Developer: Retrotainment Games
Publisher: Retrotainment Games
Platform: NES, PC (soon)
Tested on: NES
Haunted Halloween ’85 – Review
Retro enthusiasts rejoice, we have a rather amusing title for you today. While Haunted Halloween ’85 is currently making its way onto Steam, Retrotainment started off by releasing the game on a physical Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge. This means that it’s the perfect time to bust out your NES (or clone system) and take a trip down memory lane. This new – old – title did not only come as a surprise for us, it is amazing to see that these old consoles are still getting some (well deserved) love. Now, is this one of those situations where we can start off with ‘back in the days when things were better’ ?
As the title of the game may already suggest, we go back in time to 1985, when the NES was still brand new and the world looked a bit different. We’ll get to follow Donny Johnstown, who is coincidentally from Johnstown. It’s clear that Donny loves his NES a lot, as he gamed until the crack of dawn, fell asleep and now he’s running late for school. Even though it’s possible he wouldn’t care otherwise, this time it’s business. If he doesn’t arrive at school on time, or at least before they do the role calls, he will not be allowed to go to the Halloween Dance. Again this would not be a real issue, if it weren’t for Tami, who he’d like to hold hands with (risky business!). Rushing as fast as he can, he’ll have to take several shortcuts on the way.
Upon his arrival the place is completely trashed and everyone turned into ghoulish beings, ranging from zombies to ghosts. Not only will he have to fight to save his own life, but possibly the entire town and his sweetheart Tami.
Even though the story is rather simplistic, it’s a very appealing one and certainly suits some of the storylines that you could have found on the original NES console. That being said, there is actually a lot of story content, as in-between all of the levels you’ll get a bit of text to read through, which was quite uncommon back in 1985. You’d usually have to read the story in the manual that came with the game or you were treated to some lines of text at the beginning of the game, and, if you were lucky, you’d get more than simply ‘the end’ after beating the game.
Well, seeing the game has been released on an actual NES cartridge, the graphical quality is pretty much what you can expect from this retro entertainment system. Nonetheless, the 8 bit graphics for this title are rather refreshing, seeing the characters have a decent amount of details to them and they move extremely fluently. Especially Donny’s punching combos have a nice flow to them.
For a title that runs on ‘obsolete’ hardware, there are a lot of different environments and each of them has a very nice and detailed backdrop, with some Easter eggs hither and thither. All in all, this is a very beautiful and fun looking title for something that could have been released in 1985.
The retro chiptune-esque soundtrack is simply superb. While some of the songs are a tad more timid than others, they all have rather catchy tunes, which some other NES titles used to lack. Some tunes are a bit more grim, while others get your blood pumping. The sound effects themselves are rather basic, but they suit the game perfectly.
Haunted Halloween ’85 is a traditional action platformer, which means you’ll be punching your way through zombies and other ghoulish creatures, all while avoiding traps and pitfalls. While the gameplay will prove to be extremely straightforward, there are a few things this game does extremely well, compared to many other titles from back in the day.
Before starting the game for the first time, it might be advised to consider which difficulty you want to start on, as the game itself isn’t that easy. You’ll have to wade through different levels, all with a decent amount of enemies, some easy to dispose of, while others require a bit more skill. While you can only punch with Donny, he can also do a special move, namely an uppercut, which does a lot more damage. Nonetheless, normal punches will do just fine, and are easier to time and aim.
Every level consists out of several different zones, and when you should perish along the way, you will not start at the beginning of the level, but at the entrance of the last zone you were in. At least, until you run out of lives and have to use a continue (of which you have nine), then you’ll have to redo the entire level. The formula is pretty much the same every time, namely there are parts you’ll get loads of enemies come at you at once, tricky platformer sections and a boss that awaits you at the end of every stage.
The HP system in Haunted Halloween ’85 is quite original. Instead of having hearts or a health bar, Donnie will slowly turn pale and afterwards green, after every hit he takes. You’ll slowly turn into a zombie if you’re not careful, but there are a decent amount of health pick-ups and extra lives to be found in the different stages. While these are not always that accessible, it’s fun to think about how to reach some of the pick-ups. Things become even harder when you keep in mind that, just like in the original Super Mario you can’t backtrack, thus whatever falls ‘off the screen’, will remain there.
Even though the game is extremely smooth in terms of gameplay, it does have a few things that were also quite typical for other NES games. At times the hit detection isn’t all that precise, meaning that some enemies hit you, while they aren’t actually touching you and vice versa. Sometimes on uneven surfaces, the jump command will not properly register, thus making you run into an obstacle, or fall to your demise. Small issues, and when you know where they trigger, they are easily avoided.
Even though the game does have several different levels, the overall content is just like during the NES’ lifespan rather slim, but it’s the difficulty that adds a lot of length to the game. Nonetheless, compared to some older games, this game offers a lot of diversity and content.
Haunted Halloween ’85 is a refreshing trip down memory lane, and above all, a qualitative one. Retrotainment proves that ‘old’ games are still very pleasant and have actual solid gameplay. If you’re in for some old-school action platforming, enveloped in a pleasant theme and visuals, and have an old NES sitting in the closet, this game might just be that excuse to hook it up again, and start beating up some zombies.