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Hauntii review – a ghost searches for understanding in the afterlife in this imaginative debut
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Hauntii review – a ghost searches for understanding in the afterlife in this imaginative debut

Hauntii is a twin-stick shooter in the same way Super Mario Bros: Wonder is a game about jumping. This imaginative, breathtakingly beautiful debut from Moonloop Games about a ghost searching for understanding in the afterlife transforms the twitchiest of genres into an expansive, accessible adventure filled with puzzles, surprises, and ideas.

You play a newly departed spirit washed up on the black shores of a purgatorial hereafter, with no recollection of their identity in their previous life. As you thread along winding paths of white light, two goals emerge for you to pursue: find out more about who you were before you died, and chase down a mysterious angelic figure who continually eludes your grasp, like a certain princess absenting a certain castle.

While Hauntii’s play involves some speedy movement (you can only move safely through illuminated areas, for example, forcing you to dash between shadows) it is more of a puzzler than a game about reactions. Its hook is that the ghostly green projectiles that your spirit can shoot can also possess enemies and objects. Possessing a tree (yes, the afterlife has trees) will let you shake it, causing it to drop motes of light that splash on to the ground, creating new pathways between darkened areas.

The afterlife has trees. And ladybirds … Hauntii.View image in fullscreen

You use these powers of possession, alongside your shooting and movement, to seek out collectible stars hidden within the game’s open-ended zones. You might possess a ladybird (the afterlife also has ladybirds) to climb a tree and pluck a star from its canopy, or take control of a ghostly dog to reunite it with its owner, receiving a star as a reward. Each star you collect can be plugged into constellations that let you upgrade your abilities, unlock new areas, and peel back the layers of your spectral amnesia.

If all this sounds a bit … odd, you haven’t heard the half of it. Hauntii’s depiction of life after death is quirky to say the least. The second act takes place in a sprawling circus of the dead, with you possessing vast, looping rollercoasters. And while the game has a tragic undertone, from the soaring musical refrain that plays when you collect a star to the melancholy glimpses of the life you lost, it’s also filled with goofy characters and off-the-wall humour.

It’s also artistically sublime. The monochrome, pointillist art-style might look simple, but it’s brought to un-life through delightful animation. It also builds some mightily impressive scenery from its simple aesthetic. The aforementioned carnival is one, but it also presents vast cityscapes that undulate beneath you as you cross the spoke-like bridges that protrude from the game’s central hub. Later, you explore a ruin-filled desert where the ink-spot sand shifts around your spectre as they move.

Ink spot sand shifts … Hauntii.View image in fullscreen

It’s a beautifully crafted work, held back from greatness by a few annoying gremlins. The isometric perspective, combined with the lack of a zoom function in the game world, can make its larger zones frustrating to navigate. Also, if you die in combat, you respawn with only part of your health restored, forcing you to go sniffing out health-restoring items every time. And while the possession mechanic is always fun and inventively deployed, the puzzles themselves are a little too piecemeal for the game to craft anything truly ingenious from them.

Nonetheless, Moonloop Games pulls off its artful attempt to elevate the humble twin-stick shooter. In a month already stuffed with indie gems, Hauntii is another jewel to add to the glittering pile.

  • Hauntii is out now; from £16.99

Source: theguardian.com