June 17, 2024
Explore the afterlife and haunt everything in isometric adventure Hauntii, but is eternity fun? The Finger Guns review:

Hauntii is the debut from studio Moonloop Games. The studio has described the game as a contemplative adventure into the afterlife. May has been extremely busy with games that could fall into the category of best of the year. I’ve played Crow Country, Indika, and Paper Trail back to back, so I was apprehensive before booting up Hauntii.

I tend to get into a flow of other titles’ gameplay that it’s oftentimes hard to pick up something fresh. However, that was far from the case after the opening moments of Hauntii. I was immediately struck with that specific excitement of knowing I was about to embark on something special. Let’s get into why, in such a stacked May, you should consider playing Hauntii sooner, rather than later.

This Is The Wrong Italian Mansion

You play as the titular Hauntii, a ghost who’s awoken in Eternity with no recollection of their living life. The fellow souls that live in Eternity are pretty content to live out their afterlife on the plane outside of space and time forever. But for Hauntii, not so much, as they’re compelled to ascend the mysterious Tower with their companion Eternian. No one knows the origins of Eternians, only that their abilities power the structures within Eternity, but they are not trusted.

The premise is simple enough, delivered in an understated manner that puts it onto you, the player, to piece the narrative together. This is by and large the main gameplay loop that you’ll spend the 10 or so hours in. From the isometric perspective, you explore Eternity to uncover all of the game’s secrets, discovering memory stars along the way. These memory stars are either hidden in the map, earnt through various activities like races, defeating enemies, haunting the right objects, or simply bought.

The most interesting power is the aforementioned haunting. You fire balls known as essence to defeat enemies but also to do the said haunting, where you take full control of the object or being. The game utilises the ability perfectly by making every unique haunt either quirky, brilliant, or both and feels very reminiscent of Mario Oddysey or Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The game hits that sweet spot of jovial ingenuity that Nintendo titles are well-known for and hard to replicate, but Moonloop Games kind of nails it.

Haunt Me? Haunt You!

Hauntii is part collectathon puzzler, part twin-stick shooter by design, creating a wonderful ebb and flow of the moment to moment gameplay. You have your shoot tied to the right analogue stick and a dash with the cross button and outside of the L2 to unhaunt the objects you possess, that’s pretty much it. There’s a simplicity to the design that makes it immediately pick up and play.

The memory stars you seek out drive the narrative, filling you in on Hauntii’s memory piece by piece as you add them to constellations in a menu. You’ll find an altar scattered across the different levels that can send you to this menu and it’s not just the story you’re rewarded with, but upgrades. Completing a constellation gives you the ability to either enhance your Health, Dash, or Essence.

There are no abilities locked behind progression, so you can, in theory, complete each level along the way. I appreciate there’s no need for any backtracking, but with how tremendously hidden the memory stars are I found myself chasing after them like a silly goose. This is me being a foolish completionist though because the game doesn’t require you to collect all of them to beat the game, but with it being so fun to play I wanted to find it all.

Exploring The Afterlife

Eternity is broken up into four sectors that you’ll venture across. The results vary in how fun they are to explore with an outstanding highlight being the theme park. The sprawling and multifaceted pathways, buildings, fauna, and objects to haunt are brimming with detail. There’s great verticality, despite having no jump ability and many hard-to-find paths for secrets to discover. The theme park is like A Nightmare Before Christmas with its ghoulish decor, bewitching NPCs, and thrilling rides – all of which are rideable.

I do, however, wish there was a better way to track the things you are missing or an in-game map to help you find your bearings. There’s no real way of knowing what you’re seeking, only the amount of stars on the overview map you have left to find. And it’s not just stars you’re looking for, as there are also coins to buy hats that lead to a trophy/achievement for finding them all. It’s a minor hiccup for someone that loves finding everything but struggles to keep track – a wonderful dichotomy.

The hats are more for adding personality to your Hauntii, you’ll find bowler hats, tiaras, cowboy hats – basically, if it’s a head accessory, the game probably has it. I didn’t find a way to take mine off though, so you better like wearing hats as they may be stuck to you for eternity.

Twin Stick Spooker

The combat starts off unthreatening and a lot of fun. The enemies are parts of darkness from Eternity that have been corrupted, making the types you face vast. Some are smaller and more benign, some might fly and some are troublesome testaments that provide a lot of challenge. You can of course shoot them with your essence but some may need more effective methods and require you to haunt objects to defeat them.

They can also leave their darkness on the floor which your essence can clean up, but if you don’t and continue to shoot, you won’t be able to reload. This turns it into a much more thoughtful process of dodging attacks and the darkness on the ground and shooting non stop to keep up the pressure. There are some real skill check moments in Hauntii, and it gets you thinking in some really creative ways. The encounters are littered in between your puzzle-solving, so the moment-to-moment gameplay is continuously refreshing.

Some factors that dampen this overall feast of exhilarating twin-stick shooting and thoughtful contextual puzzles is the game’s balancing. Often times I found myself low on health and the only way to restore it currently is to defeat more enemies, but if there are none and the environmental puzzles are defeating you, you’re kind of in a horrible deathloop.

And every death takes away from one of your currencies, which was infuriating. There are also some puzzles, namely a race in the Void area, that is unjustifiably finicky and this is the case with a handful of puzzles; too specific parameters without the gameplay to facilitate.

A Scary Look

They are mere blemishes though, as Hauntii from a gameplay standpoint is an absolute blast to experience. Whilst I’m on the topic of blemishes, I want to talk about the art style the game brings to the table. The aesthetic is what initially grabbed me back in one of the many showcases we had last year; I love the almost lino printing style it goes for. The duotone of a rotating selection of colours with the white creates a stark, almost dreary tone to the game.

Hauntii themself is just a shadowy figure with some colourful eyes, but the immediate characterisations of the environments and characters floating around Eternity bring a heartwarming Ghibli vibe. It’s reminiscent of the balls of soot from Spirited Away or more noticeably the Kodama in Princess Mononoke – which I hope is a direct nod to the studio’s artistry in Hauntii, because they nail the complexity of subject matter through an optimistic lens.

And then you have the soundtrack provided by Michael Kirby Ward. It is an absolute delight front to back. Uplifting guitar melodies, gloomy piano leads, contemplative wind instruments – it has it all. Much like the visual design, the music commits as equally to the warmth Hauntii has, despite being stuck in a cold and oppressive void. With the impressive set of tracks there’s also a great dynamic feature that can explode or dissapate, offering some really cinematic moments in the gameplay and adding to that sense of flow I mentioned.

All in all, I’m stumped that I’ve experienced yet another extremely special game in May. Hauntii delivers on every front with its infinitely fun gameplay loop, amazing art style and a soundtrack I immediately want on vinyl. Do not wait to play Hauntii because it’s a clear highlight of 2024.

With immediately satisfying, simple yet vast gameplay, a touching story of death and astounding design, Hauntii will be a title you’ll want to take into the afterlife. There are only a couple of minor balancing issues that may be fixed. To some, the gameplay may not develop enough to be fun the whole way through, but Hauntii will stir your soul and is a 2024 highlight.

Hauntii is available 23rd May 2024 on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.

Developer: Moonloop Games
Publisher: Firestoke

Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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