It is not everyday that a new NES game makes its way to Nintendo’s mighty 80’s console. But this is exactly what Retrotainment Games did in 2016 with Haunted: Halloween ’86. Their 6502 Assembly programmed title was released on cartridges and is available at Cash In Culture today. The game has since been released digitally for PC and consoles and Retro Faith is taking a look at the Switch version.
Halloween ’86 is the follow up to 2015’s Halloween ’85. As with the original you reprise your role as Donny, a teenager who must fight the undead. It is Halloween and you and your friend, Tami, are zapped to another world on Halloween. You then need to discover pieces of a map to get back home. The story is what you would expect from an ’80’s NES title, pretty bare. But this will not concern you as you battle the undead through tricky platform orientated levels. This title is all about the gameplay.
The game was built in true retro style using 6502 Assembly language for an authentic 8-bit experience. You can tell from the opening intro, title music and two button controls that this will bring you back to the glory days. When we first started playing Haunted we were struck by the vibrant and contrasting colours of the title screen. You then have a short tutorial to help you learn the moves and it becomes apparent the developer has made the most of two buttons.
Combining directional controls with the attack button opens up many moves. An uppercut, slide, dodge and a Mario style butt-slam move are all at your disposal. You will be impressed with the move set and how responsive the controls are. Once you learn the controls you’re thrusted into the story and your battle with the undead. Small cutscenes break up the action with decent artwork but simple description. This is afterall harking back to the days before stories in games were important.
The controls are tight except during a few busy parts where the collision detection seems to miss the enemy. It is not a dealbreaker but something we noticed during our playthrough. Battling individual enemies is fine however. But if you have several enemies on screen try to pick them off one by one to make sure your attack hits. Some aerial creatures were particularly frustrating and we found that running passed them was the best option.
You can switch between the two characters, Donny and Tami, at will and they each have their own life gauge. As you take damage from the undead you slowly start to become infected and the sprite changes colour. This is a nice touch and you will need to switch regularly as the damage increases. Candy found within the stages and boxes heals you and extra lives are gained from soda cans. You have no continues but you are granted a level code after each boss fight to make up for this.
You will come up against many different creatures from straight up zombies to vampire bats. There is enough variety in the levels and enemies to keep you interested and you will need to use different moves to get through the horde. If you are struggling to get passed a certain point you are forced to mix things up. There are no easy shortcuts to take advantage of and the bosses all have a little puzzle to solve.
The platforming action is challenging in Haunted: Halloween ’86. If you’re old enough to remember the rage inducing antics of the 8-bit era you will understand. But do not let that put you off, the platforming is fair, fast and rewarding. Extra lives and health entice you to reach for the harder areas. There are spikes and toxic hazards to avoid and lots of moving platforms, especially later on. You will also find that using the butt-slam move will help to keep you on target with your double jumps.
Visually, Haunted is a colourful treat for the eyes. Bold, contrasting 8-bit pixel goodness oozing with personality. You will notice how detailed the backgrounds are and the nice touches along the way. Our favourite was the advert in the background for Biff’s car repairs featuring a Delorean. You will have the nostalgia gland pumping as you decapitate zombies and drop kick demon puppies. The bosses are particularly impressive and you will gawped at the huge sprites.
The music is also a high point of the game. From the title music right through the later stages you will be bopping your head to the devilish chiptunes. Each track has a different feel or vibe that make the levels distinctive. The sound effects are straight out of the NES classic bops and bips you would expect from an Assembly game. The cutscenes between the stages are equally impressive with beautiful pixel art that makes you wonder how this could fit on a NES cart.
The difficulty does start to ramp up with longer jumping gaps and harder enemies as you progress. The added password save feature gives you some respite but you will need to improve if you are to beat the game. There is definitely room for repeat playthroughs as you have a body count on the number of ghoulies vanquished. There is also a high score and this has one credit written all over it for those who like a real challenge.
Overall we were impressed with Haunted: Halloween ’86. You will need to create a US Switch account to download it but this is simple enough. Is it worth the $9.99 price tag? Well, you could wait for a sale but will not be disappointed buying at full price. It is a game for those wanting a decent challenge with an authentic 8-bit experience. Haunted is polished and fun with that zombie factor that is timeless.