Hauntia review: an adventure as pretty as it looks


Hauntii opens the scene with a rather magical opening sequence. A beam of lightweight shoots out from a mysterious planet, and a close-up reveals that it’s an asteroid, but not just any asteroid: a teardrop-shaped crystal with a minuscule ghost nestled inside. You wake up to this minuscule ghost, who it turns out crashed into Eternity (and who, it turns out, is named Hauntii). You soon run into a ghostly girl who leads you to a tower that launches you both to higher ground – but while she ascends, you’re pulled back down at the last moment by some underground chains. And so, as Hauntii, you journey through Eternity to discover who this girl was and, ultimately, how to ascend to those heavenly skies yourself.

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You’ll probably be cheerful to know that Eternity isn’t an endless series of procedurally generated mansions where you watch celebrities pretend to be afraid of creaking doors. Instead, it is divided into a series of worlds, each of which consists of several stages. Many of these stages are presented as easy-to-follow paths of lightweight, with playgrounds chipping away from them. There is an ever-present danger, however, because if you spend a little too much time in the gloomy sea between these tracks, the music distorts and purple demons grab you from outside. It’s a lot like Super Mario Odyssey: you’re encouraged to explore every inch of a spherical space full of secrets and curiosities.

By defeating enemies and haunting things, you’ll earn crystals and special world tokens. You can trade them with merchants who sell nothing but humorous hats. There are wizard hats, cat ears, beer hats. It’s a lot of fun and I’m into it. | Image Source: Rock Paper Shotgun/Firefire

Much like Super Mario Odyssey, your progression through these worlds isn’t entirely linear. It is linear in the sense that one stage can naturally lead to another, but at significant moments you’re kept in check by the number of stars you’ve crammed into your spooky backpack. A certain number of stars are hidden around each stage, and you’re tasked with collecting as many as you can, whether by exploring optional stages or by diligently spotting a flicker on the main path. I also don’t have to worry about replaying aged stages, since I’m as diligent as a stadium security guard and have never been frustrated by having to boost my star count. And even if you do have to hunt down a few stars, convenient extra zones always spring up like incredible oases.

The thing is, these stars don’t just sit on benches and smoke vapes. To catch them, you’ll mainly need to complete puzzles in which you’ll operate your superpower: haunting things by spitting energy balls at them. Hit something that will display a yellow icon and you know you’ll be able to take control of it. For example, you can scare ladybugs, which allow you to glide through the trees – the animation here is wonderful as you swing back and forth with a tiny umbrella placed between your legs – to reach higher spaces. You can haunt bells to make them jingle, or you can haunt dogs with ghosts to reunite them with their worried owners.

Many of Hauntia’s puzzles involve picking out clues in each of its clever playgrounds and then figuring out what needs to be solved or how you can navigate the gloomy sea to get to the suspicious island of lightweight in the distance. It’s about haunting these skittish witches whose backpacks spill lightweight, providing you with makeshift stones to tread on. Or possessing a creature that can trample and operate them to drive sequences of tree trunks into the ground. Or about becoming a bell at a fair when a titanic spirit hits you upwards with a hammer, launching you to a recent place.

Hauntii surrounded by friends at the carnival.

Ghost fight in Hauntia.

Image source: Paper and Stone Shotgun/Firestoke

In Hauntia there is a huge bell that dominates.
Eternity is gorgeous and sometimes I wonder if it’s one of the most pretty games I’ve ever seen. Everything is hand-drawn with a two-tone palette that lends itself to an ethereal feel, where almost everything sways or shimmers at a low frame rate, giving the impression of a grand odyssey contained within the notebook, but if only that notebook had come to life. Image Source: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fire Fire

The puzzles certainly get more intricate later on, but they’re never really challenging. And I think that’s nice, because it lets you progress through each level at a pace that’s consistent with the game’s laid-back feel. Sure, some of the progression paths can be a little confusing at times, and some of the worlds can drag on a bit longer than you’d like, but those complaints pale in comparison to the joy of embodying things massive and tiny to get each celebrity out of their rented apartment.

Sometimes, rewarding the stars means turning to violence. Hauntii is a twinstick shooter in this sense, as the orbs you spit out can damage hostile spirits or clear some of the darkness swept by tougher enemies onto safe and sound surfaces, causing those demonic hands from the afterlife to grab you. Coupled with your momentum, the fights are never super challenging, but they’re challenging enough and have an immediacy that contrasts nicely with the game’s scribbles and low frames. Again, you’ll often have to haunt things to boost your strength or defeat enemies that pose problems that Hauntii’s default orbs can’t crush. Like plants that look like Bellsprouts that spew giant acorns from their mouths, or devilish shadows with fireworks strapped to their backs whose pyrotechnics work wonders on flying ghouls.

However, over time, the ghosts become stronger. To match their training regime, stations dotted around the map allow you to stick your stars into the night sky and create constellations. Completed constellations earn you shards that you can put together, permanently boosting one of Hauntia’s three stats: health, momentum, or essence (orb spitting). It may be a plain system, but I like how it gives the stars an extra dimension where they are not just passports, but a currency that makes them more powerful.

Hauntii forms a constellation.
Image Source: Rock Paper Shotgun/Firefire

Or maybe one of my favorite accents is the addition, additional dimension to complete these constellations. Every time you create a shiny rabbit or a shiny boat in the night sky, you’ll witness a very brief cutscene of a life you once lived. It’s presented as a thought bubble, where line drawings – reminiscent of the Nintendo DS’s Flipnote Studio – show us cheerful or gloomy moments. And often the simplest moments, where Hauntii might come across a whale in an aquarium and through a few scribbles you can see the happiness radiating from it. I think it’s really brilliant that these stars act as a way to strengthen Hauntii’s resolve as she pieces together who she was and why she left. I was predictably in pieces after some of these tiny scenes.

Hauntia’s stages are pretty counterpoints to the introspective Constellation sequences, where the world pulses at a composed or playful pace, all supported by a Michael Kirby Ward soundtrack that bounces and swells at just the right moments. I like that the ghosts live in playful communities and are cheerful little boys and girls with adorable smiles. The world and its inhabitants just feel right, like a dysfunctional underworld family that isn’t necessarily out to get you. Sometimes the camera zooms out and lets you see it all, and one rollercoaster sequence early on struck me as a sense of disbelief. The Quadruple A games certainly couldn’t compare to that.

Every time I mention Hauntia, I get a “what?” or a slap from a friend who’s looking. They always say, “Wow, that looks amazing, I’ve never heard of that.” And that’s not a flaw in the game, but rather its relative out-of-nowhereness felt quite enjoyable. That I had to rave about an adventure game this pretty, unpretentious, and clever before it was released to the masses. It’s a selfish feeling that rarely accompanies us in this job, and in encouraging you to try this game, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction in pulling back the curtain. Don’t sleep on Hauntia, for God’s sake.

This review is based on the test version of the game provided by the game developer.

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