Version tested PlayStation Vita
Now and then, I like to hang around inside a euphonium. I'm sure you can relate to this. What a lark! Down there amongst the brassy folds and shining curves it's such a sweet pleasure to linger and prowl, waiting for just the right moment to pounce. Eventually, an unsuspecting fool will wander past and I'll unleash a lovely C Sharp blast - a real wall-shaker. Sometimes, my victim's so scared by the whole thing that they'll dive out of a nearby window. Obliging of them, really.
Innocent fun perhaps, but it means I was delighted to hear about Haunt the House: Terrortown, a PlayStation Mobile game in which you don the lank white sheet of the blithe undead and knock around a series of buildings frightening the ankle socks off of anybody with a pulse. Terrortown's the sequel to a browser oddity from a few years back, and while you can blast through the whole thing in a cursory fashion in just under an hour, I think it's worth checking out.
Terrortown has mechanics and victory conditions, but it's more of a toy than a game, really. It feels like a smart commercial spin on Windowsill by Vectorpark, say, or a kind of sound board, but for, um, animations. You zip about briskly stylish 2D environments - all bright, flat colour, UPA angles and deftly scribbled detailing - fitting your ghostly self in amongst the oblivious living and then possessing any nearby inanimate objects in order to manufacture a good shock or two.
It sounds a bit like Ghost Trick, but there's little genuine puzzle-solving to be done for the most part. Instead, it's all about exploration and escalation: each object initially allows you to pull off a few haunts - you might be able to make a T-rex skeleton wibble its pathetic little arms around, say, or coax brittle shudders from a dangling chandelier - but as your audience gets more and more creeped out and the prevailing mental state of the location you're currently cursing moves from relaxed through to terrified, new options open up, each mapped to a different face button. Within five minutes or so of getting stuck in, you'll be bringing stuffed polar bears to glorious life, sending ship's horns into angry bellowing fits and doing all sorts of scary things with electricity in attic laboratories. Ray Bradbury would like this game. Maybe his own ghost is playing it right now? Everyone in the afterlife has a Vita.
You'll find a handful of locations to move through, all of which are filled with lovingly crafted objects and their lovingly crafted animations. There are horror staples like a rattly old hospital with a wheelchair you can roll around and a medical skeleton you can blast into pieces again and again with breezy stabs of a button, but some of the more off-the-wall spots are actually the most effective. I dig the theatre, for example, where you can possess those weird velveteen flip-up seats or go beneath the stage to screw with an old pipe organ, and I love the cruise ship that comes with an anchor that can be dropped on unfortunates and a deck replete with delicate maritime machinery you probably shouldn't be allowed to tit around with.
As you work, you'll discover that each location has its own handful of spooks to collect, too; once you have a few, you can head back to a central bell tower and see the world through their sheets for a bit. It's an aesthetic choice for the most part - do I want to be a chef or a nurse for my next bit of trouble-making? - but the design is wonderfully simple and evocative and the sensation of racing around is intoxicating. Also, Bela Lugosi was right: there really is nothing funny about a clown after midnight.
Your main objective - although there are a few hidden secrets to uncover - is to scare everybody in town until they've run away or done themselves in. There's not a great deal of skill to all this, perhaps, but that's not really the point. Terrortown is more like fiddling around with a penny-whistle for an hour or two than learning to play the piano, so to speak, and instead of depth, it offers a sort of arch intensity at times.
The sustained campaign of stalking and pranking that you'll need to pull off to get townsfolk running can leave you feeling pleasantly guilty. Hound them from lightbulb to ectoplasm-leaking telescope, rattle desks, riffle books and finally explode a cello on them - lovely stuff. Or else you can set your own targets: any joker can frighten people dolled up as a possessed mermaid - how much damage can I do as a humble wine glass? Terrortown could very well be called Ghost Bully, and really, as agendas go, being a ghost bully's not a bad one.
Emotional cruelty, suicide, haunted euphoniums - there's a surprisingly dark heart beating away inside this cheery little Halloween special. There's a genuine sense of mischief, too, conveyed by the bug-eyed howls of your prey and the looping, lilting tones of the jazz-club soundtrack. Short yet rather lavish, this will light up your Vita's screen (or that of your PlayStation Certified Android device!) for, at best, one cold dark night of ghoulish mayhem. That's just enough, as it happens - that's just enough.
8 / 10