Haunt preview: Spirited entertainment [update]

During a visit to NanaOn-Sha's Tokyo headquarters, I had the opportunity to try Haunt, the company's new XBLA Kinect game. And despite the superficial, high-level similarity to Rise of Nightmares -- both are "scary" Kinect games in which you can walk around freely -- Haunt couldn't be a more different experience. NanaOn-Sha founder Masaya Matsuura classified it as more of a "haunted house" experience. Think Casper. Think profoundly charming.

The Haunt demo begins on rails, on a cart guided down a railway like a haunted house ride, but that's just to ease you into the game. And, like any good haunted house, as you're slowly clack-clacking your way through the halls, spooooooky ghosts and skellingtons jump out to scare you. You dodge and avoid taking damage by moving your body to one side.%Gallery-134582% After that, the demo opened up, and I was free to walk around a haunted mansion (by walking in place). One hand controls an on-screen flashlight, which is used not just to help see the environment, but to focus on objects. Certain things in each room can be interacted with, which is done with hand gestures using the non-flashlight hand. I opened a sarcophagus by making a "pulling" motion, and opened doors with pushes and pulls.

At one point, I had to sneak past a giant eyeball at the end of a hallway. I could only walk when its eyelid closed, and had to stand perfectly still when opened. According to NanaOn-Sha's Dewi Tanner, the full version of the game forces everyone in the room to freeze, but that feature was wisely turned off for Tokyo Game Show.

During my stay in the mansion, I fought a few ghosts, in an interface best described as Punch-Out!! meets Ghostbusters. The game prompts the player to dodge or duck in a certain direction to avoid an attack, then counter with a punch or kick. Once I stunned the ghost in this manner, I drained its life bar by holding the flashlight on it.

I had a bit of trouble with Kinect reading my movements -- I routinely had to make the grabbing motion two or three times to open doors, and one ghost (and the Kinect) simply failed to notice my powerful punches. I've found that I have difficulty in many Kinect games, though, perhaps because my movements are too subtle (especially when I can feel the gaze of, say, the creator of Parappa the Rapper). The "walking" motion worked well, and I had little trouble using that and the flashlight to navigate through the (not really) creepy mansion.

Haunt appears to be designed to take into account some inaccuracy with the controls. Even when I could only pull off every other punch, I was able to defeat the evil, evil ghost. I hope the controls work out well in the long run, because Haunt is an interesting hybrid of Kinect minigame-ness and exploration-based adventure. And it's so, so charming.

Update: Originally claimed that the "whole room freeze" requirement for the eyeball enemy was in a previous version of the game; that has been corrected to note that it will be in the full game, but was not present in the TGS demo.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.