Haunting: Starring Polterguy

Released: 1993
Formats: Mega Drive, PSP (via EA Replay)

EA gets a lot of criticism these days for knocking out games that aren’t exactly innovate. Our take is that this criticism isn’t entirely justified – Boom Blox remains one of our favourite Wii games, physics-based puzzler Create was vastly overlooked, and we’ve heard good things about Henry Hatsworth on DS. Back in the ‘90s though, nobody could say that EA wasn’t willing to experiment with new ideas. The Mega Drive-exclusive Haunting: Starring Polterguy is a fine example, with the idea being to force a family from their home by scaring the pixels out of them.

There’s a reason for doing so – the Saradini family made their fortune selling cheap and faulty skateboards, and now the undead teenager Polterguy wants them to suffer. Obviously trying to relate to the developer’s audience at the time, Polterguy speaks in now-annoying skater speak. Dude!

In order to freak out the family, Polterguy had to possess their furniture until they’d leg it out of the house. Each possession required Ecto – a green goo that family members sometimes left on the ground after being scared silly. Every possession led to a different animation, and this is what gave Haunting a lot of its appeal – the animations were quite creative. Jump into the kitchen table and it oozed blood; possess a guitar and it turned into a snake. Some even gave you control of an object for a few seconds, such as a floating skull. There were over 400 items in total that could be brought to life in some form or another – quite impressive given the limited memory storage of cartridges at the time.

When Polterguy’s Ecto ran dry he’d be taken to an dank underworld dungeon. This was where the game took a tumble for the worst. These sections simply were not fun – giant fists appeared out of the ground without warning, sapping Polterguy’s health, and due to the isometric perspective jumping onto ledges and the like was a pain. The other problem Haunting suffered from is that when you’d seen the possession animations a couple of times they’d become a little bit tedious.

There were four houses to haunt though, with a family dog later making an appearance. The dog was the only character able to detect Polterguy’s presence. Right at the end of the game the dog turned into a giant beast – the final boss.

You kind of got the impression that the idea for Haunting came first – to scare a family out of their home – and then the developer’s struggled with how to actually base a game around this idea. Still, for gamers at the time it provided a change from the usual 2D platformers out there.

2003’s Ghost Master for PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC shared a similar theme but likewise could have done with a bit more flesh on its rather bare bones.

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