I am a big wimp. The tension of waiting for something to happen, for something to jump out at me has always been too much for my delicate disposition to handle and I’ve never been able to experience, never mind enjoy, the horror genre. For this reason, Glitchy Pixel’s Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror and its role-reversal appealed to me. I would be able to step over to the other side of horror and vent years of frustration, instilling sheer terror in others while I cackled maniacally, twiddling my moustache. Instead, I got a basic, repetitive puzzle game.
Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror puts you in the ectoplasm of one Mr. Henry B. Knight, a ghost bent on driving away any poor soul who dares to enter his manor. In theory, this is a very cool premise. It’s rare that a horror (or horror-inspired) game puts you in the position of scarer, as opposed to the scared one. And, in theory, scaring the wits out of unsuspecting NPCs is an incredibly fun and novel prospect. In theory.
Instead, Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror takes a unique and exciting set-up and delivers a sometimes fun, but more often repetitive, simplistic puzzler that has more in common with a Rubik’s Cube than Resident Evil.
Poltergeist’s puzzles are based around rooms, their tenants and ghostly powers with which to loosen bodily functions. Each tenant has hit points – indicating the number of times they have to be scared to chase them from the building – and can only be scared by using powers within the room where they are situated. These powers range from shaking furniture, making noises to lure tenants and throwing objects between rooms.
The challenge comes from the limited number of times you can use each power (which varies on a level-to-level basis) and the availability of power uses within each room. The game is quick to throw a spanner in the works, too, with GhostHunters (who look EXACTLY like Ghostbusters, proton packs included) and Witches among the special characters who can block certain abilities – rendering them useless.
Poltergeist doesn’t really have a discernible difficulty curve with the answer to some puzzles obvious from the get-go whilst others require numerous tries and plenty of memorisation to overcome. It’s a bit all over the place and you never quite feel like you’re actually getting a hang of the game.
On Vita, the game is entirely touch controlled with powers appearing as little icons along the bottom of the screen which can then be unleashed by selecting corresponding icons within the maps. Glitchy Pixel supposedly struggled in porting Poltergeist to Vita and it shows – it often takes two or three prods for the game to recognise what you’re trying to do. It’s very frustrating.
The pixel art style appears just as charming as it always does and, at first glance, the game is a joy to look at. But the more time you spend with Poltergeist, some aspects of the design and presentation leave the game feeling amateurish. Levels feel like an endless assortment of bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens slapped together in random and illogical combinations to suit the puzzles as opposed to creating any sort of setting. And when you fail a puzzle, some text drops from the top of the screen to let you know, slowly bouncing to a halt in an odd, out-of-place animation that feels a bit like ‘look what we can do.’
As a puzzle game, Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror works due to the omnipresent challenge offered by its many levels. But the core gameplay just isn’t strong enough to scare away the looming presence of repetitiveness. Combine this with some dodgy controls and weird presentation, and scaring people in Poltergeist is nowhere near as fun as scaring people in real life.