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Haunting Starring Polterguy is a unique title for the Mega Drive and Sega Genesis. Whereas typically in games it’s best to avoid troublesome ghosts, in this you get to play as one!
After being hit by a truck while on a faulty skateboard, the kid you play as (Polterguy) decides to seek revenge on the manufacturer and his family, known as the Sardini’s. I’m not sure why he wasn’t just looking where he was going, why he didn’t decide to target the lorry driver instead or why Vito (the Father) looks like Alan Partridge on the European cover art, but I guess it doesn’t matter too much.
The game explains the basic premise with typical early 90s “radical” attitude. Bart Simpson was all the rage back then and while Bill and Ted tried to teach us to all to “be excellent to each other”, it’s much more fun to be mischievous. You’re given a quick tutorial of how to interact with objects and scare the family, and this is what the game is all about.
At the bottom of the screen you have an “Ecto Meter” which keeps track of all your ectoplasm. Over time, this depletes slowly, but you can collect more for each time you scare a family member as they leave the room. The goal is to cause all of the Sardini’s to run out of the house screaming and have a lot of fun doing so. The sheer number of objects you can interact with is really impressive.
Once you’ve scared everyone out of the house, the Sardini family move into a new home and you get to do it all over again. There’s 4 in total to play through with a boss at the very end. Each house has a different layout with new objects to interact with. You won’t get a chance to use all of them in your first playthrough, which is what gives this game it’s core replay value. Trust me, you’ll want to try and see everything!
Where this game doesn’t do so well is when you run out of ectoplasm. Unfortunately it takes you to an underworld dungeon where you must collect more ecto to refill your meter, avoiding enemies or you will die. This is the only way you can die, even though you’re technically dead already…?! You can also find some power-ups here later on which can prove useful, such as items to distract the family dog, replenish your ecto meter or leave a super scary gift for the family.
The worst part of these areas is the jump mechanic. For some reason if you jump too near a wall you bounce away from it which can be really frustrating. The final boss exists in this area at the end of the game and the aiming and hit detection for that is also painful to endure. The controls in general are quite “floaty”, but this is forgivable seeing as you play as a ghost.
One other thing some people may find slightly annoying is that when you scare a family member out of a room, you have no real control over which exit they take. Sometimes they can keep going back into the room they were previously in, but they will eventually go a different way if you persevere.
Interestingly, there is a 2 player mode. You must take it in turns to try and scare the family out in as quick a time as possible. If the times are the same, the winner is based on points. The only areas you play alongside each other is in the dungeons, but I guess it’s still an interesting feature if you have a friend over, as you’ll get the opportunity to see more object interactions in one playthrough, provided they don’t just copy all your movements.
There’s not much in the way of music, possibly due to the fact that there’s a lot of sound effects which play a more important role. The main focus here is obviously the gameplay, graphics and animation which this game does really well. It’s very impressive for a 16-bit isometric title.