very interesting, which certainly makes it hard to justify finishing the adventure.

The Haunted Mansion isn’t without its moments, unfortunately those moments can be found in much better Xbox games. By no means is this a bad game, but to say it’s anything more than your average 3D action game with dash of puzzle is going too far. This is a game that could have been better had it sets its sites a little higher, as it is, the Haunted Mansion is a one way ticket to dullsville.
It’s not that the Haunted Mansion does anything wrong, it’s just that every other game on the Xbox does everything so much better!

Rating: 6.6 Mediocre

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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