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Hauntii Review: A Hauntingly Beautiful Ghostly Game

Platform(s): PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox Game Pass, Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Twin Stick Shooter, Puzzles, Bullet Hell, Adventure, Emo, Dark, Horror

Video games are an art medium. Some people tend to focus too much on realistic next-gen graphics while there are indie games out there with lush, timeless art styles and aesthetics that look like actual works of art. Hauntii is one of those games.

Developed by Moonloop Games, Hauntii is their debut game; a hand-drawn twin-stick shooter about a ghost trying to escape eternity with visuals and art that will appeal the most to those emos and goths out there (I should know, I was and still am one, it was never a phase).

Wandering In The Afterlife

In Hauntii, you play as a soul or ghost named Hauntii freshly reaped from the land of the living and dropped into the afterlife. The game begins with them attempting to ascend to a higher plane but something goes wrong as massive chains burst from the ground and pull them back down. That’s how the journey in the afterlife begins in Hauntii, as players will explore the different realms in the afterlife to find out how to move on while also learning about who they were in their past life. The biggest highlight and absolute best aspect of Hauntii is its (pardon the pun) haunting and immersive art style, aesthetics and visuals combined with its tone and atmosphere. At first glance, the game may look and sound depressing and grim but it’s not. The tone of the game is more hopeful despite dealing with death and the afterlife, and it all feels charming in a melancholy and atmospheric sort of way.

The game employs a unique hand-crafted art style, making use of line art, animation and a striking two-tone palette. It’s a world of intricate doodles and drawings in ballpoint pen, almost like the game jumped directly off the pages of a sketchbook and onto the screen. These hand-drawn visuals look so vibrant that they make Hauntii so refreshing and unique compared to other games. The combination of a hand-drawn art style, detailed line art, a striking two-tone palette, and seamless animation creates a dynamic world that’s gorgeous and exciting to explore. Each new realm that we visit has a completely new vibe, from the calming woods and woodlands to a sprawling city with giant ominous towers. One of the most memorable locations in Hauntii is a huge carnival area where there’s so much going on, with attractions like rollercoasters and shooting galleries that you can engage with.

What about the gameplay? Well, since this is a twin-stick shooter, shooting orbs at enemies is one of two skills Hauntii has at their disposal. The second is a Haunting or possession ability that lets them jump into and possess both animated and inanimate objects and then use their special ability. This is the game’s main mechanic to solve puzzles. For instance, possessing stone pillars and moving them to open a portal to the next area, and even possessing other ghosts in the afterlife to use their particular skills. My favourite use of the Haunting ability mechanic is when Hauntii’s ghost can possess a rollercoaster and ride it. There’s even a boss battle where you have to possess a rollercoaster and navigate through a track of obstacles before smacking the boss with said rollercoaster. Yeah, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

However, your Haunting and shooting orb abilities aren’t limitless. Gathering small triangle pieces is essential to keeping your energy gauge filled, and you’ll need to keep it topped up by finding them in environments and picking them up from downed enemies. That being said, this isn’t much of a chore because they’re literally all over the place so they’re not exactly scarce or hard to find. You also have a dodge ability, so you can zip around to dodge some of the bullet hell combat encounters.

The biggest objective and major mechanic of the game is to complete puzzles and collect collectibles called Stars. There are a diverse variety of puzzles to complete in Hauntii and they form the main gameplay loop of the game. Stars are collectibles that you must collect in order to progress to the next area and advance the game’s story. In the context of the game’s narrative, the Stars are used to build Constellations. When each Constellation is complete, they uncover a piece of the story of Hauntii’s past life. The music is also great at elevating the atmosphere and making everything feel even more immersive. The soundtrack is by composer Michael Kirby Ward. It sways and swells with the action on-screen, creating a captivating audiovisual experience.

Puzzles And Combat

All that being said, it’s important to note that Hauntii has a bit of a balance issue and identity crisis. Although it’s a twin-stick shooter with bullet hell elements, the first half of the game feels relaxing and meticulous, with more emphasis on puzzles and a slower pace. However, the second half of the game suddenly becomes much more combat-focused in the late stages of the game. Why is this a problem? There are only three stats you can upgrade in Hauntii; the number of dashes you can execute consecutively, how much ammo you have AKA how long you can shoot before having to reload and lastly, the amount of health which manifests in the form of hearts.

Earlier in the game, Hauntii felt more like a puzzle game so I didn’t upgrade my health. The basic three hearts were just fine (you lose one heart each time you get hit or damaged). However, in the second half of the game, when the gameplay suddenly started to focus more on combat, the game started throwing swarms of enemies and a bunch of boss battles at me, sometimes consecutively. This was a bit jarring and I started to die a lot more often. This forced me to use all my remaining upgrades from then on for health upgrades and to increase my number of hearts just to avoid frustrating cheap deaths.

Other flaws and issues in Hauntii include a checkpoint system that can be annoying. There are checkpoint systems around the game, which is also where you can save the game. Their placements can be an annoyance because you’ll respawn far from where you were. Not only that, if you completed a puzzle but didn’t manage to collect the Star before dying, you’ll have to repeat the whole puzzle again after respawning. In addition, you can’t check the local map of each region you visit, since there’s only a wider world map that you can check. This makes navigation feel like a chore and a waste of time because you won’t know where things are and you’ll have to remember where things are. If not, you’re just aimlessly wandering around like a lost soul (yeah, that may fit the theme of the game, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying, gameplay-wise).

Last but not least, the fixed camera angle perspective. The camera is fixed, but it changes angles and perspectives by zooming in or out to emphasise certain scenes and provide direction to the player. This normally wouldn’t be an issue, as it makes the game look more cinematic. However, it’s another thing entirely during combat or certain platforming sections in some puzzles. There were many times I died just because I couldn’t clearly see where the enemies were or fell off a platform because my view was always obstructed or the camera was either panning too far or too close. Since I can’t control the camera, this can make certain sections hard to play because you can’t see what you want to see, which caused more cheap deaths.

It took me about a bit more than 7 hours to reach the end of Hauntii, but if you’re a completionist and want to collect all the Star collectibles, it should easily last a couple of more hours.

Ghosts Deserve Love Too

Pairing the bullet hell twin-stick shooting with a slow contemplative story and emphasis on puzzles is a strange combination, but Hauntii makes it work. It has its flaws, but the hauntingly beautiful visuals make the Hauntii a game that is worth experiencing to the end.

PROS

  • The hauntingly beautiful art style, aesthetics and visuals.
  • The puzzles in the game are fun to complete and engage with, and there are a variety of them.
  • Great music from the composer makes the game feel even more immersive.

CONS

  • It’s a jarring switch from the relaxing slow pacing at the start to ramping up focus on combat in the late stages of the game.
  • Some flaws such as a fixed camera angle and perspective that can cause cheap deaths and make gameplay during combat frustrating.

 

FINAL SCORE: 80/100

Review copy provided by the publisher. Game to launch for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC on 24 May 2024.

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