Review: Haunted Halloween 86: The Curse of Possum Hollow (Xbox One)

Developer: Retrotainment Games

Publisher: Retrotainment Games

Genre: Action

Platforms: Xbox One, PC

Rating: E for Everyone

Price: $9.99

New games for old systems are usually always an awesome concept and it helps breathe life into our nostalgic memories. Haunted Halloween 85 was the first title from developer Retrotainment Games and it was just like a game from the NES generation, only lovingly made for this generation, even creating a NES physical cartridge for the title. Now, they have brought us a sequel in Haunted Halloween 86: The Curse of Possum Hollow in which Donny, and his girlfriend Tami, will have to battle ghouls, zombies and many other monsters yet again.

Content Guide

Spiritual content: There are otherworldly monsters you face, including ghosts and spirits.

Violence: You punch and fight a variety of different Halloween-based monsters, ghouls, zombies, and other monstrosities. As your character gets hit he slowly turns green and will completely become a zombie if you lose all your hit points.

Review

Once again, Donny and Tami are back in Possum Hollow following the events of Haunted Halloween 85. The town has been infected with zombies, monsters, ghouls, and pretty much any creature you can imagine from classic horror movies. The story in Haunted Halloween 86 is simple, but still compelling enough for an NES title. Apparently, a zombie outbreak triggered a monster apocalypse and now it’s up to you to put an end to the horrors being brought out into the world. The story is presented through cutscenes and conversations between characters, rather than through pages of exposition; this approach makes the game more appealing, helping you get more attached to the pixelated characters.

Haunted Halloween 86 is very much a traditional action platformer, where you’re constantly battling undead foes and avoiding traps/obstacles, culminating in a boss at the end of each chapter. This follows the style of many NES era platformers, games that are very hard and require an insane amount of patience in order to complete. Each chapter is divided into different zones, with the beginning of each zone serving as a checkpoint. If you die, you start from the beginning of the zone, and if you lose all your lives, you restart from beginning of the chapter. Even the save system is old-school, requiring you to enter a password from the title screen in order to pick up where you left off, should you ever need to stop before completing the game.

Each stage in Donny’s journey unlocks new skills which range from dodging, to performing a variety of different punches, to earning a much appreciated double jump. This upgrade differentiates Haunted Halloween 86 from titles during the NES era, giving it a modern feel. With the press of a button, you’re also able to take control of Tami, who is somewhat more agile than Donny, but still performs the same actions. Switching characters acts as an extension of your health-bar, because when one character is close to becoming a zombie, you can switch and play with a fresh character. Certain items automatically heal you when you pick them up, but they only heal whichever character you are currently using.

Looking at the capabilities of the NES, Haunted Halloween 86 is incredibly well crafted in most aspects of its design. Many of the environments feature intricate details, showcasing how Retrotainment Games has put Nintendo’s outdated engine to the test. The vibrant colors, mixed with a dark theme, set the tone perfectly for the horror aesthetic they’re trying to convey. It’s amazing how much work went into this homebrew title and how modern it feels, even with its pure 8-bit aesthetic. My only gripe about the visuals is that sometimes it’s hard to see which part of the backdrop you can interact with or use as a surface, mainly because they are so well blended in the background.

The soundtrack, while true to the time period Haunted Halloween 86 strives for, becomes annoying quickly, failing to do justice to the wondrous chiptune tracks of the NES era. The sound design fits the art aesthetic for purists of the time period, with some tracks reoccurring in specific situations to give it a certain nostalgic flare. However, the grim undertone throughout the game’s score proves very unappealing.

My main complaints stem from the hit detection flaws and the poor jumping physics. Jumping feels unnatural for a platformer, and this is a shame since the title is heavily dependent on platforming challenges. There are also a few instances where enemies spontaneously pop  onscreen —an infamous feature in classic NES games— if I moved quickly through auto-scroll levels.

Overall, Haunted Halloween 86 is a pure nostalgic trip through the best and worst of the NES era. It’s a commendable attempt from Retrotainment Games  with a clear love for the NES, but the enjoyment it provides is incredibly short-lived. Unless you’re a super fan of the NES, you’re better off skipping this one. There are a lot of other games that give you the same nostalgic feeling, while still adding new mechanics and providing a more compelling experience.

Review code generously provided by Retrotainment Games.

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Josh Brant

I love God, my family, friends, and my favorite hobby of all: video games! You can find me podcasting, writing, and trying to enjoy life to its fullest.

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