Haunt is for kids. Just like corny haunted-house rides at carnivals where you roll around in a cart while plastic skeletons are thrust in your face, this Kinect-only, 800-point Xbox Live Arcade game from NanaOn-Sha is all about cheap boos. With that said, you could make a fair case that this is one of those rarities that works well with players of all ages. Developer Masaya Matsuura--of PaRappa the Rapper fame--has crafted a pleasantly spooky ride through a ghost-infested mansion, complete with a story that doesn't take itself seriously and mostly accurate motion controls that capture you walking, punching, dodging, and even covering your ears. In some ways, the game is kind of a Kinect highlight reel that shows the peripheral in its best light most of the time, despite a few moments when it doesn't track you quite as accurately as it should.
The story is a standard take on the old adventure trope about exploring a huge old house inhabited by the usual motley collection of phantasms. You visit a once-grand Victorian residence at the behest of a mutton-chopped gent named Benjy Muldoon, a wealthy eccentric that has somehow become trapped in his own artwork. Freedom comes at the cost of having you gather four vials called phantaflasks, which have the power to fire up a machine that will restore Benjy to his (rather fat and fleshy) corporeal form. Three of these artifacts are swiped by ghosts at the close of the opening tutorial and secreted away in three different wings of the mansion. Each comes with a theme, so in one wing, you deal with ghosts and traps centered on sound; in another, everything is about sight; and in the last, you have to take on movement-based threats. Expect about four or five hours of play. You can tackle these wings in any order you choose, although once you're in, you're in, and you cannot back out to try another one if you get stuck.
Gameplay rolls out as a traditional point-and-click adventure from a first-person perspective, only with real-life movements tracked by the Kinect replacing the pointing and clicking. Most of the time, this works surprisingly well. You use one hand to mimic the action of controlling a flashlight beam that rotates your point of view, and you walk in place to move through the house's darkened corridors while ghosts constantly jump out at you doing everything but shout "Boo!" Opening doors, chests, and dressers is handled with pulls and pushes. Combating ghosts and avoiding traps involve a lot of ducking, dodging to one side or the other, taking roundhouse swings, making sound attacks by screaming, and covering your ears or eyes to prevent damage.
There isn't anything here that is hard to beat, which makes the game particularly good for youngsters and those who value the pleasure of the experience over sheer challenge. It's all rather shallow, although at least the movements don't demand too much of either you or the Kinect. Every time you get gooned by a ghost, instructions pop up onscreen telling you to immediately make moves like "Duck!" and "Dodge!" There is a lot of repetition in the ghost battles as well, so things are a snap once you get into a groove.
Controls can be frustrating at times, however. They occasionally flake out, with the flashlight refusing to properly track your hand movements. You can get stuck on scenery, which forces restarts to get going again. This can lose you a lot of progress because the game only autosaves at the end of levels. Walking can be annoying as well. You have to practically goose-step to make sure that the Kinect tracks you properly. And quick movements during action sequences don't always register. If you duck or dodge too soon or emphasize the movement too much or too little, you wind up getting smacked by your spectral foes. There seems to be a sweet spot that can be hit most of the time, but not all of the time. Thankfully, the combat isn't very tough, and you are constantly rewarded with vitality boosts and vials that keep your health high.
Personality is also a strong point. Haunt doesn't take itself seriously at all. Much of the good humor is provided by Benjy himself, who accompanies you throughout the entire adventure by flitting from portrait to portrait while offering constant quips and tips. The script and voice acting are fantastic, filled with nuance and light jokes. The visual design complements the mood quite well, using a cartoony style that meshes with the lighthearted tone. The mansion is the typical spook house loaded with candle-lit corridors, as well as rooms stocked with dressers and chests filled with various objects you need to open the way forward. Ghosts themselves look like neon takes on Slimer from Ghostbusters, so you know that the game is going for a Saturday-morning cartoon feel instead of a Saturday-night monster chiller movie vibe.
Despite the use of the Kinect technology, Haunt feels like a game from ages past. There is an innocence here that you used to get with the likes of Atari's Haunted House or Sega's Ghost House. That pure sense of fun, plus the reasonable 800-point price, overcomes any issues with the occasionally wonky controls and makes this a must-buy for younger players, nostalgia buffs, and those who just want to try something a little different with their Kinects.