“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”
– Han Solo
You should never judge a book by its cover. Never have those words been truer than when talking about Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror for the PlayStation Vita. This simple looking puzzle game is easy to dismiss due to its relatively simplistic look, but once you get passed the blemished surface you discover there is something really interesting underneath.
Poltergeist puts you in the role of Henry B. Knight, a loving and devoted husband who was so fond of his wife he built a beautiful mansion just for her. After her passing, and later his, Mr. Knight simply could not bear the thought of tenants living in his abandoned home. Rather than allowing the new occupants to live in peace, the ghost of Henry Knight is determined to scare off these trespassers.
And that is where the game begins. Each one of the 60 levels features a number of rooms with a few people milling about inside. They each have a scare-meter which is the set number of times they can be spooked before running out the door screaming. The player’s goal is to use the haunting tools provided to successfully scare everyone out. Once everyone is gone, the level is finished. Pretty simple, and one nice feature I appreciated is that you’re not graded on your performance. You don’t win extra stars because you finished it quickly. You either beat the level or you don’t.
The game is broken into four different time periods. You start in the Classic Era before working your way through the 80’s, the Modern Era, and the Office Era. Each era gives you 12 different levels and three “boss” levels at the end. As the game progresses the number and variety of ways you can haunt will grow, and so will the challenge of getting everyone out.
In the beginning you can do small tricks, such as knocking over a lamp or tossing a table from one room to the next. Eventually you get the power to create a ghoulish specter in the room that really scares the $#!+ out of people. But there are also new challenges because “ghostbusters” are introduced that can prevent certain haunts from being used. This is where the puzzles start to get really challenging. Certain haunts need to be used in just the right order and in just the right rooms to scare everyone out. Some of these can be extremely challenging, and I found myself having to really think through the process in order to get it. But through trial and error the correct answer reveals itself in time.
The boss levels feature a unique ghost hunter who is really good at thwarting all of your tricks. These levels require you to scare everyone else out first before you can focus on taking out the boss. This ramps the puzzle difficulty up a few notches and suddenly a task that was already a bit complex becomes even more so.
Controlling the game is very straight forward and simple. Everything can be done using the touchscreen, though if you prefer using the sticks and buttons that is also an option (and it means that the game is PS TV compatible). You simply select by tapping the haunt you want to use and then select the object or room you want to use it in.
As for the graphics, well, the subtitle of the game is “A Pixelated Horror” so they are pretty darn pixelated. That’s not to say they’re bad, but visually it is a pretty simple game. No awards are going to be won for its art style, but it is functional. It is definitely not a game that is trying to blow you away with how impressive it looks. In the end, it works and gives the game a unique and memorable look.
The music and sound on the other hand are top notch. The music has a wide variety of different styles and goes from haunting piano riffs that are reminiscent of the theme from The Exorcist to loops of slow, haunting horns. If you get stuck on a level and listen to the same loop over and over (and over) then it can get a bit repetitive, but otherwise it is quite charming. There’s also a good use of a limited number of sound effects for screams and such. They get re-used a bit too often so if you play with the sound turned off, you won’t be missing much.
Poltergeist really surprised me with how much I enjoyed trying to work my way through each puzzle. By gradually introducing new gameplay elements into the mix, things stay fresh and challenging (for the most part) throughout all the levels. I had a lot of fun with this game.
The downside is that once you make it through each of the levels, you’re pretty much done with the game. There is little to no replay value, and so you hope that you got your money’s worth in the first play through.
The only other strike against it is that the challenge for each level can wildly fluctuate throughout the game. Some levels can be really complex and make you think about them for a long time, and then the next level can be so unbelievably easy that you’ll wonder if it’s somehow a trick. I encountered quite a few where I thought, “It can’t really be this simple, can it?” I must have been missing something. But no, some levels are just a breeze.
All in all, Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror manages to do a good job of providing a series of well thought-out puzzles. It’s not a complex game, but it is a very good game. Looking past its minor flaws, Poltergeist is a game that is better than the sum of its parts. If you like puzzle games, and you’re looking for a pixelated good time, then you’ll enjoy Poltergeist.