Games 10/5/10: Haunted House, Coin Push Frenzy

Haunted House
Reviewed for: Wii
Also available for: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade, Windows PC
From: ImaginEngine/Atari
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (language, mild blood, mild cartoon violence)

The 1982 Atari 2600 game “Haunted House” is treasured for numerous reasons, but user-friendliness never was one of them. Even by the 2600’s standards, it was intimidatingly cryptic — which, for purposes of exploring a haunted house in complete darkness, is an arguable asset rather than a liability.

The new “House” isn’t nearly so bold, because in this age and in its reincarnated state as a family-friendly game, it cannot afford to be. So there’s a storyline, there are objectives, and the house actually looks like a house instead of a series of barren, indistinguishable rooms. Players still control an avatar that’s nothing but a pair of eyeballs in darkened rooms, but that darkness no longer is pitch black, and using readily available light sources turns the eyes into a full character.

Those who would’ve liked to see Atari buck convention and deliver a game as insanely imposing as the original will doubtlessly be disappointed by just about every word in the above paragraph.

But if the goal is to freshen up an old property for a new audience — and, in the process, deliver that rare Halloween-themed game that isn’t tagged with blood, violence and an M rating from the ESRB — this is a job well done.

Primarily, that’s because “House” preserves the original game’s gameplay style in spite of all it changes. The action still takes place from an overhead perspective, and players still freely explore each stage of the mansion while searching for keys and other items that open new passageways, illuminate darkened areas and ward off ghosts and other enemies. The controls are as straightforward as ever, and motion control gimmickry is kept to a minimum.

The new enhancements aren’t half-bad, either. The cartoony graphical style is appealing and colorful without betraying the mood, and “House” finds a very happy medium by telling much of its story through collectible letters and journals that give players something else to discover (and also keep them playing the game instead of watching needless cutscenes).

“House’s” softer difficulty will be a bone of contention for the 1982 crowd, but while the game doesn’t punish players, it also doesn’t roll over. Skilled older players likely will find much of it too easy, but kids and novices should find the difficulty just right, and “House’s” support for two-player local co-op makes it a terrific game for parents and older siblings to play with younger or less experienced members of the household. It isn’t as spooky with a second character in the room, but taking on the mansion as a team makes for a fun wrinkle to the formula.


Coin Push Frenzy
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Freeverse/ngmoco
iTunes Store Rating: 4+
Price: Free

“Coin Push Frenzy” isn’t so much a game as a fiendishly faithful simulation of the coin push game (insert quarter, watch it fall and hope it pushes other quarters off the platform) normally seen at arcades and carnivals. Playing takes no skill beyond tapping to drop a coin in a specific spot, and players lay at the mercy of the same cruel physics that betray them in the real thing. Somehow, the compulsion to try again also carries over, and “Frenzy” goes further by dotting the coin pile with prize boxes that contain powerups and collectables good toward unlocking new machine themes. “Frenzy’s” conduit for compulsion doesn’t require any monetary investment on players’ part, but the truly hooked might pay up anyway: The game’s free, the first 50 coins are free, and “Frenzy” restocks that 50-coin allowance with a free coin either every 30 seconds (when playing) or three minutes (when not). That sounds plentiful, but when you’re tapped out, hooked and reduced to slowly playing one coin at a time for minimal impact, those in-app purchases — $1 for 250 coins, $4 for 1,000 — are a tantalizing shortcut to replenished riches. Why those riches even matter is beyond rationalization, considering this is a non-game with nothing but fake rewards at stake, but the dangerous “one more coin!” sensation is as hard to shake as it is to explain.